Catalangate: The Surveillance State in Spain

On the 18th April, The New Yorker uncovered in an extensive report [1] the biggest case of espionage in an EU country. The Canadian organisation Citizen Lab had documented [2] the spying on 65 pro-independence Catalans with the Pegasus and Candiru programmes. The case was dubbed #Catalangate.

Dictatorships spy. The Washington Post estimates that, worldwide, some 50,000 mobile phones have been victims of Pegasus. But this cannot be an acceptable practice in countries that claim to be democratic and respect rights and freedoms. That is why it came as a shock to discover that Poland and Hungary had spied on opponents with the flagship programme of the Israeli company NSO Group, which claims it only sells it to states to fight terrorism and crime.

Now it shocks the EU that Spain (what other state could it be?) has illegally spied on a large number of its citizens since 2017. And it has not done so because of the threat of terrorism or criminality, but because it has violated the privacy of people who are part of a political movement that is entirely legitimate, non-violent and democratic, albeit contrary to the interests of Spanish nationalism.

There are 65 documented cases (MEPs, members of the Spanish Congress and the Catalan Parliament, lawyers, journalists, activists…), but many more could be affected. In fact, I myself, who am no one important, suspect that my mobile phone was infected because, in August 2019, it did strange things, such as recording phone conversations and even sent a message, which I did not write, to a relative.

In reality, we Catalans are not surprised to have been spied on, nor is it the most serious thing that has been done to us. The Catalan conflict has driven Spanish nationalism crazy –Spanish nationalism permeates the structures of the State and is not even considering a democratic solution. They are using the force and levers of the state to try to find their solution: to destroy our political movement. In the 1980s against ETA, Spain created the terrorist group GAL to murder Basques, as the courts proved years later, with convictions and subsequent pardons for the guilty. Against Catalan independence, a peaceful and democratic movement, they are equally resorting to a dirty war.

They sent 10,000 riot police officers to Catalonia to prevent the 2017 referendum, beating and injuring 1,065 peaceful voters. They sentenced the leaders to 9- 13 years in prison for having carried out a coup d’état (false, because if, with 2,300,000 activists, had we attempted a coup d’état, there would have been deaths and we would possibly be independent, but we are a democratic and peaceful movement). After 4 years, they had to pardon those imprisoned because the case would not have withstood the appeals to the EU Justice. Likewise, more than 3.500 activists who have pending sentences have been prosecuted. And, on the basis of hypothetical embezzlement, the Court of Auditors demanded bail of €9M from some forty pro-independence activists, which has now been reduced to €5.6m. This will also end up being shelved before the case reaches EU justice, because they could not prove embezzlement, but above all because the aim was not to investigate anything but to destroy the pro-independence activists economically with these exorbitant bails.

So we were sure that they would also attack our privacy. The millions of pro-independence activists have lived knowing that our privacy could be violated. Not only to obtain evidence against those under investigation or to learn about plans and strategies, but possibly for a more unspeakable crime: to obtain compromising information about the leaders, in order to blackmail them and curb the movement.

But the most disturbing aspect of Catalangate has been the reaction of the Spanish press, which from day one hid the information. And when they could no longer hide it, they did not present it as something serious, but as something normal and acceptable against a movement that they interpret as a threat to Spain. Moreover, they took for granted the Spanish government’s statements denying having anything to do with the matter. In short, the media and politicians follow the line of hiding and justifying, to the Spanish population, all the abuses they have been perpetrating against the Catalans, this becoming a dehumanisation typical of regimes of other times. In this way it seems impossible for Spanish citizens to understand the seriousness of the matter and demand accountability.

Until now the EU has been looking the other way and has allowed Spain to do all this. Always repeating the mantra that you cannot interfere in the internal affairs of a member state. Now that this illegal espionage is shocking the Western world, we will pull the thread to bring out all the foul play that Spain has been practising –totally contrary to EU standards–, and to make it clear that, by invoking the “just cause”, the Catalan national minority has the right to free itself from this subordination to Spain that plunders and subjugates a modern, pluralistic society with its own way of doing things, such as the people of Catalonia.

[1] The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow:

[2] Citizen Lab:

Comments (10)

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I think it is instructive that Ms Lisa Nandy, a shadow Labour minister, expressed the view when asked about Scottish independence that she approved of Spain’s dealing with Catalans.

    I think she did not understand the concept of ‘civic nationalism’, as it applies in Scotland and Catalunya, nor is she aware of the historic and constitutional differences between the cases of Scotland and Catalunya. However, the brutal conduct of the Spanish police in its dealings with Catalans was well documented.

    1. 220428 says:

      It’s also instructive that, in the same interview, Andrew Neill (no less!) challenged Lisa’s remarks and defended the SNP’s brand of nationalism as ‘not hard right’ but as going instead ‘hand in hand with social justice’.

      1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

        Yes, indeed.

        I was a student at Glasgow University at exactly the same time as Mr Neill. We did not move in the same social groups, but there was no hostility between us. He was one of a group of Union Board Members who ejected me one night when I barged into Hugh McDiarmid, caused him to spill his whisky and received a volley of unpoetic abuse including implications about my mother which were wholly unjustified!

        Despite his right wing views which were clear even in these days (but there were groups even further right at the university) he has adhered to some journalistic standards of even handed interviewing albeit in a pretty challenging way. This was why Mr Boris Johnson ducked out of the interview with him in 2019. He does actually do his homework and tests the interviewee pretty rigorously. However, he can also be frankly bullying and does promote a particular ideology which derives from Mrs Thatcher.

        The points you make with regard to his challenges to Ms Nandy points up the vacuity in Labour’s position with regard to the constitution and the constitution entails much more than Scottish independence. Labour wilfully ignores the big issue of the governance of England.

        1. 220429 says:

          The points you make with regard to his challenges to Ms Nandy points up the vacuity in Labour’s position with regard to the constitution and the constitution entails much more than Scottish independence. Labour wilfully ignores the big issue of the governance of England.

          You say this, but have you read what Lisa has been consistently saying and writing about progressively disempowering Westminster in favour of local communities throughout the British Isles, which is one of the several positions within the Labour movement that looks beyond the present constitution. Far from being vacuous, Labour’s position on constitutional change is rich and diverse.

          Also, have you read The Alternative: Towards a New Progressive Politics, which Lisa edited with Caroline Lucas, with contributions from a broad range of left and centre-left voices, including Frances O’Grady, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, and Mhairi Black, and which sets out a base of core values around which progressives can unite, proposes a number of ‘big policy’ ideas that embody those values, and explores ways in which the UK constitution can be reconfigured to reinvigorate politics and deliver more inclusive government through more decentralised participative democracy?

          Labour missed a trick when it failed to elect Lisa as its leader.

          1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

            Thank you for the reference, which I will follow up.

            However, have people in the Labour Party, such as Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar, for example, read this book and are they aware of ‘rich and diverse’ Labour position on constitutional change? Is the Labour Party actually aware that it has a policy? We kept being told that Bodger Broon is writing it.

          2. 220430 says:

            I’d suspect that both Keir Starmer and Anas Sarwar are aware of the richness and diversity of Labour’s position on constitution change and that each contributes his own view to the process by which that position is continually evolving through internal party dialogue and debate..

          3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

            Scottish Labour’s leaflet for the forthcoming Council elections has just been delivered to my door, at least one week after the election materials for the other main parties. Unlike the others, it does not mention the ward, nor does it name its candidate, nor does it even mention the City of Glasgow. It makes a list of ‘pledges’ the majority of which are matters for the Westminster Government with the remainder for Holyrood. There are no pledges specific to Glasgow or to the ward where I reside.

            In fact, with one or two changes – a photo of Anas Sarwar, the new Scottish Labour logo and an insert mentioning the Scottish Government, it is exactly the same leaflet as my daughter received for the elctions for Lewisham Borough.

            I cannot see “richness and diversity” on show there, nor is there much evidence on devolution in the sense of local government.

            Are you Peter Mandelson?????

          4. 220501 says:

            I haven’t seen any of the marketing materials; none of the parties’ activists can be *rsed hoofing it up the burn’s side to deliver kindling to my wee bit biggin.

            But I went down to the local hustings, where we discussed the state of the ward with the local bodies who are standing as candidates and listened to what each of them said they’d do about the issues we raised. The UK constitution didn’t come up as an issue; local housing, employment, tourism, young people, farming and forestry, renewables, digital connectivity, community empowerment, and transport did.

            The three incumbents (two Tories and a Nationalist) will probably be re-elected – they’ve shown themselves capable of working well together for the benefit of the people in the ward – although the Labour man, a well-liked ex-councillor and transport activist, who’s coming out of retirement to stand again, might give the ‘third choice’ incumbent a run for his money.

            Anyway, it would be well to remember what we’re talking about here: the alleged ‘vacuity in Labour’s position with regard to the constitution’. Far from being ‘vacuous’, there’s a dynamic plurality of positions within the Labour Party with regard to the UK constitution, as evidenced by the ongoing internal debate between those positions that continually shapes and reshapes the party’s policy on the matter. What is or isn’t in the parties’ advertising for the upcoming council elections is neither here nor there.

          5. Alasdair Angus Macdonald says:

            The points you mention as having been raised at your local hustings are exactly the kinds of things local elections ought to be about.

            And, that is my point: unlike the election materials from other candidates, the Labour ‘kindling’ as you call it – we west enders ‘recycle’ it because we do not want to contribute to CO2 levels!!! – made absolutely no mention of any local issues. All of the other candidates raised specific local issues.

            Local issues and community empowerment are, most certainly, part of the constitutional discourse. The ‘dynamic plurality’ is not evident in any discourse amongst Labour people I know. One tweeted disparagingly to Billy Kay after he had addressed the Scottish parliament in Scots, calling him ‘a clown’.

            PS I got a Kindle copy of the book you alluded to. Thanks for the reference.
            PPS The Tories have issued no local election literature in our area. I think the last time they had any local representation in our neck of the woods might have been pre-war!

          6. 220501 says:

            Community empowerment is indeed ‘most certainly, part of the constitutional discourse’, which is why it’s a shame that this discourse is framed in almost exclusively nationalist terms. I’d still maintain that there’s a plurality rather than a vacuity of views within the Labour Party on constitutional change, including the changes required to devolve more decision-making to local communities.

            Anyway, Scottish Labour’s local election manifesto does (no less absurdly than those of the other parties) set out national priorities for local government ( And the local Labour candidate has (along with all the others) set out what he’d do if elected to address the issues we’ve identified locally – even if he didn’t produce a nice shiny leaflet from a dead tree.

            (And my fire doesn’t contribute that much to CO2 levels and is more than offset by the fact that I don’t burn gas or coal or drive a car or buy imported food or eat much meat… Not that I could afford to anyway, even if I needed to.)

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