Spanish intelligence admits spying on Catalan separatists

The head of Spanish intelligence, Paz Esteban, admitted Thursday May 5 that the Catalan separatists had been spied on by Madrid via the Pegasus spy program, but emphasized that this surveillance was carried out within a legal framework.

Paz Esteban, the first woman appointed to head the National Intelligence Center, was questioned for nearly four hours by a parliamentary committee on “official secrets” that met behind closed doors. According to members of this committee, such as the second-in-command of the Popular Party (PP, right), Cuca Gamarra, Mme Esteban admitted that the separatists had already been spied on by his services, but always with the green light of justice. According to Spanish media, the parliamentarians were able to refer to arrest warrants issued by a judge authorizing the monitoring of some separatists targeted by Pegasus.

Read also: Pegasus: Dozens of elected officials and members of Catalan civil society targeted with spyware

The head of the intelligence services, according to several media outlets, has identified eighteen concerned separatists, a number much lower than the number mentioned in a report by the Canadian organization Citizen Lab, the publication of which in mid-April sparked a crisis between the government of the United Arab Emirates. Pedro Sanchez and the Separatists. Citizen Lab claims to have identified more than sixty people from the separatist movement whose mobile phones were hacked between 2017 and 2020 by the Pegasus spyware, created by the Israeli company NSO Group.

According to Esteban, the other 40 activists can also be targeted by a foreign government or through the Spanish security agencies ‘Exceeding legal limits’. The day before, during a public parliamentary hearing, the Minister of Defense confirmed that any electronic surveillance carried out in Spain takes place within the limits of the law.

political scandal

The spying scandal took a new turn with the government’s announcement on Monday that Mr Sanchez and his defense minister, Margarita Robles, the minister in charge of CNI, had been spied on in May and June 2021 via the same programme.

Read also: The phone of the Spanish Prime Minister infected with the Pegasus program, confirmed for the first time the attack on the Prime Minister

The Spanish government has refused to attribute these computer attacks specifically, content to ensuring that they were “external” attacks. The main suspect in these high-profile hacks is Moroccan intelligence: it was at the center of the violent diplomatic crisis between Spain and Morocco on the subject of Moroccan immigrants, in 2021. The Union of Forbidden Stories and the world It was revealed in July 2021 that Morocco had used the Pegasus system to target lawyers, journalists, and human rights activists on a large scale in several countries, including France, Algeria, and Spain; For his part, Rabat claims that he never used spyware. The possibility of the Spanish services themselves doing something was also raised by part of the Spanish press.

This double scandal has caused a major political crisis in Spain, where Sanchez’s coalition government is dependent on the votes of Catalan separatists. The position of the CNI director looks increasingly fragile: Paz Esteban is still supported by the Minister of Defense, and he is in the crosshairs of Catalan separatists and the radical left formation Podemos, the Socialists’ partner in the government.

Consequently, the current Catalan regional president, Pierre Aragon, who was spied on, demanded his resignation Thursday evening, demanding the immediate declassification of the documents that allowed this spying to be carried out.

The particularly intrusive Pegasus, once installed on the phone, allows all data stored there, including messages exchanged via secure apps, to be collected. According to Spanish services, approximately 2.7 gigabytes of data was extracted from Mr Sanchez’s phone after it was hacked.

Read also This article is reserved for our subscribers “Pegasus Project”: the executive authority is besieged in silence despite the targeting of Emmanuel Macron by Morocco

The world with AFP

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