The Independence Movement believes Pegasus spyware victims top the 65 cases accredited to CatalanGate, a report released April 18 by cybersecurity expert group Citizen Lab. 2017, when a referendum was held that was declared illegal by the Constitutional Court. Junts has already taken this step and, according to various training sources, provided 10 additional terminals to find out if they were attacked (intrusion attempts) or infected (hacked).
These sources say the owners of these devices include “high-ranking Generalitat officials” and that they were not traced by experts from the University of Toronto in the first round of analysis that began in July 2020 after EL PAÍS and The Guardian revealed Pegasus attacks on the then Parliamentary President Roger Torrent and former MPs Annu Gabriel (CUP) and Ernest Maragall (ERC). The devices of these politicians were monitored between April and May 2019.
In recent days, party representatives and experts from the Citizen Lab environment have met in Parliament to expand the experience to more mobile devices. In both the Junts and the ERC and CUP, they find it strange that between 2015, when the CNI set up the Constitutional Principles Defense Unit to investigate the independence movement, and the illegal referendum of 1-O 2017. The bulk of the victims identified by CatalanGate are concentrated after the verdict in the case.
In 2015, only the then President of the National Assembly of Catalonia (ANC), Jordi Sánchez, received fake SMS messages from Pegasus after the September 11 dyad, which drew hundreds of thousands of sovereignty supporters in Barcelona that year. In 2016, Citizen Lab did not confirm cases of infection, despite the fact that this year marked important milestones in the process, such as the announcement by then-president Carles Puigdemont of a consultation next year. And in 2017, Sanchez was invaded into the Israeli system three times in the five months before the referendum.
The time frame for the cybersecurity team’s investigation was set on mobile phones that were within reach. The CUP, for example, has an internal debate about who could be its most prominent members who, coinciding with the referendum, could be monitored. The ANC is also debating which group of perpetrators should be covered by this investigation. Last Monday, the ERC acknowledged that it first submitted 35 mobile phones for analysis, 16 of which were found to have been attacked or infected.
But this desire to have more evidence of espionage with Pegasus (through open judicial channels) runs into logistical problems. CUP representatives and former members of the government explain that politicians no longer have the mobile phones they used during those critical days of the process, either because they were from the Generalitat and have already been upgraded due to technological obsolescence, or they simply do not have them in availability. Sanchez’s case was exceptional precisely because he kept his old terminals.
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While 2018 was marked by key moments in the struggle for independence, such as the flight to Switzerland of Gabriel and ERC General Secretary Marta Rovira after failing to appear before the Supreme Court, or the arrest in Germany of Carl Puigmont, Citizen Lab only confirmed two years of infections. This is the President of the Partit Democrat Europeu Català David Bonevi and the businesswoman Dolors Mas.
The Cyber Security Agency of the Generalitat has also tested the mobile phones of high-ranking officials. He has already done something similar in 2020, after the Torrent sequel became known. The government agency then analyzed a dozen terminals of members of the government and was able to verify that the victims were three, although it could not determine through which program. It is now established that Pegasus was used. Among the targets were the former directors of Meritxell Budo and Damia Calvet, as well as the then chief of staff of the current vice president, Jordi Puignero. Calvet is not listed in Canada’s report.
“We are not talking about CatalanGate 2 in terms of volume, but about new casualties that may result from mobile phones sent to Citizen Lab for analysis,” a senior source at Junts points out.
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