Spain, director of intelligence removed for espionage cases with Pegasus

The Spanish government has dismissed the director of the intelligence agency Cni (Centro Nacional de Inteligencia), Paz Esteban after two cases distinct of espionage from cell phones of politicians. The Spanish media reported it and the official announcement of the government is expected today. The decision comes after Esteban last week, speaking behind closed doors in a committee of the Spanish Parliament, admitted that his agency had legally hacked the phones of seven Catalan separatists following judicial authorization. Furthermore, the agency is also targeted for recent revelations from the government which showed that the prime minister’s cell phones Pedro Sanchez and the Minister of Defense had been ‘infected’ with it Pegasus spyware by a “foreign” power. Esteban, 64, became the first woman to lead the Cni in July 2019: initially her position was interim, but then the appointment was made permanent in February 2020. Pegasus is a spy software sold by the company Israeli NSO Group. It can only be purchased from government institutions such as armies, intelligence services, state security forces.

Last May 2, during an emergency press conference, the minister of the presidency, Félix Bolaños, announced that the institutional telephones of the president of the government, Pedro Sánchez, and the minister of defense, Margarita Robles, had been infected with malware. This is not the first time this has happened: the president’s cell phone was attacked twice in May and June 2021, while that of the minister once in June of the same year. Bolaños had specified that it was an “external” and “foreign” attack on the national state bodies. “We are absolutely certain of this because in Spain this type of intervention can only be justified for to prevent or prosecute crimes. When one of these two conditions is met, it is possible to request judicial authorization from a magistrate who decides whether to give permission or not. In this case, these circumstances did not occur and no judicial mechanism was activated “, explained the minister. The government initially ruled out that such attacks came from state bodies, including the National Intelligence Center (CNI): the latter is the only one to own the Israeli program. The dismissal of Paz Estebanwe read in the newspaper El Mundocomes after the government obtained the National Cryptologic Center (CCN) report, attached to the CNI, certifying that the security breach was not limited to spying on cell phones of Pedro Sánchez and Minister Margarita Robles, but more ministers.

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