Intelligence services admit using Pegasus to spy on pro-independence supporters with court authorisation

Sources of the Spanish intelligence services play down the number of victims, according to 'El País'

2 min
General view of the National Intelligence Center (CNI) building.

The Spanish National Intelligence Centre (CNI) has admitted that it used Israeli espionage program Pegasus to spy on leaders of the Catalan pro-independence environment, but has stressed that it always did so on an individual basis and with court authorisation, as published on Tuesday by El País. Sources in the Spanish intelligence service did not reveal to the newspaper either who they spied on nor when, but they distrusted the investigation by Citizen Lab that uncovered the alleged spying on at least 65 pro-independence supporters using Pegasus, arguing that it was tainted by Catalan researcher Elies Campo's participation, as he is close to the pro-independence movement. They claim, however, that many of those listed in the Citizen Lab report were never spied on by the CNI.

The same sources, however, do admit that leaders of Catalan pro-independence associations have been the subject of surveillance by the CNI in recent years, under the legal mandate that gives it the power to prevent and avoid any threat to the territorial integrity of Spain, according to the newspaper. In addition, CNI sources acknowledge that the agency acquired Pegasus in the mid-2010s for €6m. They corroborate that it has been used to spy on pro-independence public officials and explain that, specifically, it was their private phones and not those used for their public activities which were targeted, because, they explained to El País, it was these they used to contact "violent groups such as the Committees for the Defense of the Republic (CDRs)". All interventions, they reiterate, were authorised by a court.

One of the cases in which Pegasus was allegedly used, the newspaper adds, is the one that led to the arrest of Carles Puigdemont in Germany in March 2018. The CNI had hacked into one of the former president's aides and this allowed it to follow the vehicle to proceed with his arrest.

In parallel, El Periódico has published this Tuesday that an Israeli businessman had acted as an intermediary of NSO Group, owner of the Pegasus espionage system, and allegedly supplied members of the Spanish police with a system to hack into phones and mobile devices without leaving a trace. Likewise, El Periódico de España has had access to a letter of invitation dated July 31, 2014 from businessman Matian Caspy, addressed to the deputy operational director of the National Police under Mariano Rajoy, Eugenio Pino. The letter set an appointment for August 11 at a hotel in Barcelona for a "field test" that included a live demonstration of a "tactical passive GSM system".

Junqueras demands Spanish government take responsibility

ERC leader Oriol Junqueras has denounced to Tv3 that "the Spanish government has to take responsibility because it has allowed it" to happen, while also wondering whether there were more victims. "It is serious if there was a court authorisation because lawyers have been spied on violating fundamental rights," he criticised before recalling that a vice president of the Spanish government, Narcís Serra, resigned because of the Cesid surveillance scandal in the 1990s. "If you want to rebuild trust, you have to take responsibility the sooner the better," he warned.