CNI Scandal Evokes Memories of Past Spanish-U.S. Intelligence Controversies

CIA Accused of "Questionable Activities" in Spain: History Repeats Itself?

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Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna
Girish Linganna is a Defence & Aerospace analyst and is the Director of ADD Engineering Components (India) Pvt Ltd, a subsidiary of ADD Engineering GmbH, Germany with manufacturing units in Russia. He is Consulting Editor Industry and Defense at Frontier India.

During an inspection, the National Intelligence Centre (CNI), which is part of the Ministry of Defence, discovered that two of its agents had access to material that they were not allowed to know. 

According to the information obtained by the Spanish newspapers El Confidencial and El Pais, the situation became more serious when it was found that these two operatives were doing more than merely viewing highly sensitive files. The investigation conducted by the CNI concluded that they had been recruited by two American agents stationed at the United States Embassy in Madrid. These agents were soliciting information from them in exchange for monetary compensation.

Spain and the United States are partners within the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO).

When these wrongdoings were discovered, the two members of the CNI were taken into custody, and the two American operatives were “quietly” ejected from Spain. It was discovered during the investigation that at least one of the agents had been recruited by US spies. Hence, one of the CNI members was later released under the supervision of the judicial system. There was no explicit information regarding the nature of the secret information they were interested in.

Simultaneously, the Spanish Minister of Defence summoned the US Ambassador to Madrid, Julissa Reynoso, to demand explanations. Similarly, José Manuel Albares, the foreign minister of Spain, expressed “discontent” of his government.

The Spanish government has not acknowledged the existence of the CNI’s attempted infiltration since the press broke these details. During a visit to the El Goloso military post in Madrid on December 7, María Margarita Robles Fernánde, the current Defence Minister of Spain, apparently provided reassurance that relations with the United States had not been affected. La Vanguardia reported this information. She argued that whenever there are problems, they talk about them and find solutions to them.

Nevertheless, the specifics of this case will be brought up at some point when the two CNI operatives are being tried for their crimes.

Whatever the situation, this episode is only one of many “scandals” that have rattled the Spanish intelligence community over the past five years. As a result of one of them, connected to the Pegasus malware, Paz Esteban, the organisation’s director at the time of the events, was compelled to quit. Since then, she has been charged with a crime.

Not the First Time

According to El Confidencial, the most recent instance of this nature occurred in 2007, when a CNI agent was accused of transferring classified information to Russia. As a result of this, he became known as “the Kremlin mole.” He was found guilty of “treason” and condemned to twelve years in prison, even though the passing on of intelligence could not be properly demonstrated within the context of his trial. However, this sentence was eventually reduced to nine years in prison.

This is not the first time that the United States intelligence community, and more notably the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), has been suspected of being involved in “questionable” activities in Spain. Particularly noteworthy was the fact that this occurred in February 2019, when a strange attack was carried out on the North Korean embassy in Madrid.

Edward Snowden Case

El Mundo, a Spanish newspaper, made a commitment to provide the prosecutor’s office with evidence that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) conducted intelligence operations in Spain on November 5, 2013.

According to the publication, the prosecutor requested access to the documents following the publication of photographs of them in the El Mundo newspaper the previous week.

In December 2012, Spanish media reported, citing documents provided by Edward Snowden, that 60 million calls were secretly monitored in Spain by NSA employees. Additionally, the Spanish and other European intelligence services were said to have collaborated with the NSA.

NSA employees in the US allegedly gathered data on telephone numbers, subscriber locations, and call durations but did not observe the content of the conversations. Nevertheless, the Spanish Foreign Ministry approached the US Ambassador to this nation with a clarification request regarding the purported surveillance of the Spanish people by American intelligence agencies. 

Not Just Spain

Before that, it had been reported that American intelligence agencies had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s mobile phone for over ten years. Additionally, evidence suggests that intelligence agencies in the US monitored and listened to millions of communications in France. Additionally, the media cited documents obtained from Snowden. Subsequently, the United States National Intelligence chief refuted this information as “false.”


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