The 2021 spyware attack targeted the Prime Minister’s phone

MADRID – Spanish officials said Monday the prime minister’s and defense minister’s cellphones were infected last year with Pegasus spyware, which is only available to government agencies in an unauthorized operation.

Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s mobile phone was broken into twice in May 2021, and Defense Minister Margarita Robles’ device was attacked once the following month, Presidential Minister Félix Bolaños said in a hastily called news conference on Monday.

He said the breaches resulted in a significant amount of data being obtained and reports detailing the hacking attacks were forwarded to Spain’s national court for further investigation.

“We have no doubt that this is an illegal, unauthorized intervention,” Bolaños said. “It came from outside government organizations and had no court approval.”

Spain’s socialist-led government is under pressure to explain why the phones of dozens of people linked to the separatist movement in the northeastern region of Catalonia became infected with Pegasus between 2017 and 2020, according to Citizen Lab, an expert group affiliated with the university for Cyber ​​Security of Toronto.


The revelations concern at least 65 people, including elected officials, lawyers and activists, who have been targeted with software from two Israeli companies, Candiru and NSO Group, the developer of Pegasus.

The spyware secretly infiltrates phones or other devices to collect data and possibly spy on their owners.

The Catalan regional government has accused Spain’s National Intelligence Center (CNI) of spying on separatists, saying relations with national authorities are “on hold” until full explanations are offered and those responsible are punished.

The conservative Popular Party, or PP, was in power in 2017 when Catalan separatists declared their independence after an unauthorized referendum, although no further action was taken to implement the declaration. The PP remained in power until mid-2018, when it was ousted by Sánchez in a parliamentary vote.

ERC, the main political party in Catalonia and a key government ally, has called for the resignation of Defense Minister Robles. But the espionage scandal has exposed them to pressure from more radical separatists, who are demanding an end to support for Sánchez’s left-centre coalition in the national parliament.


The central government has tried to allay its concerns with pledges of full transparency, announcements of plans for an internal probe by the country’s intelligence agency and a separate probe by the Spanish ombudsman.

A parliamentary special commission on state secrets has also been set up and the head of the CNI is due to be questioned by lawmakers later this week, although discussions of state security issues are not to be made public.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. The 2021 spyware attack targeted the Prime Minister’s phone

Joel McCord

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