A foreign country or the sewers? Too many unanswered questions

3 min
Image of the Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, at the Congress

BarcelonaThe information revealed this Monday at a press conference by government Spokesperson Isabel Rodríguez and Presidency minister Félix Bolaños, denouncing the use of Pegasus to hack into Pedro Sánchez's and Margarita Robles's phones, asks many more questions than it answers. Let's take a look.

What is the scope of the spying?

So far the Spanish government has reported two attacks on the phones of Pedro Sánchez and Margarita Robles in the months of May and June 2021, but this could be just the tip of the iceberg. The first question, and also the most obvious one, is: why now? Why did they wait until The New Yorker uncovered a surveillance operation against sixty pro-independence leaders, especially as there were precedents such as Catalan Speaker Roger Torrent, French president Emmanuel Macron or British PM Boris Johnson? Is it, as ERC leader Oriol Junqueras says, a "smokescreen" to dilute responsibilities?

Secondly, it must be clarified whether more ministers are affected, and then perhaps the investigation should be extended to members of Congress and political party leaders to obtain an accurate map of those affected. Once Pandora's box has been opened, we have to get to the end.

And one last question: can we really believe that Pegasus only infected the phones in the time frame claimed by the National Cryptologic Centre, which depends on the Spanish National Intelligence Centre (CNI)? If the Pegasus case teaches us anything, it is that espionage technologies are advancing at a faster pace than defences and firewalls. For this reason, it can be properly stated that some Pegasus infections have been detected, but it cannot be ruled out that there have been more that are undetectable by Spanish experts. What's more, how can Pedro Sánchez be sure that his cell phone is not currently infected?

Who is behind it?

This is the big question, since, once an operation with a judge's authorisation has been ruled out, there are only two possibilities: either it is a foreign intelligence service or it is part of the deep state acting of its own accord. The hypothesis of foreign espionage is plausible in the case of Sánchez and Robles, but much less so when it comes to about sixty leaders of the Catalan independence movement.

In other words, it is understandable that Morocco's secret services of Morocco (which already spied on Macron) or Russia (which was preparing the invasion of Ukraine) would want to spy on Sánchez or Robles, but not so much that they would hack into a phone belonging to Txell Bonet, Òmnium leader Jordi Cuixart's partner. If it also turns out that more cabinet members have been spied on, for example Unidas Podemos ministers, then the deep state hypothesis State will gain even more strength.

Who will be held accountable?

No matter how the investigation ends, all fingers point at the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles. Whether it is an operation by the deep state or by a foreign government, she is in charge of the security of the State. In other words, whether by action or omission – not even managing to protect her own telephone – Robles would have to resign or be dismissed.

Up until now Robles has hidden behind the CNI's legal obligation to secrecy in order to not reveal any information. Yet in parliament she justified espionage with words that fell like a bomb among the government's partners: "What should a state do if someone declares independence?" Now the question can be turned against her: what should a state do when those who ought to protect it fail miserably?

How will the government's relationship with its parliamentary supporters hold up?

At this point only Robles's resignation seems a sufficient gesture to restore trust between ERC and PSOE. Unidas Podemos is also demanding that those responsible be held to account, so it seems that some heads will have to roll over this crisis. A resignation might save the government facing up to its partners other request: a public inquiry.

Now it seems clear that the explanations offered by the director of the CNI to the official secrets committee will be insufficient because they will not go beyond what has been explained today, and even more so when it is a question which is already sub judice. Surely the Spanish government intends to place among the ranks of the victims so as not to ne held responsible itself and gain time, but then there will still be one question left unanswered: why did Robles, who now happens to be an alleged victim, justify spying on Wednesday in parliament? What did Robles know and what did she not know on Wednesday?