Politicians, journalists and NGOs will be heard by a European Parliament mission in the CatalanGate case. The subject is an espionage controversy involving the Pegasus program.
Politicians, journalists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) will be heard by a European Parliament mission next week in Spain about espionage with the Pegasus computer program, a case that led to the resignation of the head of the country’s secret services.
The European Parliament (EP) moved forward in April 2022 with a committee to investigate the use of the harmful computer program (called ‘malware’) Pegasus in the Member States of the community bloc and, in a preliminary report, released in November, dedicated specific chapters to Spain, Greece, Cyprus, Poland and Hungary.
In the case of Spain, in May 2022, the Spanish government dismissed the director of the National Information Center (CNI), Paz Esteban, after a controversy over the espionage to which the Catalan separatists were subjected and the telephone numbers of the head of the Spanish Executive and various ministers. Esteban had acknowledged, in a parliamentary commission, that the CNI had spied on 18 independentista leaders with judicial authorization.
The case acquired a new dimension when the Government revealed that the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, and the Defense Minister, Margarita Robles, they themselves had been spied on by the same ‘software’, this time as part of an ‘external attack’whose author remains unknown.
What is CatalanGate? Dozens of people spied on with malware
This year, in early January, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteurs on minority issues and freedom of expression and assembly asked the Spanish government to report on alleged espionage against pro-independence leaders in Catalonia, through Pegasus, a computer program developed in Israel and sold to various states.
According to the preliminary report of the European Parliament commission created to investigate the use of Pegasus, in Spain there were “a large number of targets for spy programs”but apparently, “they were the object of surveillance by different agents and for different reasons.”
“There is a general belief that the Moroccan authorities were watching” Sánchez and the Ministers of Defense and Interior Administration, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, reads the document, which adds that there is, therefore, “a second group of victims known as ‘CatalanGate'”, in which deputies, MEPs, lawyers and members of civil society Organizations of the society, all Catalan.
The document highlights that there are references, in an investigation by the University of Toronto, to at least 65 people spied inside the ‘CatalanGate’ with Pegasus, of 2015, and that the Spanish authorities acknowledged having monitored 18 of them, with judicial authorization.
Since it became known, in April 2022, the ‘CatalanGate’ “has received intense public attention” and the media, both Spanish and other countries, “collaborated extensively with civil society organizations to analyze surveillance systems in Spain and defend fundamental rights”, but “some Spanish politicians tried to discredit CitizensLab [da Universidade de Toronto]insinuating that it does not have well-founded methods and that it is politically motivated”, reads the preliminary version of the EP report.
The MEP in charge of preparing the report, the Dutch Sophie in’t Veld, admitted that the preliminary version of the report would have to undergo many changes, since the parliamentary commission “is very politicized”, and also complained about the lack of cooperation by the national authorities of the Member States, who refuse to provide information for reasons of “national security”.
Sophie in’t Veld argued that “this is a European problem”, because “the abuse of ‘spyware’ in the Member States of the European Union (EU) is a serious threat to democracy across the continent.”
On March 9, the The EP committee began discussing 1,281 proposed amendments to the draft reportwhich includes recommendations to the European Commission to impose a moratorium on programs like Pegasus or define criteria that justify their use.
Sophie in ‘t Veld appealed to the other MPs focus on “the principles behind the text and not the politics” and said that the chapter on Spain was the most backward, pending the information that would be collected in Madrid on Monday and Tuesday.
In those two days, nine MEPs plan to meet with national and regional politicians, including victims of espionage, the Ombudsman, NGOs and other people and entities, according to a EP press release.
Poland, Greece and Hungary have already been heard
The visit to Spain follows other similar ones already made to Israel, Poland, Greece, Cyprus and Hungary and, quoted in the same statement, Sophie in ‘t Veld as saying she hoped to meet with “as many government officials as possible” for the meetings as it “will help the investigation a lot”.
One of the meetings already confirmed will be with the president of the Generalitat de Catalunya (also known as Generalitat), according to the same note and the independence leader himself, Pere Aragonès.
“Whether in Madrid or in Brussels, I will denounce the situation of espionage that we suffer due to our political militancy and institutional positions, people like me. I will go anywhere to denounce this political espionage”, said Pere Aragonès, at the end of last week.