Spain, Morocco, Abdellatif El Hammouchi, FBI, CIA, Intelligence services, DGSN,
Hammouchi, the architect of Moroccan espionage with Pegasus, met with the director of the CNI.
The Spanish government has concealed his visit to Spain, which was aired by the Moroccan press, in order to meet with Esperanza Casteleiro. « He came to iron out the differences, » say sources familiar with the meeting.
The Moroccan authorities have agreed to give explanations to Spain about their use of the malicious Pegasus programme. Abdellatif Hammouchi, the man who promoted espionage from Morocco with this malicious Israeli-made programme, was in Madrid on 16 and 17 June to meet with Esperanza Casteleiro, the new director of the National Intelligence Centre (CNI), according to a source familiar with the meeting. « He came to iron out differences, » he said.
Reports of his « working visit » to Madrid were picked up last week by the Moroccan press. He met with his counterparts from « security and intelligence », according to the weekly ‘L’Observateur du Maroc’, directed by Ahmed Charai, a collaborator of the Moroccan foreign secret service (DGED), according to several documents uncovered in 2014 and a court ruling in 2015. The Spanish Ministry of the Interior claims that he did not have any appointments at its headquarters. At the CNI, its new communications officer did not respond to calls.
If the Moroccan responsible has given explanations in Madrid, probably denying his guilt, it now remains for the Israeli authorities to do so. Pegasus is manufactured by the Israeli company NSO, linked to its secret services (Mossad and Shinbet) and, as it is a cyber-weapon, the Ministry of Defence of the Hebrew country must authorise its export. The magistrate José Luis Calama, of the Audiencia Nacional, who is investigating the cyber espionage suffered by several members of the Spanish government, sent a rogatory commission to Israel and another judicial commission, on 7 June, which he himself will head. He wants to interrogate, among others, the president of NSO. He does not yet have a date for his visit. Hammouchi, 56, stopped in Madrid from Washington, where he had met with the directors of the CIA, William Burns, and the FBI, Christopher Wray. In Morocco, he heads both the National Security, which is the conventional police force, and the General Directorate of Territorial Supervision (DGST), the secret body that, in addition to fighting jihadism, pursues opponents, including journalists. Never before has a police chief wielded so much power in Morocco.
Forbidden Stories, a consortium of 17 major media outlets, revealed on 18 July last year that some 10,000 mobile phones around the world had been targeted in 2019 and perhaps beyond by Moroccan intelligence, which used Pegasus to spy on them. The majority – some 6,000 – were Algerian, but there were also some 1,000 French ones – including that of President Emmanuel Macron and 14 of his ministers – and four Spanish ones, that of Moroccan journalist Ali Lmrabet, those of two Sahrawis, Aminatou Haidar and Brahim Dahane and, the first to appear in chronological order, that of this journalist who writes. A further 200 were targeted by the Moroccan secret services, as reported by the Guardian on 3 May, but the list is not yet known. « Aldellatif Hammouchi, the Moroccan spy who is putting France in trouble, » headlined the Parisian weekly ‘Le Point’ on 21 July 2021 on its front page, pointing to the senior police officer. « Abdellatif Hammouchi, Morocco’s supercop at the heart of the Pegasus scandal », said the following day the digital daily ‘Mediapart’. « Pegasus brings the all-powerful head of the Moroccan intelligence services out of the shadows and calls into question the role of this high-ranking palace official whom France now fears, » it added.
The Moroccan authorities then denied in a statement that they had bought and used Pegasus, but senior French officials confirmed in informal conversations with journalists reported in the French press that the cyber-attack on mobile phones originated in Morocco. In an interview with the daily ‘Le Monde’, published on 27 December, Israeli Foreign Minister Yaïr Lapid was asked whether Israel had withdrawn the licence to operate Pegasus from Morocco. He did not deny that the Moroccan services had it. He replied to the newspaper: « It is a very strict licence: we have exposed all the material we had to the French authorities ». Israel gave explanations to France. The France-Israel relationship then hit a speed bump, but this was overcome in March, when French President Emmanuel Macron accompanied his Israeli counterpart, Yitzhak Herzog, to Toulouse to honour the memory of several Jewish children murdered a decade ago by a terrorist. Paris’s relationship with Rabat is still soured by this espionage episode. Proof of this is that Mohammed VI did not personally congratulate Macron on his re-election as president. The monarch arrived on holiday in the French capital on 1 June and Macron has yet to meet with him. On previous private visits to Paris, he has always been received in an audience at the Elysée Palace.
Despite promising « transparency », Bolaños has not revealed how many high-ranking officials’ mobile phones tested positive in the CCN-CERT review. In the atmosphere of « polar cold » that characterises the Franco-Moroccan relationship, as described by the publication ‘Africa Intelligence’, Paris refuses to grant Schengen visas to high-ranking Moroccan executives. According to the publication, the latest to be punished this month were 10 executives of L’Office Chérifien des Phosphates, Morocco’s largest public company. They did not get the precious document to participate in the Vivatech technology fair in the French capital. Moroccans frequently circumvent the French obstacle by applying for visas at Spanish consulates in Morocco, according to ‘Africa Intelligence’, information confirmed by unofficial Spanish diplomatic sources.
The Pegasus infiltration of the mobile phones of President Pedro Sánchez and his ministers of Defence and Interior – as well as the attempt to spy on that of the Minister of Agriculture – occurred in May/June last year, the height of the Spanish-Moroccan crisis, although it was only discovered last April, as revealed on 2 May by the Minister of the Presidency, Félix Bolaños. Despite promising « transparency », Bolaños has not revealed how many more mobiles of high-ranking officials, who are not ministers, tested positive in the extensive review carried out this spring by the National Cryptology Centre, which is part of the CNI.
The Spanish government has not pointed to Morocco as the power that launched the espionage – the foreign minister, José Manuel Albares, has even publicly exculpated it – but it does know that it is responsible, and not only because of the dates on which the cyber-attack took place. This is indicated by confidential reports from the CNI. It was also indicated to the then Foreign Affairs Minister, Arancha González Laya, when her mobile phone was analysed in June last year and tested positive for malware. In an interview published on 8 June with ‘El Periódico de España’, the former minister lamented that everything was used against her « in the crisis with Morocco: eavesdropping, denunciations and press campaigns ». Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT), a prestigious French ecumenical NGO, filed two complaints in France against Hammouchi for torture perpetrated in Morocco, which is why the Moroccan supercop has not officially set foot in France since 20 February 2014. On that day, a Parisian investigating judge summoned him during a working visit to the French capital, and he hurriedly fled the country.
Hammouchi has always been pampered by the Spanish authorities, whether the government is led by the Popular Party or the PSOE. In October 2014, eight months after his hasty flight from France, the Ministry of the Interior, then headed by Jorge Fernández Díaz, announced that he was awarded the Honorary Cross of Police Merit. In September 2019, the head of this portfolio, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, had the Council of Ministers approve the awarding of the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Civil Guard, the highest decoration of this institution.
El Confidencial, 21 June 2022
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