Monday, May 16

Aragonès, among the 65 independence supporters spied on with a program available only to governments

A scandal of espionage through mobile phones once again has Catalan independence supporters as its victims. At least 65 terminals of sovereignist leaders, their lawyers or family members were infected between 2018 and 2020 by the Israeli cyber espionage system Pegasus, according to Citizen Lab, a group of cybersecurity experts from the University of Toronto. Among those spied on are the telephone number of the president of the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, and his predecessors Quim Torra and Artur Mas, as well as close collaborators of Carles Puigdemont.

Pegasus is a powerful hacking and espionage tool that can turn your target’s phone into a recorder of all their activity. It is capable of remotely activating the microphone, camera or GPS at the attacker’s request and sending them everything they record, as well as accessing messages, photos or any file stored on the device. Independence leaders such as Roger Torrent or Ernest Maragall had already been spied on through this system.

The analysis of Canadian experts accounts for the magnitude of the espionage: at least 65 phones of Catalan politicians, lawyers and activists and those around them were spied on or tried to be hacked with Pegasus or other spyware. Canadian experts emphasize that never before have they encountered so many victims in an espionage case. The 65 spyware targets among pro-independence fighters far exceed previous reports of Al-Jazeera (36 victims) and dissidents in The Savior (35 victims).

Among those spied on are former President Carles Puigdemont’s collaborators, such as his lawyer Gonzalo Boye or Joan Matamala, as well as one of his assistants in the European Parliament and his wife, Marcela Topor. In Boye’s case, his phone was attacked up to 18 times between March and October 2020, and in one of them the attempt managed to access the terminal.

The company that created Pegasus, NSO Group, declared bankrupt, claims that it only sells the Pegasus program to legitimate governments for use in fighting crime and terrorism. However, traces of him have been found on the phones of activists, politicians, opponents of authoritarian regimes and journalists around the world.

Citizen Lab does not point to any specific organization as being responsible for the espionage, although it highlights that its investigation suggests “a link” with the Spanish authorities. For his part, the founder of the application values ​​that the use of technology by Spain would be “legitimate”. The eyes of the victims are directed at the CNI, since the Ministry of the Interior has been blunt in denying that the Police or the Civil Guard have contracted the malicious software.

Espionage, of a level unknown until now, has managed to unite an independence movement that is lost in internal battles. This Monday, through Twitter, Aragonès has urged the Government to give explanations “immediately” and “go to the end” so that they reveal which government agency commissioned the spyware. “We are facing a new GAL, a digital version”, Puigdemont has intervened in the same social network.

President Aragonès, together with Vice President Jordi Puigneró, accompanied by the entire Government, will appear this Tuesday at 4:30 p.m. at the Palau de la Generalitat to assess the massive espionage of independence leaders, so the usual press conference will not be held after the meeting of the Consell Executiu.

At the same time, Puigdemont, Junqueras, CUP deputy Carles Riera and the presidents of the ANC, Elisenda Paluzie, and of Òmnium Cultural, Xavier Antich, as well as the former UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression David Kaye and the representative of Citizen Lab John-Scott Railton, will offer a press conference in the European Parliament this Tuesday to announce the legal and political measures that they will adopt in this case.

The list of the 65 people linked to the independence movement spied on includes both front-line politicians and aides or people close to them. There are politicians from all parties (ERC, Junts, PDeCAT, CUP and PNC) as well as leaders from Òmnium and the ANC. Among them, eight attacks on Joaquim Torra’s phone stand out while he was president of the Generalitat between 2018 and 2020, as well as on Artur Mas once he was out of the Generalitat.

Also listed as hacked, among others, are Junts politicians Albert Batet, Antoni Comín, Elsa Artadi, Joan Ramon Casals, Joaquim Jubert, Jordi Sanchez, Josep Rius, Laura Borràs, Meritxell Budó, Miriam Nogueras; those of ERC Meritxell Serret, Marta Rovira and Josep Maria Jové; those of the CUP Albert Botras, David Fernàndez and Carles Riera; as well as the members of Òmnium and the ANC Jordi Bosch and Elisenda Paliuze; Jordi Cuixart’s wife, Txell Bonet; or the politicians of Bildu Arnaldo Otegi and Jon Iñárritu.

In the case of the Catalan separatists, the motives of the Republicans Roger Torrent and Ernest Maragall; the cupaire Anna Gabriel and the ANC activist Jordi Domingo already suffered attacks with the Israeli program in 2019. The investigation opened in a Barcelona court has failed to shed light on who commissioned the hacking of Torrent and Maragall’s phones, who suspect that behind would be the National Intelligence Center (CNI).