Spanish Spy Chief Dismissed Following Phone-Hacking Scandal

Paz Esteban, former head of the CNI

The Spanish defense ministry has announced that Paz Esteban, the nation’s spy chief, has been dismissed following a phone-hacking scandal involving the controversial Pegasus spyware.

The dismissal comes following a joint investigation by the Guardian and El País which revealed that the mobile phones of senior pro-independence Catalan politicians had been targeted using the spyware.

At least 63 people connected with the Catalan independence movement are believed to have been targeted or infected with Pegasus spyware between 2017 and 2020. Esteban confirmed to a congressional committee last week that her agency had been spying on 18 members of the independence movement with judicial approval.

The scandal follows on from the news that the mobile phones of prime minister Pedro Sánchez, defense minister, Margarita Robles, and interior minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska, were also targeted using Pegasus last year. This was believed to have been the work of foreign actors, but the latest revelations are causing that narrative to be questioned.

The defense minister announced at a press conference that Esteban had been relieved of her post immediately and would be replaced by Esperanza Casteleiro, a veteran of the intelligence services.

Gabriel Rufián, spokesperson for the pro-independence Catalan Republican Left party, praised the move and called it “common sense”

“Accepting political responsibilities isn’t a concession to the independence movement, it’s a concession to common sense” he said.

Some however, accused the prime minister of using Esteban as a scapegoat, feeling that the fault lay with his political leadership.

“It’s grotesque to see Sánchez offering the independence movement the head of the director of the CNI – he’s once again weakening the state to try to ensure his survival,” tweeted Alberto Núñez Feijóo, leader of Spain’s conservative People’s party. “It’s a real slap in the face for our country. Unjustifiable.”