The Spanish paramilitary security force, the Civil Guard, and the country's main police force, the National Police, intercepted the telephones of around 40 activists for the Catalan pro-independence left, including members of Committees for the Defence of the Republic (CDR) activism groups and a Cardedeu municipal councillor for the CUP party. According to an investigation published this Monday by the digital media outlet La Directa, the Spanish interior ministry justified the espionage under the umbrella of "the fight against terrorism". The publication has had access to documentation that shows that 38 activists were spied on, including CUP councillor Hugh Lucchetti and the then-spokesperson for the Alerta Solidària legal action group, Xavier Pellicer. The spying was carried out with the permission of Spanish criminal court the National Audience and the public prosecutor's office, and employed IT technology (the Spanish authorities' SITEL system) and, also, a more advanced spyware programme. The documents do not confirm this but the digital publication indicates that a program similar to Pegasus would have been used, since the aim was to intercept communications from applications such as WhatsApp or Telegram.
Monitoring by plainclothes police
This entry into private communications, as indicated by the more than 2,000 information sheets to which La Directa had access, took place a few days after the general strike of November 8th, 2017 and lasted until at least the first quarter of 2019 - that is, for more than a year. The task of the Civil Guard and the Spanish police consisted of the interception of calls and SMSs, the hacking of terminals using spyware, physical monitoring by plainclothes police officers, the placement of geolocation beacons on the bodywork of private vehicles and access to people's email, Twitter and Facebook accounts. The action was supervised by Tepol, the judicial police unit for crimes of terrorism, and the espionage action was endorsed by judges Diego de Egea, Carmen Lamela and Manuel García Castellón of the National Audience , as well as prosecutors Miguel Ángel Carballo and Teresa Sandoval. At the time when this monitoring began, the Spanish prime minister was Mariano Rajoy and the minister of the interior, Juan Ignacio Zoido; however, the espionage continued with Pedro Sánchez at the head of the Spanish government (he entered office in June 2018).
Espionage against the CDR groups
The documentation also shows that the police, with the collaboration in some cases of the Catalan force, the Mossos d'Esquadra, deployed massive monitoring efforts to gather information on the activities of the Committees for the Defence of the Republic. The report contains details of the CDRs and refers to a press conference held on June 5th, 2017 in Vilafranca del Penedès "where the platform called the Committees for the Defence of the Republic, made up of a group of people, was publicly presented linked to the radical separatist left". According to the Civil Guard, the "CDR" moniker was chosen in homage to the "Committees for the Defence of the Revolution of the Communist Party of Cuba".
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The more than 2,000 sheets of information contain a pyramidal organizational chart of the CDRs that locate the different sectors, territories and local centres, in addition to the names of people who were being investigated. For each of them, their membership and current activity is specified, but also their activist career, in some cases going back as far as 1996. In addition, their activity in demonstrations and rallies, participation in assemblies or simple informal meetings held in bars or restaurants is listed. Anti-fascist activism in the faculties of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) is one of the most repeated areas in the police investigation and details are given with names, surnames and group affiliations of those attending various events held to reject the presence on campus of the anti-independence Societat Civil Catalana and other extreme right groups.
The Civil Guard also requested to spy on some of those investigated in the so-called Operation Judas, a high-profile 500-officer operation carried out on September 23rd, 2019, shortly before the announcement of the verdicts in the Supreme Court trial of the pro-independence leaders on rebellion and sedition charges. Those investigated as part of Operation Judas were spied on using beacons attached to their private cars, and devices were also installed in the vehicles of other people who were not arrested in that operation.