Ruto ally says Telegram account was hacked before Kenyan election

A senior strategist with close links to Kenya’s president, William Ruto, has publicly acknowledged that his Telegram account was infiltrated in the lead-up to last year’s election.
Dennis Itumbi told the Star newspaper that he had noticed “increased activity” on his Telegram last year but called it “inconsequential”.
The admission followed the publication of an investigation by the Guardian and 29 media partners into the activities of a hacking and disinformation specialist named Tal Hanan, a former Israeli special forces operative who with a team of associates sells his services in order to sway democratic elections.
The investigation found that Hanan used hacking techniques to get into the Telegram and Gmail accounts of political advisers close to Ruto, including Itumbi, before last year’s election
The hacking of Itumbi and two other political advisers close to Ruto did not stop Ruto from winning the poll, but the involvement of figures such as Hanan highlights the potential risk to new democratic systems.
Hanan demonstrated his hacking skills to undercover reporters posing as consultants in a series of meetings last summer, which were secretly recorded by the journalists.
Hanan never explicitly confirmed he had been hired to work in Kenya, or if so who his client might have been, but in his demonstration to the reporters he targeted two Telegram accounts and one Gmail account linked to pro-Ruto advisers.
In a statement about the investigation, Hanan said: “I deny any wrongdoing.”
The revelations about the hacking of Ruto strategists made headlines on local news across Kenya. Initial disputes around the election results were dismissed by Kenya’s supreme court but Raila Odinga, the veteran opposition politician defeated in last year’s election, has continued to challenge Ruto’s victory.
The reaction to the revelations among the political class has been tepid, in part because the national focus has shifted away from politics and to economic challenges. Many ordinary people have become tired of repeated contestation of successive polls in the country.
In a separate development, Odinga appears to have sought to pre-empt questions about the involvement of Israeli mercenaries in the election by claiming that he hired “ethical hackers” to try to provide him with evidence that last year’s poll was rigged.
Odinga, the leader of the Azimio coalition, was declared to have lost narrowly to Ruto and has since repeatedly alleged that he won by a significant margin. He has made similar claims after a series of electoral defeats over the last decade, and for his claims about the 2022 poll he has previously relied on the testimony of a supposed whistleblower from within Kenya’s electoral commission, as well as supposed internal documents. This evidence has been dismissed by Kenya’s supreme court and independent experts.
“I had to look for ethical hackers to know the truth,” Odinga told a Kenyan TV network, according to a report on Monday in the Citizen newspaper. He said the hackers were forced to leave Nairobi, the capital, to avoid surveillance, but he gave few further details nor offered any proof to support his statements.
“We got them from abroad and they came with their machines. They had to go as far as Athi River, some in Kajiado, and even Kiambu, because they were being tracked for about a month,” he said.
Odinga’s claim will further reinforce fears that the use of foreign disinformation specialists have become a routine part of political competition in Kenya, as well as elsewhere in Africa.
On Thursday, the Guardian revealed a failed plan by the hacking and disinformation specialist based in Israel to discredit Muhammadu Buhari and get Goodluck Jonathan re-elected as president of Nigeria in 2015.
Google, which runs Gmail, declined to comment. Telegram said: “Accounts on any massively popular social media network or messaging app can be vulnerable to hacking or impersonation unless users follow security recommendations and take proper precautions to keep their accounts secure.”

Enjoyed this article? Stay informed by joining our newsletter!


You must be logged in to post a comment.

Related Articles
About Author