President Emmerson Mnangagwa's error-prone administration reportedly acquired the controversial mobile phone snooping equipment from Israeli surveillance company NSO Group, in 2019 for use by the Central Intelligence Organisation (CIO), highly placed intelligence sources said Monday.
The revelations have given raise to fears that government, which has openly expressed interest in snooping on mobile phones through enacting enabling legislations, was targeting opposition politicians, rights activists and journalists, especailly in the run up to the 2023 general election.
The mobile malware allows state spy agents to track activities activities on mobile phones without the knowledge and consent of the users.
It also allows them to penetrate applications like WhatsApp which have end-to-end encryptions.
The Israeli company was exposed in an investigation whose results were leaked to global media power houses like The Guardian, The Washington Post, The New York Times and 15 others at the weekend.
The investigations principally found out that rights activists, journalists and lawyers around the world were been targeted with phone malware sold to authoritarian governments by an Israeli surveillance firm.
The malware by the name Pegasus reportedly infects iPhones and Android devices to enable operators to extract messages, photos and emails, record calls and secretly activate microphones.
Intelligence sources, in off-the-record briefings to NewZimbabwe.com Monday said the equipment was acquired to augment that which was sourced from China in 2015.
"In 2015, the organisation acquired similar equipment from China and it has been in used ever since. But government later in 2019 purchased another software from the Israel-based company to complement it. The one from Israel is considered to be more potent that the come from China," a source said.
"It's not very clear yet if the software has been used, but it's there," the source added.
However, Information ministry permanent secretary Nick Mangwana refuted the claims.
"Government of Zimbabwe has no reason to buy a malicious software," he said.
"The report says it was sold to autocratic governments; government of Zimbabwe is not autocratic. So, Zimbabwe is automatically excluded. Any attempt to associate us with the purchase and delivery of that malware is malicious. So those those are malicious allegations," he added.
NSO has also denied what it called "false claims".
"NSO Group firmly denies false claims," it said in a release published by The Guardian. "Many of which are uncorroborated theories that raise serious doubts about the reliability of your sources, as well as the basis of your story."