Of all the countries affected by national cases that have had the dubious honor of being analyzed by the European Parliament commission on espionage with the Pegasus surveillance program, "only Spain" has collaborated by sending the head of its secret services, congratulated this morning the PSOE MEP and former Justice Minister Juan Fernando López Aguilar.
The telematic presence of Esperanza Casteleiro, the director of the National Intelligence Center, was indeed celebrated by all those present at the hearing, both experts and politicians. But his joy has not lasted long: Casteleiro has limited himself to explaining in detail the legal framework in which the Spanish secret services operate and has not answered any of the questions that MEPs have thrown at him, at least 28. Everything is, basically, secret, the head of Spanish espionage has said from Madrid, as other countries have made clear before with their absence.
"Have they spied on me with Pegasus? Am I one of the 18 cases with judicial authorization?" Jordi Solé (ERC) asked Casteleiro. "Can you confirm if I have been spied on as an MEP?" asked Diana Riba (ERC). "Does the CNI have Pegasus? Are you aware that any other Spanish body has Pegasus? Have the reports of the people spied on been delivered to the Ministry of the Interior and the President of the Government?" Carles Puigdemont pointed out. "If members of a regional government met with intelligence agents, let's say Russians, to demand support for an independence process, would that be subject to the democratic mandate that you have? If the president of a region, let's say Catalonia, met with a emissary, let's say Russian, the day before declaring independence, should you be attentive to this?", Jordi Cañas, from Ciudadanos, has raised. None have obtained satisfaction from his questions.
"As I have detailed, the CNI is the only institution that has a specific parliamentary commission to account for its activities and can only do so before it", so "for consistency and legal obligation" I can only respond by insisting that Law 11 /2002 regulating its activities "constitute classified information with the degree of secrecy". "This is the legal obligation that prevents us from talking about issues related to the CNI in the European Parliament, since it cannot be done in any other place than the official secrets commission of the Spanish Parliament, as our law also provides" , said Casteleiro, who began his speech by emphasizing that Spain is "a social, democratic and legal state" of which he feels "proud".
"In the questions in which the law does not require secrecy, I will try to answer in writing," promised the head of the CNI before turning off the camera and leaving the deputies between perplexed and indignant before a giant screen in which only the logo of the European Parliament was visible. "It is not very satisfactory that no response has been given", the president of the Pegasus commission, the Dutch conservative Jeroen Lenaers, was right to say, above the murmur of protests and laughter in the room, who nevertheless hopes that Casteleiro will contribute some explanation in writing. In her initial speech, which lasted 15 minutes instead of the 10 planned, the head of Spanish espionage defended that "all actions" of the CNI are governed "by the principle of legality" and stressed that the judicial authorization system with which they work makes their regulatory framework "one of the most guaranteeing and protective".
The person who was still connected was the representative of the Government, Juan José Torres, general secretary of the Ministry of Economy, but the parliamentarians have shown little interest in his explanations about the digitalization strategy of the Spanish public administration, especially after having listened to the testimonies in first person of two self-declared victims of espionage with Pegasus, the journalist Ignacio Cembrero, who in his case attributes it to the Moroccan authorities, and the lawyer Andreu Van den Eynde, representative of Oriol Junqueras, who attributes it to the Spanish Government, or the contested technical doubts expressed by the expert proposed by the PP, emeritus professor Gregorio Martín, about the original report on the Catalangate, the spying scandal on Catalan politicians. Thus, although he was running late, Casteleiro's brief intervention led to the working session being adjourned earlier than expected.
For German MEP Cornelia Ernst (European United Left), the CNI chief's response is "an insult to all MEPs". "The head of the secret services read us some blablabla from a piece of paper and then she simply refuses to answer our 28 questions and she leaves the commission," the Die Linke deputy protested on Twitter. "Incredible lack of response from the Spanish authorities during the hearing," Belgian MEP Saskia Bricmont (Greens) complained on Twitter, describing it as "lack of respect" that Spain hides behind arguments of national security to not give explanations . Cañas, from Ciudadanos, a member of the liberal group, has defended Casteleiro's intervention. "It is normal that the director of the CNI does not answer because it is not in her mandate. She has shown the legal framework in which she acts, which is always respecting the law, and then that she cannot answer questions if it is not the official secrets commission " , has declared at the end of the session.
In the first session of the morning, the lawyer Van den Eynde has denounced that the Government and the Spanish justice system "have not lifted a finger" to help the alleged victims. "No law allows the use of cyber espionage against a lawyer, there are no rules on how a program like this is used against citizens" software of this type, with such a vast and indiscriminate scope, he denounced. Gregorio Martin has denied the majority: "We are really not scientifically in a position to say that the phone has been infected by the new espionage systems," said this retired professor, who has questioned CitizenLab's working method, in a controversial appearance. the world reference center for this type of research, in the Catalangate.
For his part, the journalist Ignacio Cembrero has denounced the "inaction" of the Spanish authorities in the face of the harassment he has suffered for a decade from Morocco, a country that -he suspects- tapped his phone last year, a fact that he denounced before the courts , although there has been no in-depth follow-up on his case. Cembrero has described as "not credible" that the Spanish government discovered only in April this year that three mobile phones (belonging to the president, the defense minister and the interior minister) were being spied on.
A year ago, he recalled, the then head of Foreign Affairs, Arancha González Laya, declared that her terminal had been infected by malicious hardware. If he only denounced it this year, it was "probably to mitigate the impact of Catalangate, to say that there were victims on both sides", concluded Cembrero, who believes that the Government has not denounced NSO or asked Israel for explanations, since his Government it must authorize the sale of the software to foreign powers, so as not to harm the good understanding with Morocco. "The Government is not going to allow anything to cloud that relationship," the Spanish reporter, an expert on the Maghreb, said by videoconference.
Members of the Pegasus commission have visited in recent months the main countries where the use of spyware has come to light (Hungary, Poland and Greece), as well as Israel, the country of origin of the firm that manufactures it, NSO . The MEPs have not, however, been able to organize a mission to Spain, a situation that some deputies from the Greens and the European United Left attribute to the mutual protection that the PSOE and the PP supposedly provide each other. "The big political groups have actively prevented more research in Spain and Catalonia," Belgian ecologist Saskia Bricmont told the Politico Europe website yesterday. There is "a lack of political will" among popular and socialists to organize such a mission, Ernst (IUE) criticized today.