Spain fires its spy head after the Pegasus incident, according to reports

Spain fires its spy head after the Pegasus incident, according to reports

“The government has decided today to make a change in the leadership of the CNI,” Robles told a news conference after a Cabinet ministers meeting. Earlier this month, Spanish officials confirmed that Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Defense Minister Robles’ cellphones were hacked with the Pegasus spyware. Pegasus spyware infiltrates mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners. Its developer, Israeli company NSO, says it only sells the Pegasus spyware to government agencies.

Paz Esteban was fired following a scandal involving the deployment of the Pegasus spyware to infiltrate senior Spanish officials’ telephones and spy on Catalan separatists. In July 2019, Esteban, 64, became the first woman to lead Spain’s intelligence agency CNI. Following the revelation of the hacking of lawmakers’ telephones, the Spanish government sacked the director of its main spy agency. On Tuesday, Spanish Defense Minister Margarita Robles announced the appointment of Esperanza Casteleiro, who formerly held the second highest level in Spain’s Defense Ministry, as the new director of the National Intelligence Center (CNI).

In April, Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab said the phones of over 60 people linked to the Catalan pro-independence movement had been hacked using the Pegasus spyware. Citizen Lab reported that the hacks started in late 2019, with Esteban in charge of the CNI. According to Spanish officials, Esteban herself admitted in a closed-door meeting last week that her agency had hacked the phones of several Catalan separatists after receiving judicial permission.

The controversy has sparked a political crisis between Sanchez’s minority government and the Catalan separatist party ERC, which Sanchez’s fragile coalition often relies on to pass legislation in parliament. Esteban, 64, became the first woman to head the CNI in July 2019. She initially served on an interim basis and was later appointed to a permanent position in February 2020. In 2017, Esteban’s predecessor came under fire for failing to stop preparations by Catalan separatists to hold an independence referendum that had been deemed illegal by Spain’s top courts.

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