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Spain expels two US spies for infiltrating secret service

The Spanish government has spoken to the U.S. ambassador about its concern regarding the hostile actions, which are not expected between two allies

The Spanish Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, visited the Spanish military at the Adazi base (Latvia) on Monday.
The Spanish Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, visited the Spanish military at the Adazi base (Latvia) on Monday.Jesús Bartolomé (EFE)

The discovery that two agents from Spain’s CNI intelligence service were bribed to provide classified information to the United States has led to an unprecedented situation between Madrid and Washington. Spanish Minister of Defense Margarita Robles, who oversees the CNI, summoned the U.S. ambassador to Spain, Julissa Reynoso, to her office to explain what happened. Such actions are considered hostile and are not expected between two allies. The Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, also spoke with Reynoso and expressed the Spanish government’s unease over the revelations, according to government sources. At least two U.S. agents stationed at the U.S. Embassy in Madrid, who were directly involved in recruiting the CNI spies, have been discreetly expelled from Spain.

The investigation into the spying operation began before the summer, when during a CNI security check, it was discovered that the two Spanish agents had accessed classified information that they did not need for their work, nor were authorized to know. The internal investigation confirmed that at least one of the agents, a middle-ranking official at the secret service, had been recruited by U.S. spies to obtain secret information in exchange for a large sum of money. According to sources close to the CNI, the agent was an area chief, one of the sections that are part of the intelligence division, while the other was his assistant.

When the CNI concluded its investigation, the director of the secret service, Esperanza Casteleiro, reported the case to the Prosecutor’s Office of Spain’s highest court, the National Assembly, which transferred the case to the Prosecutor’s Office of the High Court of Madrid, on the grounds that it was the competent authority. The Madrid tribunal then presented the complaint to the investigative courts of Plaza de Castilla.

Margarita Robles
Spain's Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles (l) and the U.S. ambassador to Spain, Julissa Reynoso, last May.MINISTERIO DE DEFENSA

It was at that moment, according to the sources consulted, that the Spanish government decided to share the findings of the investigation with the United States and condemn what happened. The case is a very serious matter, since recruiting secret agents of a host state to betray their own country is considered an openly hostile act. Such actions may be taken with enemy or adversary governments, but never with friends and allies. Sources from the Spanish intelligence service do not fully understand what happened. “What do Americans have to pay for if we give them everything they ask for?” they noted. These sources insist that Spain openly collaborates with the United States, and always exchanges information. According to these sources, the number of times in which Spain has refused to share information of interest to Washington is “between one and zero.”

These sources explain that, when the U.S. Ambassador Reynoso was summoned by Minister Robles, she said that she was not aware of the case. The U.S. ambassador allegedly claimed that the U.S. agents who had bribed the Spanish spies were working independently of her, in a program that was launched before current President Joe Biden arrived at the White House and that, for reasons unknown, had been maintained until now. Reynoso, the same sources add, apologized for what happened and promised utmost collaboration with the ongoing investigation. The case has left the U.S. in an embarrassing situation.

The Spanish Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs agreed to expel at least two American spies — some sources claim that there were more — who were involved in recruiting and bribing the CNI agents. The spies were expelled discreetly, as Washington rushed to remove them. For its part, the Madrid court sealed the investigation, and ordered the arrest of the two alleged CNI spies and for their homes to be searched. Both were taken to the Estremera prison module in Madrid, which is reserved for security forces personnel and prison officials who are serving a sentence or are in pre-trial, and is separated from the rest of the inmates. The CNI assistant was released last month, while his superior remains behind bars.

According to CNI sources, the arrest of the CNI area chief has shocked his colleagues, since he is a veteran agent and widely known in the center. Both he and his subordinate are accused of the crime of revealing secrets and could be sentenced to between six and 12 years in prison under Article 584 of the Penal Code, which punishes “a Spaniard who, with the purpose of helping a foreign power, association or international organization, procures, falsifies, disables or discloses information classified as reserved or secret, that is likely to harm national security or national defense.”

This is not the first time that the Spanish secret service has denounced one of its own agents for spying. In 2007, the CNI opened a case against former spy Roberto Flórez — who had worked for the center between 1992 and 2004 —, after classified documentation was found in his premises and two apartments he owned in Puerto de la Cruz in Tenerife. The CNI also seized a letter addressed to the Russian secret services in which Flórez offered to work for them in exchange for a first payment of $200,000. Although it could not be proven that Flórez had delivered the secret documents, the Provincial Court of Madrid sentenced him to 12 years in prison in 2010, which the Supreme Court later reduced to nine.

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