Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez and Defense Minister Margarita Robles were targeted with Pegasus spyware that surveilled their mobile phones, the government said Monday.
Félix Bolaños, the minister for the presidency, said at a press conference that Sanchez’s phone was infected by Pegasus software twice, in May and June 2021. According to the Spanish government, data was extracted from both mobile phones, although the Spanish official did not disclose more information regarding the attack or who spied on the Prime Minister.
Bolaños described the targeting as “illicit” and “external” and said that the Audiencia Nacional, Spain’s highest criminal court, will investigate the malicious activities.
“When we say external intrusions, we mean that they are alien to state agencies and do not have judicial authorization from any official agency. That is why we classify them as illegal and external,” Bolaños said, and as he clarified the Spanish government is currently investigating whether other senior members were also hacked by Pegasus software. “I don’t think now is the time to engage in supposition or conjecture about what the motivation may have been,” he added.
Pegasus software was developed by NSO Group, an Israeli company, and it is accused of having been used by governments and others across the world to spy on politicians, journalists, activists, and public figures. A recent investigation has revealed the so-called “Pegasus scandal” causing a series of revelations about how many journalists, activists, and politicians have fallen victims to espionage. Back in November 2021, NSO Group was placed on a US blacklist by the Biden administration after it determined the Israeli spyware maker has acted “contrary to the foreign policy and national security interests of the US”.
“While we have not seen any information related to this alleged misuse and we are not familiar with the details of this specific case,” NSO Group said in a statement Monday. “NSO’s firm stance on these issues is that the use of cyber tools in order to monitor politicians, dissidents, activists, and journalists is a severe misuse of any technology and goes against the desired use of such critical tools.”
Pegasus targets top Catalan politicians
Recently the Spanish government faced questions over how the Pegasus software was used to monitor more than 65 members of the Catalan independence movement. Citizen Lab cybersecurity experts revealed the alleged targeting and Pere Aragonès, the president of the north-eastern Spanish region, said that these spies constituted a violation of individual rights and are an attack on democracy.
“All political espionage is extremely serious,” Aragonès said in a statement on Twitter. “We have been denouncing it for days without obtaining explanations from the Spanish government. When mass espionage is against Catalan institutions and independence, silence, and excuses. Today, everything is in a hurry.”
“The Spanish government needs to come clean over whether or not it is a customer of NSO Group. It must also conduct a thorough, independent investigation into the use of Pegasus spyware against the Catalans identified in this investigation,” said Likhita Banerji of human rights NGO Amnesty International, which peer-reviewed Citizen Lab’s research.