10 May 2022: Covid cases; the Pegasus scandal; Fascinating Ourense; Englishness; Russian Nazi-ness; & Other stuff.

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Night’s candles are burnt out, and jocund day stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable
Christopher Howse: ‘A Pilgrim in Spain’

Covid 

From the comments of friends, it seems that cases here have risen significantly recently and are still rising fast. But most of these seem to be, like mine, a condition which doesn’t need to be reported and which doesn’t obligate self-isolation – something like a viral mixture of a mild cold and mild flu. Colflu? So, why are under-recorded case numbers still being published daily? Surely only hospital cases and deaths are still relevant, for so long as they’re abnormal and cause resource problems. We have surely reached the point of living with Covid.

Cosas de España/Galiza 

One is used to reading of major scandals in Spain but they very rarely bring down the government, as opposed to causing loss of some votes at the next election. As with the PP’s rampant corruption of a few years ago. But the current Pegasus scandal over illegal spying on politicians and business folk might well bring the current PSOE administration to an end. The 2 articles below will help to explain why.

An under-appreciated Galician province, which used to be  Ourense when I came here 21 years ago but is now Ourense, the Gallego spelling.

I said recently that Spanish waiters and waitresses – is the latter now as obsolete as ‘actresses’? – tend to reciprocate good treatment. Sometimes excessively so. Yesterday I was given not just 1 but 3 bowls of crisps(US chips) during an hour and a half of midday tiffin. At least one more than I really wanted, but I have no power to resist temptation. Right on cue comes this headline today: A daily bag of crisps could leave you 14 pounds(6.4ko) heavier at the end of a year. We dramatically underestimate the calories packed into snacks. I need to be less generous, in that bar at least.

Back to football . . . I did Celta Vigo a disservice; it’s actually in the Primera Division, not just nearer to it than Pontevedra FC. The latter is being promoted to the First Division RFEF (Real Federación Española de Fútbol) from the Second Division RFEF. Which is not to be confused with the Second Division proper. It might be the equivalent of Division 1 in the UK, after the Premier League and the Championship. So, the 3rd division in effect.

The UK

This amusing podcast on England and the English opens with this bit of Orwell: When you come back to England from any foreign country, you have immediately the sensation of breathing a different air. Even in the first few minutes dozens of small things conspire to give you this feeling. The beer is bitterer, the coins are heavier, the grass is greener, the advertisements are more blatant. The crowds in the big towns, with their mild knobby faces, their bad teeth and gentle manners, are different from a European crowd. Then the vastness of England swallows you up, and you lose for a while your feeling that the whole nation has a single identifiable character. Are there really such things as nations? Are we not forty-six million individuals, all different? And the diversity of it, the chaos! The clatter of clogs in the Lancashire mill towns, the to-and-fro of the lorries on the Great North Road, the queues outside the Labour Exchanges, the rattle of pin-tables in the Soho pubs, the old maids hiking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn morning – all these are not only fragments, but characteristic fragments, of the English scene.  How can one make a pattern out of this muddle?  One of the 2 hosts claims that: Every single element of it is utterly out of date. The other disagrees. 

Russia 

Below is an illuminating explanation of what Putin means by ‘Nazis’. In a word: Those who look down on Slavs in general and Russians in particular. if Ukrainians don’t want to be Russians, then they’re guilty of this and so must be Nazis. So . . .Putin’s murderous aggression and its support from 70-80% of Russians has made many of us ‘Nazis’. As the author says: You do have to marvel at the magnificent futility of East and West spending half a century thinking we all agreed about how bad Nazis had been, only to find today that we were actually having completely different conversations.

This is an article on 2017 Russian interference in Spanish politics but I confess to finding not entirely credible,

The Way of the World/Social Media

Vogue’s Style Bible tells us that A new pop culture hero – the Bimbo – has emerged and the once derogatory label “is being reclaimed by a new generation as an act of self-love and new wave feminism”. It goes without saying that this is all thanks to social media – invariably the most fertile environment for cretinous ideas and noxious role models – and a landscape in which “bimbocore” now looms large.

Spanish

Verosímil: Plausible

English 

In the Russian political lexicon, a silovik is a someone who came into politics from the security, military, or similar services, often the officers of the former KGB, GRU, FSB, SVR, FSO, the Federal Drug Control Service, or other armed services. The plural is siloviki . A similar term is securocrat.

Finally . . .

To amuse

For new reader(s): If you’ve landed here looking for info on Galicia or Pontevedra, try here. If you’re passing through Pontevedra on the Camino, you’ll find a guide to the city there.

THE ARTICLES

1. The Pegasus Scandal

CNI: The national security agency

Moncloa: The PM’s residence. Shorthand for the government

ERC: A Catalan party which has recently supported the government

Independentistas: Catalan nationalists

Questions and answers about the ‘Pegasus scandal’: who spied on Sánchez and Robles? Why wasn’t it known before? Are there more leaders affected?

The use of Pegasus software on the phones of the President of the Government and the Minister of Defense casts multiple doubts on the effectiveness of our agencies for the defense of national security and the ability to prevent and respond to these attacks.

Seven questions about the case

The Government of Spain faces a new crisis at the State level after learning this Monday that both the cell phone of the President, Pedro Sánchez, and that of the Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, were infected and spied on with the Pegasus system, software with which, as we learned days ago, the terminals of multiple leaders and pro-independence activists were also intercepted. The confirmation of these facts, as well as the way of dealing with them, raises many questions about the effectiveness of our defense systems and capabilities to respond to such attacks.

1. Who has used Pegasus against the Spanish Government?

At the moment, there is no knowledge of the origin of this computer attack on the cell phones of Sánchez and Robles. When the spying on the pro-independence supporters -also with Pegasus- became known, many voices pointed to a possible intervention of the National Intelligence Center. A possibility that the CNI itself and Defense were quick to deny, appealing to the legal framework in which, according to Robles, our secret services always operate. A different explanation, however, was given for the hacking of the minister’s and the president’s cell phones.

As the head of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños, pointed out hours ago and continues to insist, in this case it can be confirmed that the espionage stems from an “external” operation, and not from any official body without legal backing: “We know that it is external, it has not had to do with any State body and has not had any judicial authorization”. However, according to the Minister himself, the exact origin of this operation against the Government is still unknown, although Morocco has been placed in the spotlight due to the escalation of tension it has maintained with our country in recent months.

2. Are there questions about the role of the Moroccan government or non-official organizations?

It is known that the espionage carried out on the devices of Sanchez and Robles took place between May and June 2021, dates of the most interesting for what was happening in our country at that time: an almost unprecedented diplomatic confrontation with Morocco due to the stay of Brahim Ghali, leader of the Polisario Front that seeks the self-determination of the Saharawi people -territory in which our neighboring country has an open interest-, for a month in Spain; a confrontation that led to a migratory crisis at the border with Ceuta, with the entry of thousands of people in the autonomous city in the absence and inaction of the Moroccan authorities.

The suspicions on Morocco increase if several factors are taken into account: the first, unveiled by Judge Calama, who is investigating this case, points out that the hacking of Sanchez’s phone took place on May 19 and 31, 2021. That is to say, Pedro Sanchez’s phone was spied on for the first time hours after the beginning of the migratory crisis, and the same day that it was tapped for the second time, Morocco broke off relations with Spain. Moreover, at that time, Polisario media assured that the secret trip of the Polisario Front chief, Brahim Ghali, from Algeria to Spain was discovered thanks to Pegasus. The second factor has to do with the information revealed by the French newspaper ‘Le Monde’ in July last year, assuring that Rabat had spied on President Macron with Pegasus.

However, in the government they have claimed not to make assumptions or implicate countries or institutions lightly in this issue. “For us, external means that it was not an official body of the competent State,” said Bolaños. In other words, this hacking could have come from our country itself. Therefore, are there any good reasons to rule out that the hacking was committed within the State, as it happened decades ago? The Government limits itself to pointing out that “it is very complicated to say who could have done it”.

3. Why has it taken so long to check the espionage? No controls?

One of the most surprising and embarrassing doubts that throws the new chapter of this scandal. If the infection of Robles and Sanchez’s cell phones – two phones that would store sensitive information of vital importance for the security of our country- was carried out between May and June 2021, how is it possible that it was not discovered until this very weekend? Worse still: didn’t the government suspect this possibility after learning that Macron, Johnson and other heads of state and governors had been spied on with Pegasus? Would both devices have even been reviewed if the spying on the independentistas had not come to light?

If not, does that mean that the National Cryptologic Center or the Spanish intelligence services in general do not keep a constant and exhaustive control over these devices? What has gone wrong? The Government denies that it knew this information before the weekend, but neither has it given any clear answer so far beyond stating that “there have been updates and revisions” without, however, “such in-depth verifications as this one”; also, that there is “no evidence of intrusions after May and June”, so the new measures to protect the information on the phones “seem to be effective”.

4. What content has been stolen?

According to sources from the Executive detailed to different media, 2.6 gigabytes of information were extracted from Sánchez’s phone in May 2021 and 130 megabytes the following month. On the other hand, only nine megabytes of information were extracted from the phone of the Minister of Defense in a single movement. However, the government has not yet provided any information on the stolen content. However, all the functions that Pegasus can carry out are known, which indicates that both mobiles could have been searched from top to bottom. This was reported in laSexta Clave, who accessed the instruction manual of this software.

Pegasus can be installed on a device both remotely and close to the target, and with a very simple mechanism. Once introduced, you can be the complete owner of the device, having passive and active access to it. That is, you can activate the microphone 24 hours a day, make screenshots and leave no trace, freely use all phone applications and even take pictures without flash and disabling the green light that appears on some phones when used. With Pegasus you can also receive alerts on your computer or phone of your user’s movements, both general and specific (access to the agenda, calendar, messages. . .).

5. Have other ministers or leaders been affected by Pegasus?

Other questions that have not been clarified so far. Apart from what is conceived in relation to the European leaders and the Catalan leaders infected with Pegasus, the Government has limited itself to say that, for now, they are “not aware” that the terminals of other ministers or senior government officials have been tapped with this system. ‘El Confidencial’ has published in the last hours that the telephones of the Minister of Justice, Juan Carlos Campo, and the former Foreign Minister Arancha González Laya already suffered a first attempt of ‘hacking’ in August 2020, although it would not have been successful.

Further, according to Servimedia, Moncloa received almost a year ago a formal warning from the secret services of the likelihood that the phones of the president and his ministers had been tapped with Pegasus. According to sources in the Executive, the different areas were alerted after learning that at least one of the Government officials had been a victim of the software. That espionage would have taken place on the cell phone of the then Minister González Laya during the aforementioned diplomatic crisis with Morocco. However, at that time no complaint or lawsuit was filed by the Government.

6. Should the CNI be held accountable?

The tapping of the phones of Sánchez and Robles reveals a certain failure in the security of communications between members of the Executive, as well as in the systems designed to protect each of the terminals that handle sensitive information on state affairs. Since the spying on the independentistas was uncovered, Paz Esteban López, the first woman in charge of the Spanish spies, has been put in the spotlight, as well as the CNI itself. This is not the first time that the CNI has been involved in an espionage scandal, although on this occasion, as stated at the beginning, both Minister Robles and the CNI itself have defended the legality of their operations.

But during the time when the CNI was called CESID (Centro Superior de Información de la Defensa), the Spanish intelligence service spied without judicial authorization and enjoyed almost total impunity. That was until 1995, when the newspaper ‘El Mundo’ uncovered the so-called ‘Cesid’s Eavesdropping’: very relevant personalities of the Spain of the 80s were illegally listened to by the CESID for seven years. Among its victims, politicians such as Isabel Tocino, Fernández Ordóñez or José Barrionuevo; journalists such as Luis María Ansón or Pedro J. Ramírez; or businessmen such as Alicia Koplotivz or José Antonio Segurado. This is the reason why, with Pegasus, they have been singled out again.

Likewise, another shadow now hangs over Esteban López, that of the cracks in State security. Although the director of the CNI was scheduled to appear this week at the newly formed Official Secrets Commission on the alleged spying on pro-independence leaders, she may be forced to include in her agenda an extensive explanation of the mechanisms used by the secret services to safeguard the interests of the country. Proof of this is that the mechanisms to prevent computer attacks on the government do not seem to have worked, nor do the supposed periodic reviews carried out to ensure that electronic devices are free of threats.

7. Have the creators of Pegasus been asked for explanations?

The scandal about the illicit use of Pegasus has long been hovering around Israel, the country where the system was created. The software that appropriates cell phone data without being noticed is manufactured by the company NSO, which claims that they only sell it to fight crime to countries with legitimate governments. After the hacking of the m, ‘eldiario.es’ asked NSO about this issue. “NSO sells its products under license and regulation to intelligence and law enforcement agencies. These critical tools are used to prevent terrorism and crime under court orders and the local laws of their countries,” the company replied.

However, NSO may not be selling Pegasus only to “legitimate governments.” In July last year, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office already found that at least one private company used it to spy on activists and journalists in the country. Specifically, the Mexican judicial body detailed that it learned about this software during the investigation of the case of espionage against journalist Carmen Aristegui, whose cell phone was tapped during the government of Enrique Peña Nieto (2012-2018). For the moment, it is not known whether the Spanish Government has contacted NSO to find out the origin of the spying on the cell phones of the President and his ministers, although it is expected to open a formal investigation to clarify a matter as dark as it is extremely serious.

Eight key questions about the  espionage

The explanations offered in Congress by the director of the secret services leave a suspicion in the air: that there is more than one group using Pegasus in Spain. Not only the CNI

1. The great unknown: If the CNI only spied on 18, who is behind the 47 missing to add up to the 65 independentistas who were attacked with Pegasus, according to the Citizen Lab investigation? The explanations offered in Congress by the director of the secret services leave a suspicion in the air: that there is more than one group using this Trojan in Spain. Not only the CNI. 

2. Spying requires two things: resources and interest. And that is why the hypothesis that Morocco is behind the espionage of the President of the Government, the Minister of Defense, the former Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of the Interior is plausible. Because there was a motive: the crisis between the two countries over the decision of the Spanish Government to welcome the Sahrawi leader Brahim Gali. Because the dates coincide. And because Morocco also has the resources for this operation.

3. The Moroccan hypothesis could be used to explain the spying on Sánchez, Robles, González-Laya and Grande Marlaska. But what interest could Morocco or any other foreign government have in tapping the phones of the rest of the pro-independence supporters, starting with former presidents Torra, Mas and Puigdemont? 

4. The explanations offered this Thursday by the director of the CNI to the parliamentary spokespersons -what we know about what happened in those four hours is contained in this information – also leave several questions unanswered. Among them, who are the people spied on whose names appeared crossed out in the documentation that the parliamentary spokespersons were able to review?

5. Did the Government know that the CNI was spying on the ERC leader and then VP of the Generalitat Pere Aragonès? “Neither we knew nor could we know”, they answer from Moncloa, where they explain that it is the CNI the one who decides who spies and it is a judge who authorizes the operation. Other people who, in the past, have had access to CNI reports confirm that this is the way it usually works. “The intelligence reports never detail the sources”, assures a retired ex-leader: “They tell you the conclusions but not how they arrived at them”.

6. The problem for the Government is one of elementary mathematical logic. The parliamentary one, where the legislature is complicated without the votes of ERC. And also because the gap between the 65 of Citizen Lab and the 18 admitted by the CNI is a margin of error very difficult to swallow. The pro-independence movement openly points to a police “sewer”: to uncontrolled state security forces, operating without a judicial mandate. In the PSOE they continue to deny this possibility, but neither do they offer a plausible alternative. Other than questioning the veracity of the Citizen Lab investigation.

7. The spying on Pere Aragonès, which the CNI confirmed, is protected by a Supreme Court judge who authorizes this type of operation. But that does not make the situation less serious, because Aragonès was then enjoying parliamentary immunity, a fundamental democratic principle. To prosecute a deputy, in all democracies, the parliament has to authorize it. It is a procedure that is almost always authorized, but it is also a fundamental part of the separation of powers. Is it consistent with this parliamentary immunity that a deputy can be spied on?

8. At this point, the legislature is in an extremely serious crisis. Without ERC, the Government loses much of its parliamentary oxygen. And it is not viable for ERC to ignore what we know today. The party led by Junqueras and Aragonès made a risky bet on dialogue, which generated many internal criticisms within the pro-independence world. And, for now, the only thing they have obtained from that bet is a round-table discussion which is not moving forward, and being spied on by the CNI. If there are no steps, and they do not come soon, it will be very difficult for the Government to hold out.

2. Russians don’t share our ideas of Nazism: To us it seems deranged, but Ukrainians who object to being part of Russia are seen as little different to the Third Reich: Hugo Rifkind, The Times

In September 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland from one side and Stalinist Russia as gleefully piled in from the other, my grandfather’s girlfriend Sulamita was four months pregnant. We’ve heard a lot these past few months about refugees fleeing from the east to Lviv, but she and my Grandpa Joe lasted three months in Nazi-occupied Warsaw and then fled there from the west. As Jews, they presumably reckoned that Soviet occupation was a safer bet.

Sulamita and her child — name now never to be known — would die somewhere in Uzbekistan. My grandfather limped on to Palestine. By then, thanks to the combined efforts of Germany and Russia, he had almost no family left in the world. All of which, eight decades on, makes it fairly hard for me to regard either party as having been the good guys.

Deep within this story, I reckon, we can find the source of Russia and the West’s mutual incomprehension over who gets to call whom a Nazi. Our defence secretary Ben Wallace has gone big on this, saying Russia was “mirroring the fascism and tyranny of 70 years ago”. Almost simultaneously, though, Vladimir Putin was praising Russians fighting to “liberate their native land from the Nazi filth”.

Last week Sergey Lavrov, the tombstone-faced foreign minister, defended his right to lump the Jewish Vlodymyr Zelensky in with Nazis, on the basis that “Hitler also had Jewish blood”. He’s a monster, Lavrov, but he’s normally quite savvy. And yet there he was, being even madder than Ken Livingstone.

It is easy to call these Russian pronouncements grotesque, because they are. That doesn’t mean they don’t mean it. Years ago, on my first visit to Moscow, I remember telling a Russian translator about my grandfather. When I got to Russia changing sides, she looked at me very strangely. “You don’t think that happened,” I said, “do you?” And indeed, she did not. For her, the Great Patriotic War had begun in 1941. And that bit beforehand, from the carving up of Poland, to the fall of western Europe, to our Spitfires fighting the Battle of Britain? “Different war.”

These views are pervasive. In March, Zelensky himself was accused of “bordering on Holocaust denial” by an Israeli MP after likening Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to the Holocaust. Zelensky’s own Jewish great-grandparents were killed by Nazis. Yet he, too, has a Soviet understanding of the war, crucially different from our own.

To understand how, let’s focus on somebody who definitely is a Nazi. Ponder Andriy Biletsky, a Ukrainian far-right politician and founding commander of the much-discussed Azov Battalion. We can dispute whether figures like him are terribly relevant to today’s Ukraine (their vote is microscopic) or whether Azov is still in his image (they claim not) but I don’t think we can dispute that the guy is a Nazi. In 2010, he said his mission was “to lead the white races of the world in a crusade against Semite-led Untermenschen”. Which is about as Nazi as you can get.

The question, though, is which bit you focus on. “Israeli mercenaries are practically shoulder to shoulder with Azov militants,” alleged Maria Zakharova, another Russian foreign spokesperson, in defence of Lavrov, not that there’s much evidence of this. You’d think that something might have nagged at the back of her mind about what she was actually saying. As in, it’s already mad enough to talk about the Ukrainian state being a crusade against a “Semite-led” anything, when it’s literally, well, Semite-led. But now you’ve got actual Israelis joining in, too?

What we in the West tend to gloss over, though, is the “Untermenschen” bit. For us, Nazi psychopathy peaked with the elimination of undesirables; Jews, Roma, homosexuals, people with disabilities. We think less about the broader Nazi ideology of the inferiority of Poles, Russians and other Slavs, all of whom Hitler deemed destined at best for Aryan domination. Millions of Russians died in the war. Here in the West, I suppose we tend not to think of them explicitly as victims of an ideology that deemed them barely human to start with.

So often, to western ears, Russian politicians today sound plaintive; victims of an inferiority complex that, we perhaps assume, must have something to do with the humiliations of the Cold War and jokes about Ladas being terrible. We don’t link it to the Nazis, but they do. This is why, when Putin talks today about wanting to “de-Nazify” Ukraine, he’s not really talking about concentration camps, or swastikas, or anything like that at all. He’s talking about the very concept of not wanting to be Russian; of thinking it an inherently undesirable thing to be. For him, this is what Nazis were all about. Disdaining Russia. Despising Russia. Looking down on Russia. And so, if Ukrainians don’t want to be Russians, either, then that’s what they are.

Historically, I suppose you can see how he got here. As an interpretation of the current conflict, though, it looks dangerously deranged. Either way, you do have to marvel at the magnificent futility of East and West spending half a century thinking we all agreed about how bad Nazis had been, only to find today that we were actually having completely different conversations.

More than that, though, I think of my grandfather, with his parents dead on one side of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and his wife and daughter dead on the other. And in the middle of all that, quite a lot of the time, I doubt he much gave a toss precisely which side were the Nazis, either.

4 comments

  1. Interesting article on Orense. It does say though that Orense is not popular, which I found slightly odd. Try parking in Allariz in Summer! Maybe it is the fact that not many international tourists find there way here, which is probably a good thing. After all one Benidorm is more than enough.

    Reading about football, I think I ought to catch up on the once mighty Deportivo, and see how they are doing. For those not in the know, they did a Leeds.

    Like

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