Spain promises to be transparent in the investigation of Pegasus spyware use

MADRID (AP) – Spanish authorities promise full transparency as they launch investigations into allegations that the phones of dozens of Catalan independence supporters were hacked with powerful and controversial spyware sold only to public authorities.

An internal inquiry by the country’s intelligence service, a special parliamentary commission to share the findings and a separate inquiry by the Spanish ombudsman will be set up to show that the central authorities in Madrid “have nothing to hide,” the minister of presidency and relations with Parliament. , Félix Bolaños, announced Sunday.

Bolaños also said the government remained committed to negotiating with separatists on the future of the troubled northeastern region of Catalonia.

“We want to regain confidence by resorting to dialogue and transparency,” the Barcelona minister said after a meeting with the Catalan regional president, Laura Vilagrà.

“The government has a clear conscience and we have nothing to hide,” Bolaños added.

Pere Aragonès, a left-wing independence politician who heads Catalonia’s government, said last week that it was “suspending” relations with Spain’s national authorities after Canadian cyber-security experts revealed “massive political espionage”.

Aragonès accused Spain’s intelligence service, known as the CNI in Spanish, of the alleged hacking.

Citizen Lab, an expert group affiliated with the University of Toronto, said traces of Pegasus and other spyware from two Israeli companies, the NSO Group and Candiru, were identified in units of 65 people, including elected officials, activists, lawyers, European lawmakers and others.

Most infiltration took place between 2017, when a banned referendum on Catalan independence caused a deep political crisis in Spain, ending in mid-2020, when the Citizen Lab revealed the first cases of the alleged espionage.

The Spanish government has not denied or confirmed whether it uses Pegasus or other hard-to-detect spyware, and says any surveillance is carried out under the supervision of judges.

Rounds of negotiations between the central government in Madrid and the Catalan regional authorities have provided some progress in resolving some of the separatists’ long-term complaints, but have not resolved the fundamental issues of Catalonia’s status in Spain.

Opinion polls and recent elections show that the proportion of Catalans who support independence has grown since last decade’s financial crisis, but has been divided since 2017, with the majority recently swinging between those in favor or against breaking out of Spain.

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