Esperanza Casteleiro, the spy "who knows everything about the CNI"

New director, hitherto Robles's number 2, was CNI secretary general between 2004 and 2008

2 min
The new director of the CNI, Esperanza Casteleiro, in an archive image

MadridFar from punishing Margarita Robles's political leadership of the National Intelligence Centre (CNI), the Spanish government is reinforcing the Defence Minister's influence over the intelligence services. A person of her utmost confidence, Esperanza Casteleiro, until now Secretary of State for Defence (her number 2) will be the new director of the CNI, in "substitution" of Paz Esteban, as Robles wanted to call it this Tuesday at a press conference. The minister spoke of a "new stage", a "new boost" and a "modernisation" to be led by a veteran intelligence officer. Casteleiro, 65, born in Madrid and with origins in Ferrol, "knows everything about the CNI".

With a degree in Philosophy and Educational Sciences from Madrid's Universidad Complutense, she joined the intelligence services in 1983, at the age of 27. Her predecessor also joined in the same year, but unlike her, Casteleiro was a field spy abroad. Of her known assignments, Havana and Lisbon stand out. Internally, she has held various positions of responsibility such as head of the counterintelligence division and head of the human resources area. The most prominent, however, was as secretary general of the institution between 2004 and 2008, under the direction of Alberto Saiz, picked by the then Minister of Defence José Bono.

Casteleiro was relieved before Saiz's resignation (he had been accused of misappropriation of funds) and returned to missions abroad until 2014. During the PP's government, when the CNI was led by Félix Sanz Roldán under Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría's Ministry of the Presidency, Casteleiro led the CNI's intelligence unit in the Intelligence Center against Terrorism and Organised Crime (CITCO) until 2018. With the arrival of the Socialists to power, she made the leap to the Ministry of Defence, where she became Margarita Robles's chief of staff.

A continuist option

After the elections in November 2019 and establishment of a coalition government alongside Unidas Podemos, Casteleiro's name was considered as possible director of the CNI, given that Paz Esteban was only caretaker director after the departure of Sanz Roldán. Even so, Robles opted to keep Esteban and make Casteleiro Secretary of State for Defence, a position that will now be taken over by María Amparo Valcarce, hitherto Undersecretary of the Ministry. The minister has therefore backed continuity, rather than the clean out the government's partners are demanding.

"She is a CNI woman. She has all the qualities of a civil servant; she has given things up and has never wanted the limelight", Robles emphasised, who was "delighted" with the replacement. Despite the context of the Pegasus case, Robles spoke of cybersecurity and cyberintelligence threats as the main current challenge for the CNI, something that was already on the agenda during Paz Esteban's mandate. In fact, the outgoing director, in one of the few public appearances she made, delivered a lecture on the subject in 2019.

As Defence number 2, on the other hand, Casteleiro also appeared before the parliamentary committee. One of its members notes "correct" dealings with her. The last time it met was last October to discuss the ministry's budget. Before the war in Ukraine, she pointed out the difficulties for the Defence budget to account for 2% of the GDP, an increase NATO is now urgently demanding. Casteleiro's next appearance in Parliament will probably be behind closed doors in the official secrets committee, where Paz Esteban made her last appearance as director of the intelligence services. She explained that 18 people were spied on with court authorisation. Could it be that the woman "who knows everything about the CNI" knows who spied on the other 40 odd victims?