Politics 20/04/2022

Aragonès sees "clear evidence" Spanish Intelligence services behind Catalangate

Catalan president threatens to withdraw parliamentary support to Spanish government but defends protecting projects such as Winter Olympics

4 min
Pere Aragonès in the parliament in an archive image

Barcelona / MadridFrom the beginning, the independence movement has seen Catalangate as a State operation against the movement. Yet Catalan president Pere Aragonès has gone a step further this Wednesday and has pointed the finger at Spanish intelligence services CNI as responsible for the mass electronic surveillance of around sixty politicians and activists. The head of the Catalan Government defended in an interview on RAC1 that there is "clear evidence" that for this, arguing that the Israeli spyware used is only available to states and has a very high cost. "What other intelligence service would want to allocate millions of euros to spy on people which it has no relations with?", he wondered, adding that "you don't have to be Sherlock Holmes" to suspect the CNI.

Aragonès, who has revealed that he recently informed Pedro Sánchez of his discomfort via WhatsApp and asked for a "face to face" meeting, has once again demanded "transparency" from the Spanish government which for the moment is reluctant to open an investigation and has not clarified the role of the secret services in the scandal. The Spanish president has avoided referring to the case as he appeared before the press (taking no questions) in Málaga, where he visited a reception centre for Ukrainian refugees. However, the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, has spoken. In an interview on TVE, she reproached Aragonès for directing criticism at a body that, by law, has to keep its actions secret. "It is very easy to accuse the CNI of certain actions because it cannot defend itself," she said.

Robles emphasised that the intelligence services are subject to judicial and also parliamentary scrutiny through the commission on the reserved funds, which she has urged be constituted after a three-year interruption. The reaction by the Spanish government has, however, had some nuances. The Minister of Culture and Sports, PSOE's Miquel Iceta, has described the tapping of communications without judicial authorisation as "unacceptable" and has affirmed that "in this country you cannot and should not spy". The second vice-president, Unidas Podemos's Yolanda Díaz, recommended "not being afraid to show transparency and the necessary clarifications".

Does the CNI use Pegasus?

The question so far only has a partial answer. According to El Pais, the Spanish intelligence services bought the spyware Pegasus at the beginning of the last decade. The article does not clarify whether it was used to spy on the Catalan independence movement because it explains that the acquisition – worth €6n, although its cost may vary depending on its use – was intended to be used abroad.

In Spain, the CNI may tap communications with the authorisation of the Supreme Court through telephone companies, so it would not need a tool like this. However, the article does not rule out that the agency has carried out mass surveillance using Pegasus. Neither did the former director of the CNI Félix Sanz Roldán, who this morning was asked about Catalangate in the corridors of the Spanish parliament, want to make any clarifications. "Can you imagine a former director of intelligence services talking about these things on television? In no way can I confirm it, nor deny it, nor talk about it. There is a clear law that states that the CNI cannot discuss its means, procedures or relations with third parties. I would be breaking the law if I spoke about this," he said.

The Catalan government is precisely requesting to discuss this and, according to Aragonès, the explanations given so far by the Spanish government are not enough. The president has again called for an "internal investigation with independent oversight" on the espionage revealed by Citizen Lab. Its goal would be to reveal who ordered it, who was aware of it and whether any more people are affected. Aragonès explained that Sánchez has conveyed his "willingness to redirect the situation", but insisted that this has to be "translated into action". At the moment the confidence of the Catalan government with its Spanish counterpart is at "very low levels". "Extremely damaged", the president added, who insisted that normal relations will not resume until the Generalitat's demands are answered.

Borràs calls for Sánchez's resignation

What will this mean? Aragonès, who on Tuesday insisted that his party will not give up on the path of negotiation to resolve the political conflict, has warned that "unless it assumes responsibilities it will be very difficult for the parliamentary stability" of the Spanish government to continue. Does this mean that ERC will withdraw support for the PSOE government if the investigation into Catalangate is not carried out or is not satisfactory? "ERC will have to debate whether it ought to continue as it is or change. I am in favour of not continuing in the same way," said Aragonès, This Thursday the Catalan president will meet in Madrid with the elected representatives of ERC, Junts, the CUP and EH Bildu in the Spanish Parliament and Senate who were spied on. At the same time, however, he wanted to separate the political consequences of the spying scandal from projects such as the 2030 Winter Olympics. According to him, it is necessary "not to mix in sectorial and technical issues". "We prioritise the interests of citizens [...] We will not take any action in which we hurt ourselves, and the Olympics are good for the Catalan Pyrenees".

While Aragonès has chosen to give a certain margin to the government of the State to react, JxCat is pressing for more forcefulness in the response of the independence movement. Also in an interview, in this case on Catalunya Ràdio, Speaker Laura Borràs demanded the resignation of Pedro Sánchez "for having allowed a structural dirty war", as well as the ministers of Home Affairs and Defence, Fernando Grande-Marlaska and Margarita Robles. Beyond freezing relations and asking for explanations, it is necessary to "ask for resignations", insisted Borràs. She will also propose to promote "joint legal actions" by Parliament over the electronic surveillance, in addition to individual lawsuits. "There are 25 current and former MPs who have been spied on," she stressed

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