Reports: Israeli national hacked into phone of Ruto strategists during campaigns

Kenyan President William Ruto. [File, Standard]

A new report by the International Consortium of Journalists (ICIJ) has stated that an Israeli national hacked into the Telegram account of key associates of President William Ruto in the run-up to the August 9, 2022 General Election.

Tal Hanan, a former Israeli Special Forces Operative, told ICIJ that he and his associates run a well-oiled machinery on election propaganda and strategy.

He was quoted by The Guardian saying he charges between EUR6 million (Sh804 million) and EUR15 million (Sh2 billion) for interference in elections.

Records obtained by the news outlet, however, indicated that Hanan pocketed much lower fees.

In 2015, for instance, he asked for $160,000 (Sh15.7 million) from the now-defunct British consultancy Cambridge Analytica for involvement in an eight-week campaign in a Latin American country.

Some ICIJ journalists approached him in 2022 for his services, posing as consultants working on behalf of a politically unstable African nation that wanted help in delaying an upcoming election.

Hanan said he had the necessary tools to make their request successful.

"We are now involved in one election in Africa ... We have a team in Greece and a team in [the] Emirates ... You follow the leads. [We have completed] 33 presidential-level campaigns, 27 of which were successful," the Guardian reported Hanan as saying.

The outlet further said, to prove his credentials, the 50-year-old used a Kenyan case that he'd handled in July 2022.

He showed the ICIJ journalists a Telegram account of a key associate of President William Ruto.

He said he'd hacked into the Kenyan strategist's Telegram account and could write and delete messages as he wished.

"Hello, how are you dear?" Hanan appeared to send a message from the Kenyan's account to one of their contacts.

Hanan explained that manipulating the messaging app to send messages could be used to create chaos in a rival's election campaign.

"One of the biggest things is to put sticks between the right people, you understand?" he said, adding: "And I can write to him what I think about his wife, or what I think about his last speech, or I can tell him that I promised him to be my next chief of staff, ok?"

Hanan then showed how - once the message had been read - he could "delete" it to cover his tracks.

He repeated that trick by hacking into the Telegram account of the second close adviser to Ruto.

He, however, made a mistake while attempting to delete the message from the adviser's phone, The Guardian reported.

After sending a harmless Telegram message consisting only of the number "11" to one of the hacking victim's contacts, he failed to properly delete it.

An ICIJ reporter managed to trace the said-President Ruto's adviser, who allowed him access to his Telegram account to confirm whether Hanan had, indeed, written a message on his (adviser's) Telegram account remotely.

The "11" message was still visible on their Telegram account, providing evidence that Hanan's infiltration of the account was genuine.

Hanan suggested to the undercover reporters that some of his hacking methods exploited vulnerabilities in the global signalling telecoms system.

The Standard has reached Hussein Mohamed, the State House Spokesperson, for comment.