Spain to reform secret services after phone-hacking scandal: PM

Pedro Sanchez also promises new law governing ‘classified information’ after hacking of top politicians’ phones.

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez
The phone-hacking scandal has sparked a political crisis [File: Susana Vera/Reuters]

Spain will “strengthen judicial control” over its secret services in the wake of a scandal over the hacking of the mobile phones of top politicians, according to Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez.

The scandal broke in April when it emerged the phones of Catalan separatist leaders had been tapped by Spanish intelligence services.

It widened when the government confirmed the phones of Sanchez and the defence and interior ministers were also targeted in an “external attack”.

The affair has sparked a crisis between Sanchez’s minority government and the Catalan pro-independence party ERC.

Sanchez’s fragile coalition relies on the ERC to pass legislation in parliament and remain in power until the next general election due at the end of 2023.

“It is a question of strengthening the guarantees of this control but also of ensuring maximum respect for the individual and political rights of people”, Sanchez told parliament on Thursday as he announced the reform.

Sanchez also said the government will adopt a new law governing “classified information”, which will replace the existing legislation adopted in 1968 during the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco.

“We must urgently adopt regulations to democratic, constitutional principles,” he said.

Spy agency chief sacked

The government last month sacked the head of Spain’s CNI intelligence agency, Paz Esteban, over the hacking scandal. She was the first woman to lead the agency.

Her dismissal came after she told a parliamentary committee that 18 Catalan separatists, including Pere Aragones, the head of Catalonia’s regional government, had been spied on by the CNI but always with court approval.

Spanish Intelligence Agency (CNI)'s Director Paz Esteban looking down
Esteban was the first woman to lead Spain’s spy agency [File: Juan Carlos Hidalgo/EPA]

Canadian cybersecurity watchdog Citizen Lab had said in April that the phones of more than 60 people linked to the Catalan separatist movement had been tapped using Pegasus spyware after a failed independence bid in 2017.

The scandal deepened after the government announced on May 2 that the phones of Sanchez and defence minister Margarita Robles were hacked by the same spyware, made by Israel’s NSO group, in May and June 2021.

Sanchez is the first serving head of government confirmed to have been targeted by controversial Pegasus spyware.

The government later said interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska’s phone was also among those hacked last year.

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

Source: News Agencies