Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s phone is infected with Pegasus spyware

Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez in Brussels on 2 May 2022.

The phone of the head of the Spanish government, Pedro Sanchez, as well as of the Minister of Defense Margarita Robles, has been hacked by the spyware Pegasus, the Spanish authorities in Madrid announced on Monday 2 May. Analysis of these devices confirmed that data had been extracted from them.

Pegasus is a very powerful software, developed by the Israeli company NSO Group, that is capable of sucking all the data from a phone, including the messages exchanged by secure applications like WhatsApp or Signal. This is the first time that the infection of a unit from a head of government in office has been confirmed.

Listen too Pegasus: at the heart of a global study of telephone espionage

According to the Madrid authorities, two infections were confirmed on Mr Sanchez’s phone in May 2021, and another on Robles in June 2021. According to the newspaper El Paíshackers extracted 2.6 gigabytes of data from Mr Sanchez’s device and 9 megabytes from his ministers, but the government is still unaware of “the nature of the stolen information and its degree of sensitivity”. These are their official phones, made available to them by the state, and not their private devices.

“External attack”

A check of all government telephones has been ordered and the government claims to have forwarded “all technical elements” as a result of the analysis of the two infected entities to justice. “This study will establish the whole truth”said a government spokesman at a news conference Monday, declaring it was one “illegal and external attack”except that it could have been carried out by the Spanish intelligence services.

Madrid did not specify which intelligence service or country was suspected of being behind the attacks. At the time of the infections discovered by the Spanish services, the country was involved in a violent diplomatic battle with Morocco. On May 20, 2021, Rabat eased its control on the border with the enclave of Ceuta, leaving more than 8,000 migrants to illegally reach this Spanish territory. Mme Robles then described this influx as“aggression against Spanish borders but also EU borders” and condemned one “extortion” of Morocco, for which she had accused“use minors”.

The “Project Pegasus” surveys showed in the summer of 2021 that a large number of journalists, lawyers or human rights activists as well as members of the French government had been targeted by Pegasus on behalf of the intelligence services in the Cherifian kingdom. . Morocco refuses to use spyware.

Spain, for its part, has admitted to being a client of the NSO Group and is at the heart of a major scandal: A lengthy study by Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto (Canada), which specializes in spyware, has shown, on April 18, that more than sixty Catalan separatist phones had been infected with Pegasus between 2017 and 2020, presumably on behalf of the Spanish intelligence services.

Also read: Pegasus: dozens of elected officials and members of Catalan civil society targeted by spyware

These revelations have caused a political scandal in Spain, where the fragile left-wing governing coalition depends on the votes of the Republican Left in Catalonia (ERC, independent).

On April 28, the separatist deputies, who are demanding a parliamentary commission of inquiry and have announced complaints to the courts for the espionage for which they have been victims, have also shown their anger by voting against the government’s financial support plan. on coping with inflation caused by the war in Ukraine. The text passed only narrowly thanks to the votes of Basque separatists on the left.

The Minister of Defense in the hot seat

As the Spanish government seeks to restore relations with the ERC to ensure the smooth running of the second half of the Legislative Assembly, many voices have been raised in the right-wing opposition, astonished “significant political coincidence” latest revelations. According to the government, it was precisely the Citizen Lab report that prompted it to conduct an in-depth review of the phones of Mr Sanchez and Robles.

But far from dampening the irritation of Catalan separatists, the announcement of the espionage suffered by Pedro Sanchez and his minister was met with consideration by the president of the Catalan regional government, Pere Aragones (ERC). “When espionage is massive against Catalan institutions and separatism, silence and red herring. Today it is about haste.”, he commented on Twitter. He himself is among the targets of Pegasus’ attack. “There is an urgent need for an inquiry with independent oversight and accountability. There are still many questions to be answered.”

“When it only went beyond independence, the minister came [Mme Robles] justified it “, recalled the Speaker of the Catalan Parliament, Laura Borras. A reference to the statements of the Minister of Defense, who on April 27 questioned the credibility of the Citizen Lab report to the Spanish Parliament and assured that all wiretaps were carried out under court order, while rhetorically asking the deputies, “What should a state or government do when someone breaks the constitution, proclaims independence, organizes public disorder?” The separatists had demanded his resignation.

Requested by The worldthe company NSO Group explained that it had no knowledge of“information related to this alleged abuse case or details of this particular case”. “The NSO’s position on these issues is that the use of cyber tools to monitor politicians, dissidents, activists or journalists is a serious misuse of technology and goes against the desired use of such critical tools.”, said a spokesman for the company. He also claimed that the company “does not [pouvait] not knowing what their customers’ goals are “ and that it was ready to cooperate with the investigation launched by the Spanish authorities.

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