Head of Spanish secret service fired for using Pegasus

Paz Esteban, the head of the Spanish secret service CNI, was fired today. Last week, she admitted that the service has tapped mobile phones belonging to Catalan politicians, activists and lawyers. For this, the service used the controversial espionage software Pegasus.

That writes the Spanish newspaper El País.

Pegasus used to eavesdrop on Catalan and Spanish politicians

Pegasus, an eavesdropping program developed by the Israeli NSO Group, has been gripping Spain for several weeks. Last month it was announced that the software had been used to eavesdrop on dozens of Catalan politicians. Members of the European Parliament, activists, journalists and civil society organizations have also reportedly been under surveillance with Pegasus. All of this happened between 2017 and 2020. It is rumoured that the Spanish government ordered it.

The scandal is bigger. Félix Bolaños, Spain’s presidency minister, told a news conference last week that President Pedro Sánchez and Defense Secretary Margarita Robles were secretly wiretapped with Pegasus last year. “It’s not an assumption, these are very serious facts,” Bolaños said. He ordered the Spanish judiciary to investigate the “unlawful and unauthorized operation”.

Spanish media reported that more than 2.6 GB of information was stolen using Israeli spy software. Whether that is the case and what data was stolen has not been confirmed by the government.

‘A major failure of the CNI’

Paz Esteban appeared several times before an inquiry committee of the Spanish House of Commons after the wiretapping became known. There she was interrogated and questioned about the wiretapping for hours. Then she admitted that espionage activities had taken place under her leadership. She had not informed the Prime Minister or other ministers of this.

“The past two weeks have in themselves been a major failure of the CNI, which should remain under the radar and not be the topic of conversation,” a member of the government summarized over the weekend. The ministers unanimously decided that Esteban could no longer remain as head of CNI.

‘Strengthening the Secret Service’

Secretary Robles announced the news of her resignation today. In her speech, she thanked 64-year-old Esteban for her commitment to the fight against terrorism. “It is necessary to strengthen the secret service and take a step forward and modernize (…) Today we take another step to defending Spain against the attacks coming from different parts of the world,” Robles defended the decision to Esteban’s dismissal.

According to the Spanish newspaper El País, it was difficult for Robles to fire Esteban. She was the one who openly supported her appointment as Director of the Secret Service. And now it’s Robles of all people who has to kick her out. During her speech, Robles said that it was not a resignation, but “a replacement”.

Esteban’s successor is Esperanza Casteleiro, the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs.

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