Spain says Prime Minister, defense minister infected with Pegasus spyware

Spain says Prime Minister, defense minister infected with Pegasus spyware

Spanish officials said Monday that the phones of the prime minister and the defense minister were infected with Pegasus spyware last year that is only available to government agencies in an unauthorized operation.

Prime Minister Pedro Snchez's mobile phone was breached twice in May 2021, and Defense Minister Margarita Robles was targeted once the following month, according to Presidency Minister Flix Bola os in a hastily convened news conference.

He said that breaches resulted in a significant amount of data being obtained, and that reports detailing the hacking have been transferred to Spain's National Court for further investigation.

Bola os said we have no doubt that this is an illegal, unauthorized intervention. It came from outside state organisms and didn't have judicial authorization. Spain s Socialist-led government is under pressure to explain why its cellphones of dozens of people connected to the separatist movement in the northeastern Catalonia region were infected with Pegasus between 2017 and 2020, according to Citizen Lab, a cybersecurity group of experts affiliated with the University of Toronto.

The software of two Israeli companies, Candiru and NSO Group, the developer of Pegasus, has been targeted with the revelations of 65 people, including elected officials, lawyers and activists.

The spyware infiltrates phones or other devices to steal data and potentially spy on their owners.

The regional Catalan government accused Spain's National Intelligence Center, or CNI, of spying on separatists, and declared that relations with national authorities were on hold until full explanations are offered and those responsible are punished.

In 2017, the conservative Popular Party, or PP, was in office when Catalan separatists declared independence following an unauthorized referendum, although no further action was taken to execute the declaration. PP remained in power until mid- 2018 when they were defeated by S nchez in a parliamentary vote.

ERC, the main political party in Catalonia, and a key ally of the government, has called for the resignation of Robles, the defense minister. The spying scandal has left them exposed to the pressure of more radical separatists who are calling for ending the support for S nchez's left-to- center coalition in the national parliament.

The central government has tried to temper its concerns with pledges of full transparency, announcements of plans for an internal investigation by the country s intelligence agency and a separate investigation by Spain sombudsman.

A special parliamentary commission on state secrets has been established and the head of CNI is expected to be questioned by lawmakers later this week, although discussions around state security issues are not meant to be publicized.