Spain vows to be transparent in probe of Pegasus spyware use

·2 min read

MADRID (AP) — Spanish authorities are pledging full transparency as they launch inquiries into allegations that the phones of dozens of supporters of Catalan independence were hacked with powerful and controversial spyware only sold to government agencies.

An internal probe by the country's intelligence agency, a special parliamentary commission to share its results, and a separate investigation by Spain's ombudsman will be arranged to show that central authorities in Madrid have “nothing to hide," the minister for presidency and relations with parliament, Félix Bolaños, announced Sunday.

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

“We want to recover trust by resorting to dialogue and to transparency,” the minister said in Barcelona, following a meeting with the regional chief of the Catalan presidency, Laura Vilagrà.

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

Pere Aragonès, a pro-independence left-wing politician leading Catalonia's government, said last week that it was putting “on hold” relations with Spain's national authorities after cybersecurity experts in Canada revealed “massive political espionage.”

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

Citizen Lab, an experts group linked to the University of Toronto, said traces of Pegasus and other spyware by two Israeli companies, NSO Group and Candiru, were identified in devices 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, and ended in mid-2020, when Citizen Lab revealed the first cases of the alleged espionage.

The Spanish government has not denied nor confirmed whether it uses Pegasus or other hard-to-detect spyware, saying that any surveillance is conducted under the supervision of judges.

Rounds of talks between the central government in Madrid and Catalan regional authorities have yielded some progress in solving some of the separatists’ long-term grievances, but have not resolved the fundamental issues of Catalonia’s status within Spain.

Polling and recent elections show that the share of Catalans supporting independence grew since last decade’s financial crisis, but have since 2017 remained divided, with majorities fluctuating recently between those in favor or against breaking away from Spain.