Spain’s spy chief sacked over phone hacking scandal

Spanish PM Pedro Sanchez is the first serving head of government confirmed to have been targeted by Pegasus spyware

Spain’s government on Tuesday sacked the country’s spy chief as part of a widening scandal over the hacking of the mobile phones of the prime minister and Catalan separatist leaders.

The affair broke in April when Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab said the phones of over 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been tapped using Pegasus spyware after a failed independence bid in 2017.

Paz Esteban, the first woman to head Spain’s CNI intelligence agency, will be replaced, said Robles, whose ministry oversees the agency, confirming media reports.

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Esteban appeared before a parliamentary committee for questioning on Thursday over the phone hacking scandal which has dominated headlines for days.

The affair has sparked a crisis between Sanchez’s minority government and Catalan separatist party ERC. Sanchez’s fragile coalition relies on the ERC to pass legislation in parliament.

– ‘Not enough’ –

The revelation raised questions over who is to blame and whether Spain has adequate security protocols.

There have been “no traces” of other Pegasus infections of ministers’ phones since then, she told a joint news conference with Robles.

But Catalonia’s regional government said Esteban’s dismissal was “not enough”.

Esteban will be replaced as head of the intelligence services by Esperanza Casteleiro Llamazares, who is currently secretary of state for defence, the second-highest ranking official in the defence ministry.

Pegasus spyware infiltrates mobile phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners.

The company has been criticised by global rights groups for violating users’ privacy around the world and it faces lawsuits from major tech firms such as Apple and Microsoft.

In 1995 Deputy Prime Minister Narcis Serra, Defense Minister Julian Garcia Vargas and the head of the intelligence service at the time, Emilio Alonso Manglano, resigned following revelations that they had illegally monitored the conversations of hundreds of people.

She said former intelligence agency chief Felix Sanz Roldan threatened her with physical harm unless she remained quiet. Sanz Roldan has denied the accusations in court.

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