Spy chief fired amid cyber-snooping scandal — Analysis

Pegasus spyware is reportedly being used against the Catalan independence Movement and high ranking government officials in Madrid

In the aftermath of two spy-bot scandals, Spain fired Paz Esteban as director of its national intelligence centre (CNI). One operation saw key figures in the Catalan independence movement targeted with Israeli spyware program Pegasus, while the other scheme, allegedly foreign in origin, saw top officials in Madrid’s government also subjected to “illicit” “external”Use the same software to target.

Last week, Pere Aragones was reportedly confirmed by the ex-spy chief that her agency had spy on 18 Catalan separatist leaders with court approval.

Allegations that Madrid spied on pro-independence Catalan politicians since 2017 were first revealed through a joint investigation by the Guardian and El País in 2020, and with further findings published by Toronto-based cyber research firm Citizen Lab earlier this year. 

Spanish PM targeted with Israeli-made spyware

According to the Spanish government, “external”Actor had seen PM Pedro Sanchez, Margarita Robertles, and Fernando Grande-Marlaska as they were working in the interior, but he refused to name them publicly.

Robles, who oversees CNI’s operations, admitted that there have been “shortcomings” – including the fact that it reportedly took a year to discover three of the nation’s top officials had had their phones hacked – but insisted on referring to the personnel shakeup as a “new step” for the intelligence agency, focusing more on Esteban’s replacement, CNI veteran Esperanza Casteleiro.

“She knows the center very well, has worked there for almost 40 years, and is working for Spain,”The defense minister said that the documents Esteban revealed to the congressional committee about the surveillance of Catalan officials were her hope they would be eventually declassified, so that the country could view all the judicial rules.

Catalan politicians to sue former Spanish intel chief for wiretapping them via ‘Pegasus’ spyware – reports

Madrid’s handling of the scandals has been attacked from all sides. Conservatives accused Esteban of being thrown under the bus by the socialist PM to appease the Catalan independence movement. Catalan leaders insist that Esteban was fired. “a concession to common sense,” while the leftist Podemos party has demanded guarantees such events won’t happen again. Amnesty International even joined the fray, accusing Madrid for using security services. “as an excuse to cover up possible human rights violations.”

Pegasus, made by Israeli company NSO Group, infamously allows the attacker to remotely snoop on the target’s iPhone as well as watch and listen through the camera and microphone. It has been found installed on the phones of activists and political opposition leaders around the world, despite its manufacturers’ insistence that it was only sold to governments looking to use it to track criminals and terrorists.

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