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Spanish PM, defense minister latest Pegasus spyware victims

Spain’s prime minister and defense minister are the latest elected officials to detect Pegasus spyware on their mobile phones, according to multiple media reports quoting Spanish authorities.

During a press conference on Monday, Félix Bolaños, the minister for the presidency, told reporters that cellphones of Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez and defense minister Margarita Robles were both infected by NSO’s notorious surveillance software last year. 

Sánchez’s device was breached twice, and Robles’ phone was breached once. Bolaños noted that a Spanish judge did not authorize these breaches, meaning “external” groups initiated the espionage.

“We have no doubt that this is an illicit, unauthorized intervention,” Bolaños said at the press conference. “It comes from outside state organisms and it didn’t have judicial authorization.”

Phones of other government officials are under investigation to determine if additional Spanish lawmakers were targeted, he added.

The allegations come just weeks after researchers reported finding Pegasus spyware on dozens of Catalan politicians and members of civil society groups. 

In mid-April, Citizen Labs identified at least 63 individuals targeted with Pegasus, four others targeted with Windows surveillance software from Candiru, another Israel-based spyware maker that has also been sanctioned in the US. 

The victims included members of the European Parliament, legislators, jurists, members of civil society, and every Catalan president since 2010.

Catalonia is an autonomous region within Spain where there’s a decades-old politically divisive fight for national independence. 

When reports surfaced about Pegasus spyware targeting Catalonians, attention turned to Madrid, which has not confirmed or denied that its national intelligence agency had a contract with NSO to use the surveillance software.

The Catalan president has said he suspects Spain’s National Intelligence Center is behind the breaches and has called for an investigation into the matter.

The timing of the spyware being used against Spanish officials is also noteworthy: it allegedly occurred in May and June 2021, at a time when Madrid was involved in a political rift with Morocco over thousands of migrants crossing the border into its territory and domestic tensions over releasing jailed Catalonian separastist.

At the time when Citizen Labs reported the surveillance operation targeting Catalan politicians and activists, it also said it found Pegasus spyware targeting the UK Prime Minister’s Office and what was formerly called the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

A week prior, reports surfaced that European Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders and at least four EU commission staffers were also targets.

On Wednesday, the European Parliament plenary is scheduled to debate the use of the Pegasus software by EU countries against individuals. ®