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Spanish spy chief sacked amid Israeli spyware scandal

Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks on his cellphone during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, July 20, 2020. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)
Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez speaks on his cellphone during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels, July 20, 2020. (John Thys, Pool Photo via AP)

MADRID — Spain’s government has fired the director of its top intelligence agency amid two separate cases of hacking of politicians’ cellphones, Spanish media reports say.

Spain’s EFE news agency and other media report that Spain’s Cabinet agreed Paz Esteban will be relieved as head of Spain’s National Intelligence Center, or CNI.

The Cabinet is expected to make an official announcement later today.

The decision comes after Esteban admitted last week in a closed-door committee of Spain’s Parliament that her agency had legally hacked the phones of several Catalan separatists after receiving judicial permission.

Her agency is also under scrutiny for recent revelations by the government that the cellphones of both Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez and the defense minister were also infected with the Pegasus spyware by an “external” power.

The alleged phone hacks of more than 60 Catalan politicians, lawyers and activists was denounced last month in a report by the Canada-based digital rights group Citizen Lab.

The list of phones that were allegedly infected by Pegasus spyware, which the Israeli company NSO says it only sells to government agencies, includes the current regional head of northeast Catalonia. The Citizen Lab report says the hacks started in late 2019, with Esteban in charge of the CNI.

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