Spain''s typically circumspect intelligence agency has been given a lot of attention due to hacking revelations about politicians'' cell phones.
In one case, Spain''s National Intelligence Center is accused of gross negligence for permitting unknown sources to tap the phone in Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez''s pocket with the Pegasus malware. Despite Spain''s refusal to point a finger at Morocco, the dates in which Sanchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles'' phones were hoached last year coincide with a diplomatic conflict between the two countries.
The Spanish intelligence agency CNI is accused of using the Pegasus program to hack the phones of over 60 Catalan separatists. In the wake of the back-to-back scandals, plans for a public gathering to commemorate CNI''s 20th anniversary have been postponed.
Paz Esteban Lopez, the director of the Agency, is appearing before a select parliamentary committee behind closed doors on Thursday, where she will be able to violate the state''s policy.
Esteban, the first woman to serve as CNI''s director, will speak to just 11 members of parliament, all of whom will have to swear not to reveal what they''re told. Spain''s Parliament voted to allow members of Catalan and Basque separatist groups to sit on the special committee.
The highly anticipated meeting at Spain''s Parliament building in Madrid will take place inside an austere meeting area at the one end of a hallway flanked by portraits of Spain''s parliament speakers.
The Catalan separatists are planning to seize a new state for northeast Spain around Barcelona. They allege that CNI was behind the hacks two weeks ago, when a digital rights organization Citizen Lab, based in Canada published a statement detailing the use of Pegasus to hack into the phones of dozens of pro-independence supporters in the Catalonia area.
Spain''s government has repeatedly stated that the CNI cannot tap phones without prior judicial authority. Moreover, the secrecy law protecting all CNI activities prevents the agency from verifying whether Pegasus is a syringe used by Israeli business NSO Group.
If Paz Esteban presents evidence that three or four years ago there was judicial authority to tap the phones of some 60 people because they supported (Catalonia''s) independence, then there will be a problem, according to Gabriel Rufian, a member of parliament for a Catalan separatist party, before attending the committee.
Despite the promise of CNI and the nation''s ombudsman, the Spanish government has promised that the report from Citizen Lab will be investigated. It has also encouraged those who are affected to file their lawsuits before the court.
Robles, the defense minister, appeared to justify the crackdown on separatists for their roles in organizing and participating in mostly peaceful pro-secession street protests. The events often spiraled out of control and resulted in clashes with police, the blocking of roads and train lines, and the closure of Barcelona''s airport in 2019.
During a public hearing at a parliamentary commission on European defense, Robles herself faced a slew of questions. Initially, the hearing was about European defense, but ended up focused on Pegasus.
I''m particularly pleased of the 3,000 individuals and women in the CNI who risk their lives to protect our peace and security, always within the law, according to Robles. (The CNI) director is being targeted by allegations that do not exist in reality.
Members of mainstream parties who accuse Esteban of letting foreign actors infiltrate the most sensitive phones in the country are also asked.
The CNI, which oversees Spain''s cybersecurity, only discovered that Sanchez''s and Robles'' phones had been compromised following extensive scanning of the devices following the revelations of the breaches into the phones of the Catalans.
In May and June 2021, previous checks found no evidence of the breaches, which the government has been forced to admit.
The prime minister''s phone is regularly checked, but protocols improve every day, according to the official spokeswoman. It''s clear that mistakes were made, and we''re working to improve things so they don''t happen again.
The government''s refusal to allow Esteban to take over for the long term has angered Spanish media reports, implying that her time as head of the CNI may be counted.
Before deciding whether or not to take responsibility, we must seek out what happened, according to Rodriguez.
In several countries, digital break-ins of phones with Pegasus have been reported and condemned. President Emmanuel Macron was included on a list of state leaders suspected by Amnesty International last year.
The European Parliament has opened an investigation into Pegasus'' use in the European Union United, initially intended to focus on Hungary and Poland. A list of Catalans reportedly been hacked is also included members of the European Parliament.
Amnesty International, which has denied the use of Pegasus spyware in several countries, demanded on Thursday more transparency from Spain.
Esteban Beltran, the director of the rights organization in Spain, said that this committee, characterized for its secrecy and obscurantism, cannot be considered the appropriate venue to investigate the allegations of human rights violations.