Pegasus case: it is even more urgent to hold those responsible to account

2 min
The Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, at the beginning of the plenary session of Congress

BarcelonaThe scandal over the spying on some sixty Catalan pro-independence leaders has taken an unexpected turn this Monday with the denunciation by the Spanish government itself that the telephones of president Pedro Sánchez and Defence Minister Margarita Robles were also infected with the Pegasus programme. Specifically, experts from the National Cryptologic Centre, a branch of the CNI, have detected two extractions of information in May and June 2021 in the case of Sánchez, and only in June in the case of the minister.

The Spanish government's position is that they are now also victims of Pegasus and that in no case was the author of this illegal espionage a "state institution" but an "external" entity. That means, in principle, a foreign country, although it could also be someone acting without judicial authorisation. In view of this revelation, in which the alleged spies have now become the spied, the Spanish government has filed a complaint before the High Court, so that the matter is now sub judice. This may be the perfect excuse to divert attention and say that everything is "in the hands of justice", which may take years to resolve it or advance in the investigation. Without going any further, the case involving Roger Torrent and Ernest Maragall is stuck in a Barcelona court awaiting requests for information sent to Israel (NSO) and Ireland (WhatsApp).

Right now, then, there are two scandals in parallel and it is no use saying that one cancels the other. On the one hand, we have mass surveillance on people with similar political leanings, around sixty Catalan independence supporters according to Citizen Lab, but there could be many more. On the other hand, there is a very serious failure in the security of the Spanish government's communications, so that right now there is someone who has in their possession sensitive information from Sánchez and Robles's phones. In both cases, it is essential to get to the bottom of the matter and to hold those responsible to account, both technically and politically.

It is not very credible that a foreign government is spying on the Catalan independence movement with this degree of detail and to such an extent. On the other hand, there are precedents of espionage by the deep state (former police superintendent Villarejo used to tap phones) and even by the predecessor of the CNI, the Cesid, in the 90s. In this sense, there may be a will to bring down the director of the CNI, Paz Esteban, which would be a manoeuvre to protect those responsible politically at the Ministry of Defence.

Robles still has to give explanations for her statements to the Spanish Parliament last Wednesday, in which she justified espionage. "What does the State have to do when someone violates the Constitution, when someone declares independence?" she said. And even more: she, who denied The New Yorker any credibility is now a victim of espionage. Her political and now also technical discredit is so great that her continuity in the cabinet inevitably affects the image of the whole government and its relationship with its parliamentary partners.