Paz Esteban, at right, with Admiral General Teodoro Esteban López in 2021. On Tuesday, Esteban was reportedly terminated by the government for her role in a spyware operation against the Catalan independence movement and others. Photo from Spain's Ministry of Defense
May 10 (UPI) -- Paz Esteban, the head of Spain's intelligence agency, is no longer employed by the Spanish government on Tuesday amid a scandal over a spyware attack on the Catalan independence movement.
Esteban, who led the country's National Intelligence Center, CNI, confirmed last week that members of the independence movement were spied on with judicial approval, according to The Guardian.
She will be replaced by Esperanza Casteleiro, the secretary of state for defense and a former official in the CNI.
A report by The Citizen Lab, that worked with Catalan groups, identified at least 65 people targeted or infected with spyware in 2019. The Lab, part of the University of Toronto, said that victims included Catalan officials as well as members of the European Parliament and members of civil society organizations.
On Tuesday, the Spanish government confirmed that the spyware was used to attack the phones of Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez, Defense Minister Margarita Robles and Interior Minister Fernando Grande-Marlaska.
The government said the attacks on Sanchez's phone were external and involved non-official bodies, BBC reported.
Robles said that the government and its agencies acted within the law. At a news conference Tuesday she said the intelligence center had "shortcomings," adding that the change in leadership represented an opportunity to address "things that could obviously be improved."
The Catalan independence movement has been trying since 2010 to separate Catalonia -- an autonomous region in northeast Spain with a population of 7.5 million -- from the country's government.
In 2021, Sanchez's cabinet approved pardons for nine separatists who were jailed for years for attempting to seek independence for Catalonia.