Spain denounces espionage on the cell phones of the president and the defense minister

(CNN Spanish) — The Minister of the Presidency, Relations with the Courts and Democratic Memory, Félix Bolaños, denounced that the mobile phones of the Prime Minister, Pedro Sánchez, and the Defense Minister, Margarita Robles, were spied on through the Pegasus software.

According to Bolaños at a press conference this Monday, the National Cryptologic Center of Spain recently detected that President Sánchez’s cell phone was the target of two intrusions with this tool that allows access to mobile content in May 2021.

He also specified that Minister Robles’ terminal was invaded on one occasion just a month later, in June.

Pegasus is a spy tool developed by the NSO Group company. This company, as defined on its website, is dedicated to developing cyber intelligence tools to help governments and law enforcement agents to detect and prevent a wide range of global threats, including terrorism and drug trafficking.

Given the seriousness of the events, the Government transferred this Monday all the information to the National High Court, the competent jurisdictional body, for it to investigate and determine the nature and circumstances of this cyberattack allegedly carried out with Pegasus. In this sense, José Luis Calama, head of the Central Court of Instruction 4, has already opened a judicial procedure by which he will investigate these cyberattacks as possible crimes of discovery and revelation of secrets.

So far, from the Spanish Government they do not know the authorship of this intrusion and what type of information was obtained, although they are clear that it was carried out externally to State agencies.

“In Spain, all interventions are carried out by official bodies and with judicial authorization and, in this case, neither of the two circumstances has occurred,” said Bolaños.

CNN has contacted NSO Group, the software development company, to obtain details on the scope of these espionage episodes denounced by the Spanish Government, although it has not received a response so far.

Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles arrives at a round table on the sidelines of a NATO Defense Ministers meeting on the war in Ukraine at the alliance’s headquarters in Brussels on March 16, 2022. (Photo by Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP) (Photo by KENZO TRIBOUILLARD/AFP via Getty Images)

This situation, however, occurs a few days after the Autonomous Parliament of Catalonia denounced similar irregularities. According to an article in The New Yorker that mentioned an investigation carried out by the Canadian research group CitizenLab, at least 65 politicians and prominent figures of Catalan civil society linked to the independence movement were spied on between 2017 and 2020 with these technologies.

Those affected by these intrusions, including the current president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Pere Aragonés, suspect that the central executive is behind this espionage plot. An extreme not confirmed by CitizenLab, who in turn does not rule it out, since in those years those affected were of special interest to the executive for their actions in favor of the self-determination of Catalonia, as well as the fact that Spain would have been a client of the developer company Software, NSO Group.

Faced with these suspicions, Bolaños assured on April 24 after meeting with the Minister of the Presidency of the Generalitat of Catalonia, Laura Vilagrà, that an “internal control exercise” will be opened aimed at the National Intelligence Center and promised to collaborate with the justice system to clarify the information published by The New Yorker.

NSO clarifies that it only provides the software but does not operate the technology and does not have access to the data collected. On its website, the Israeli firm says it seeks to ensure licensed customers use its products only “for their legal and necessary purposes of preventing and investigating terrorism and serious crime.”

In the past, NSO Group told CNN via email: “We are sorry to see, time and time again, how the company’s name is mentioned in news that has nothing to do with NSO, directly or indirectly.”

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