The announcement came after a rights group claimed the phones of more than 65 Catalan leaders had been hacked.
The Spanish government has announced investigations into the country’s intelligence services after a rights group said spyware was used to hack into the phones of Catalan separatist leaders. spy
Canadian Citizen Lab investigators said on Sunday that the mobile phones of at least 65 Catalan politicians – including the current leader of the Catalonia region – had been affected.
In most cases, the Pegasus malware, made by Israeli group NSO, was used following Catalonia’s controversial independence referendum in 2017, which was declared illegal by Madrid, the group said.
Citizen Lab, which focuses on high-tech human rights abuses, said it could not directly attribute the spying operations, but circumstantial evidence pointed to Spanish authorities.
Catalan leaders have accused the Spanish government of being behind the illegal operation.
“The government has a clear conscience and has nothing to hide,” Spanish Presidency Minister Felix Bolanos said, announcing a series of investigations into the case.
Bolanos promised an “internal investigation” within the National Intelligence Center, which would report to a parliamentary committee giving lawmakers access to classified information.
The Spanish rights ombudsman will also open an independent investigation, he added, pledging to “collaborate with justice by declassifying the documents if necessary”.
Bolanos announced the investigations after an emergency meeting with his counterpart in the Catalan pro-independence regional administration, Laura Vilagra.
Vilagra called the pledges “vague”, saying they didn’t go far enough. The Catalan executive continues to demand the identification of those responsible and their resignation.
The Catalan pro-independence party which backs Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s minority socialist coalition could not “guarantee” its support amid the current uncertainty, she said.
Catalan and Basque separatist parties – including Catalan leader Pere Aragones’ left-wing republican formation – are part of Spain’s coalition government.
Political tensions rekindled
Citizen Lab, a research center at Canada’s University of Toronto, said almost all of the spying took place between 2017 and 2020 following Catalonia’s bid for independence, which plunged Spain into its worst political crisis in years.
Among those targeted by the spyware were Aragones, former regional leaders Quim Torra and Artur Mas, members of the Catalan parliament and independent civil society organizations, the group said.
The smartphones targeted by Pegasus are essentially turned into handheld spy devices, allowing the user to read the target’s messages, browse their photos, track their location, and even turn on their camera without their knowledge.
The malware was at the center of a row in 2021 after a collaborative multi-media investigation reported that governments were using it to spy on activists, journalists, lawyers and politicians.
Catalonia, a region in northeastern Spain, has for several years been at the center of a political crisis between the separatists, who control the regional executive and parliament, and the central government in Madrid.
Tensions had eased since the start of dialogue between Sanchez’s government and regional authorities in 2020 and the granting of pardons to nine pro-independence leaders last year.