Spanish intelligence chief fired over spyware scandal

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

The head of Spain’s national intelligence centre (CNI) Paz Esteban was fired on Tuesday after acknowledging the agency had spied on the regional leader of Catalonia and over a dozen other separatist activists and politicians by hacking their cell phones.

Government sources told EURACTIV’s partner EFE that the decision was taken following a cabinet meeting to address the spyware scandal that made waves in Spanish politics.

In a parallel probe, Spain’s cryptologic centre, a department of the CNI, is investigating evidence that mobile phone devices belonging to Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Defence 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  5 May that the CNI had hacked the mobile phone of the Catalan regional 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 in a New Yorker article citing research by the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab research centre.

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

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

Subscribe to our newsletters

Subscribe