Spain: the boss of the secret services ousted due to a spy scandal

She did not resist the scandal. The boss of the Spanish intelligence services was dismissed on Tuesday May 10 by the government after the scandal caused by the revelation that the phones of Catalan separatists had been listened to by her services thanks to the Pegasus software. “The government decided today to make a change in the leadership of the CNI”the National Intelligence Center, announced the Minister of Defence, Margarita Robles, Minister responsible for the intelligence services, at the end of the Council of Ministers.

First woman appointed, in 2020, at the head of the CNI, Paz Esteban appeared for several days as the designated victim of this spy scandal. Aged 64, this graduate in philosophy and letters had worked for almost forty years at the CNI. She will be replaced by Esperanza Casteleiro Llamazares, Robles’ current number two in the Defense Ministry.

Questioned Thursday by a parliamentary commission, Paz Esteban had admitted, according to what the Spanish media had reported, that 18 Catalan separatists had been listened to by the CNI, but always with the green light of justice, so legally. Among them was the current regional president, Pere Aragonés, when he was vice-president. Preparing the ground for his ousting, government sources quoted in the media have since assured that the executive had not been informed of these wiretappings, despite the extremely sensitive nature of the Catalan question.

This scandal has shaken Spain since the publication, on April 18, of a report by the Canadian organization Citizen Lab claiming to have identified more than 60 people from the separatist movement whose cellphones were allegedly hacked between 2017 and 2020 by the spyware Pegasus.

To this first scandal was added the announcement, on May 2, by the government that Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Margarita Robles had themselves been spied on in May and June 2021 via this same software, created by the Israeli company NSO, as part of an “external attack” led by an unidentified actor. The executive, who revealed on Tuesday that the cell phone of the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, had also been listened to in May 2021, however claims not to know who may be at the origin, in the face of questions of the press on a possible involvement of Morocco.

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