Spanish intelligence chief fired over spyware scandal

Madrid, May 10 (EFE).- The head of Spain’s national intelligence center (CNI) Paz Esteban was fired by the government Tuesday after she acknowledged the agency had spied on the regional leader of Catalonia and over a dozen other separatist activists and politicians by infiltrating their cell phones.

Government sources told Efe that the decision was taken following a cabinet meeting to address the spyware scandal that sent tremors through Spanish politics.

In a parallel probe, Spain’s cryptologic center, a department of the CNI, is investigating preliminary evidence that mobile phone devices belonging to Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and defense minister Margarita Robles were also hacked using Pegasus spyware technology in May and June last year, although in this case the infiltration was allegedly carried out by a foreign entity.

Esteban confirmed before a parliamentary commission on May 5, however, that the CNI had hacked the mobile phone of regional Catalan president and leader of the pro-independence ERC party Pere Aragonès and around 20 other prominent separatists after seeking judicial approval to do so.

The spyware scandal was first revealed by a New Yorker article citing research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab research center.

Pegasus spyware, developed by Israeli firm NSO Group, is marketed as a tool for governments to employ against terror threats and organized crime.

The spyware scandal heaped strain on the already precarious relations between Sánchez’s Socialist Party-led coalition government and smaller separatist parties on which he relies to pass laws through parliament. EFE


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