Just two weeks after Europe's biggest cyberespionage scandal was uncovered in a detailed report entitled CatalanGate, the Spanish executive has taken on the role of victim. In a press conference this morning, the Spanish minister for the prime minister's office, Félix Bolaños, stated that, like the 65 figures linked to the Catalan independence movement whose hacking has been documented so far, the head of the Spanish executive Pedro Sánchez and his defence minister Margarita Robles were also spied on using the Israeli software Pegasus. The leading Madrid-based media quickly gave headlines to the new development: both El País and the ABC, El Mundo and La Razón led with the story on their digital front page. Hardly surprising - but in sharp contrast to the silence of the Spanish press over the days since the Catalan case was uncovered, when only El País chose to give it any importance.
It was no surprise, however, that on April 18th and 19th, when the affair first broke, the international press alerted its readers to the espionage, using software only available to governments and targeting a broad cross section of people linked to the Catalan independence movement. Today, with the latest victims being the two members of the Spanish government, world media reacted again. Key Western media from different countries focused on the key details of the case: the mobile phones of the head of the Spanish government and defence minister were spied on a total of three times in 2021, recalling that this was "unlawful and without judicial authorization." Not only that, but they have reported that minister Bolaños accused an "external" perpetrator without specifying a name. And that in May and June last year, when the phones were hacked and the data was extracted, there were pardons for the imprisoned Catalan pro-independence leaders on the agenda.
The words of Aragonès, widely reported
However, as well as reporting on today's news, foreign media placed it in the context of the two weeks of developments since Catalangate exploded after the publication of the report from the University of Toronto's reaserch centre Citizen Lab, and the reaction from the two largest news agencies offered this background. Thus, the Associated Press remarked that the Catalan government has already accused Spain's National Intelligence Centre (CNI) of "spying on pro-independence activists" and has broken off institutional relations between the two executives. In a similar line, Reuters wanted to emphasize that the largest pro-independence party, ERC, warned the Sánchez executive that "it would not support the Spanish government until Madrid enacted measures to restore confidence."
Similarly, the French daily Le Monde remarked that Catalangate has become a "major political scandal in Spain, where the fragile government coalition depends on ERC". In the United States, the Washington Post highlighted the independence movement's demand for the resignation of Robles. And from the United Kingdom, The Guardian used a lengthy quote from today's statement by the Catalan president, Pere Aragonès, who pointed out the hypocrisy of today's rapid action by the Spanish government when its own members are the subjects, after days of prolonged silence on the espionage against dozens of others. "When it’s massive spying on Catalan institutions and the independence movement, it was all silence and excuses. With this, it’s all moving very fast," the paper reported Aragonès as saying. A message that, in fact, was shared by the vast majority of media.
Media reports two weeks ago
The outbreak of the cyberespionage scandal against Catalan independence supporters and people linked personally or professionally to them took over the front pages of the international press two weeks ago. Following the publication of an in-depth article based closely on the Citizen Lab research by the US weekly The New Yorker, the news was widely reported internationally, including stories in the major agencies such as Reuters and the Associated Press, and leading media like Le Monde in France, the American NBCNews, the Canadian Globe and Mail and, from the same country which produces the Pegasus software, The Times of Israel. In most of these articles, emphasis was placed on the fact that dozens of activists and journalists - people not involved in institutional politics - had been monitored by Spanish intelligence.