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Spain accused of spying on Catalan leaders

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Tensions resurface between the Spanish government and Catalonia. Madrid defended itself, Tuesday, April 19, against the accusation of having spied on the separatist leaders of the region. According to the Canadian research group The Citizen Lab, the Spanish intelligence services would have used the Israeli software Pegasus, between 2017 and 2020, to hack the mobile phones of around 65 people involved in the Catalan independence movement. Among the targets are the regional president Pere Aragonès, his predecessors at the head of the generality of Catalonia and various members of various pro-independence parties. Some of Pere Aragonès’ relatives were also targeted. Finally, several lawyers sensitive to the Catalan cause, members of separatist NGOs and MEPs would also have been wiretapped.

→ REREAD. Pere Aragonès, a “moderate” Catalan separatist president in Paris

Spain categorically denies the facts. “The government has nothing to hide.insisted his spokeswoman Isabel Rodriguez. Spain is a democratic country and a state of law, in which we do not spy, we do not intercept conversations, we do not wiretap, she added.

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An attack on several fronts

According to the report by Citizen Lab, a group of cybersecurity experts from the University of Toronto, the mobiles of the various targets have been infected by malicious SMS or WhatsApp messages. These messages appeared as alerts on Spanish political news or presented links to tweets posted by NGOs or international media.

Admittedly, the research group explains that it cannot yet formally establish a direct link between the Spanish authorities and the use of the spyware, but strong presumptions suggest it. In addition to the profile of the targets, the periods during which the attacks took place correspond to “events of special interest” for the Spanish government. The messages that served as bait came from so-called institutions, such as Social Security or the Ministry of Health. In 2020, the Spanish daily El País had already revealed that the Spanish intelligence services (CNI), which closely monitor the activity of the Catalan independence movement, had Pegasus technology, provided by the Israeli company NSO during the 2010s.

Diplomacy put to the test

Since the failed attempt to secede from Catalonia in October 2017, the Spanish government has been trying to engage with the leaders of Spain’s wealthiest region. But these revelations risk calling everything into question. The president of the generality of Catalonia thus affirmed that political relations with the Spanish executive were suspended “until the opening of an internal, independently supervised investigation”. During a press conference at the Brussels headquarters of the European Parliament, MEP and leader of the independence movement Carles Puigdemont, indicated that he intended to present a series of complaints against the Spanish State and the company NSO.

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→ READ. NSO, the Israeli start-up that has become a leader in digital espionage

This European institution will have an important role to play in the months to come. Officially created on Tuesday April 19, a commission is responsible for investigating the use of Pegasus and other software to spy on political figures. One of the alleged victims in the ranks of the Catalan separatists, MEP Diana Riba, is one of them.

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