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Spain sacks spy chief after politicians' mobile phones hacked and infected with spyware

After politicians’ phones were infected by Pegasus software, Spain fired its intelligence chief.

The spyware was developed by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance company. It targeted the Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Margarita Robles, and many supporters of Catalonian independence.

The National Intelligence Centre of Spain (CNI), has been criticized for spying on Catalan separatists. It took a full year to discover the handsets of the prime Minister and key defense and security officials had been compromised, possibly by an outside power.

Last week, CNI director Paz Esteban confessed that she had granted permission to her agency to hack phones of separatists during a closed-door hearing in parliament.


Ms Robles stated that Ms Esteban would be leaving her position.

She stated that the delay in discovering hacks was a sign that there were things she needed to improve.

She stated that she was determined to prevent attacks from happening again.

Esperanza Casteleiro will replace Ms Esteban, who has been working at the intelligence agency for nearly 40 years and was most recently the secretary of defense.

Pegasus’s breach of is attributed to ‘External power.

Separately, the government revealed recently that an “external power” had used Pegasus software last year to infect Ms Robles’ phones as well as those of Mr Sanchez and Interior Minister Fernando Grande Marlaska.

Canada’s digital rights organization Citizen Lab reported last month that more than 60 people were targeted by spyware developed by NSO Group, an Israeli surveillance company.

It is alleged that the software was used to target journalists, political dissidents, and human rights activists .

Image: Pedro Sanchez is one of those targeted. Pic: AP

Pegasus has been repeatedly linked to repressive states’ activities to target leaders who are perceived as challenging their power. These abuses are being investigated seriously by the company.

The attacks occurred between May 2021 and June 2021. There was also a diplomatic row between Spain, Morocco and Spain. However, it is not known who is responsible.

His minority left-wing coalition is supported by Catalan separatist groups, who have threatened to withdraw their support if they don’t accept responsibility for hacking.

Alberto Nunez Feijoo (leader of Spain’s opposition conservatives), criticised the sacking and said that Sanchez had sacrificed his wife for Catalan separatists. He also “weakening state to ensure his survival”.

In 2017, Ms Esteban’s predecessor was criticized for failing to stop preparations of a Catalan independence referendum, which had been declared illegal by Spain’s highest courts.


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