Catalan chief accuses Spain’s intelligence agency of hacking

Catalonia's regional government head is accusing Spain of "massive political spyage" against the northeastern region's independence movements. He also claims that relations with Spain's authorities are being "on hold".

Catalan chief accuses Spain’s intelligence agency of hacking

Pere Aragones shared on Thursday examples of techniques used infiltrating the phones of dozens elected Catalan officials and activists. He said that these tactics led him unambiguously to Spain's National Intelligence Center (CNI) in Spanish. According to the leftist leader, CNI has not denied that it purchased controversial spyware from Israel’s NSO Group.

Pegasus, an NSO program that silently infiltrates mobile phones to steal data and possibly turn them into spying tools on their owners, is called Pegasus. The user must follow a link in a targeted message to install it, but not all versions require a click.

Aragones stated that they can be certain it was CNI. "Because they used the high level of information to infiltrate phones, it suggests that they had previously data of innocents targeted that was not known publicly," Aragones told foreign correspondents in Madrid. This included flight numbers they planned to take.

He said, "It's massively political espionage, which, from our perspective, has a politically motivated motivation."

Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity research organization affiliated with the University of Toronto has revealed that at most 65 people were directly linked to the Catalan separatist group. They were also targeted with Pegasus and similar spyware only sold to government agencies to attack terrorists and criminals.

Nearly all the incidents took place between 2017 and 2020 when attempts to create an independent state in northeastern Spain caused the country's worst political crisis in decades. The ex-Catalan Cabinet, which attempted to organize an illegal referendum on independence, was ousted. The majority of its members were held in prison before being pardoned. Half a dozen people fled the country.

Pegasus and other difficult-to-detect spyware are not confirmed or denied by the Spanish government. Margarita Robles, Defense Minister, stated Wednesday that the laws protecting state secrets forbid the agency from disclosing information about the activities of the country’s intelligence services.

Robles stated that it was impossible to create suspicion over an organization that can't defend itself. Robles also said that CNI's actions are under the supervision of judges.

According to Citizen Lab Aragones' device was infiltrated. He stated that his leftist party had been crucial in supporting Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez's leftist national coalition. Negotiations about the future of the wealthy Catalan area can't go on unless the Spanish government conducts an investigation and exonerates those involved.

Aragones stated that if the CNI targeted espionage is confirmed, the accountability within Sanchez's administration will be determined by who knew, who authorized the actions, and who didn't.

He told The Associated Press, "And when I talk about responsibility, I mean we'll have to see resignations."

Although some progress has been made in resolving some long-term grievances by the separatists, the talks between Madrid's central government and Catalan regional authorities did not resolve the fundamental questions about Catalonia's place within Spain.

Recent elections and polling show that Catalans support independence. However, they have remained divided since the financial crisis of last decade. Majorities recently fluctuated between those who favor or against separation from Spain.


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