Spain govt says it has nothing to hide in spyware scandals

May 3, 2022, 6:50 AM | Updated: 7:04 am
FILE - Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks on his cell phone during a round table meeting a...

FILE - Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks on his cell phone during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, Monday, July 20, 2020. Spanish officials said on Monday May 2, 2022 that the cellphones of the prime minister and the defense minister were infected with Pegasus spyware that is only available to government agencies, in an operation that was not authorised by the government. Reports detailing the breaches have been transferred to Spain's National Court for further investigation. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP, File)

(John Thys, Pool Photo via AP, File)

MADRID (AP) — Spain’s government said Tuesday it had nothing to hide amid mounting unease over national security controversies involving Pegasus spyware, including the hacking of the prime minister’s cellphone and spying on Catalan separatists by unknown agents.

Cabinet spokeswoman Isabel Rodríguez promised that the Socialist-led coalition government will engage in “the utmost collaboration with the legal authorities, including declassifying relevant documents if it proves necessary.”

Rodríguez faced a barrage of questions about the extraordinary security breaches after the weekly Cabinet meeting, when she failed to mention them in her opening remarks as the government tries to contain the political damage from the recent spying revelations.

On Monday, the government revealed that the cellphones of Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles were infected last year with Pegasus spyware, which is available only to countries’ government agencies.

The government was already under pressure to explain why the cellphones of dozens of people connected to the separatist movement in Spain’s northeastern Catalonia region were infected with Pegasus between 2017 and 2020.

Covert spying operations in Spain require judicial consent.

The revelations came amid growing concerns in Europe about the misuse of cyber tools. The European Parliament launched an investigation last month into Pegasus spyware activities, including alleged cases of spying against Hungary, Poland and Greece.

Rodríguez, the Cabinet spokeswoman, said the government found out only last weekend that the cellphones of Sánchez and Robles had been targeted last year.

The powerful and controversial spyware silently infiltrates phones or other devices to harvest data and potentially spy on their owners.

Unanswered questions have swirled in Spain: why has the top-level breach become public only a year later? Who is behind the attacks and who is to blame for the security shortcomings? Are security protocols in Spain, which is a member of the European Union and NATO, inadequate?

The government has refused to speculate on who might be behind the spying, both of top government officials and of Catalan separatists. Spain’s ombudsman and National Court have opened investigations.

“In this case, as in many others, we have nothing to hide,” Rodríguez said.

Robles and the head of Spain’s intelligence service, known by its acronym CNI, are due to testify behind closed doors later this week at parliament’s intelligence affairs committee.

Suspicion about who hacked into the government cellphones has fallen on Morocco, which was in a diplomatic spat with Spain at the time.

Catalans pressing for the wealthy region to break away from Spain were targeted with the software of two Israeli companies, Candiru and NSO Group, the developer of Pegasus. The regional Catalan government has accused the Spanish national intelligence agency of spying on separatists.

Rodríguez said the government won’t take any action until the investigations reach conclusions.

“When we’ve figured out what happened, we’ll have to look at what can be improved, what needs changing, because it’s clear that (cyber)attacks have taken place and so there has to be an improvement,” Rodríguez told reporters.

Even so, she announced the government is investing 1 billion euros ($1.05 billion) in cybersecurity.

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Spain govt says it has nothing to hide in spyware scandals