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George Soros and Mexican organisations: the friends in the shadows of Citizen Lab, the laboratory that fabricated the scandal of spying on the independence movement

Antonio Fernádez, Barcelona, 19 July 2022

Several employees of the European Parliament shore up the last details of the hemicycle before a plenary session (EFE/Olivier Hoslet)

George Soros and Mexican organisations: the friends in the shadows of Citizen Lab, the laboratory that fabricated the scandal of spying on the independence movement

The pro-independence movement is on fire: the European Parliament’s Pegasus Committee will not investigate Spain for spying on secessionist leaders. In fact, it is logical, since there is no evidence of illegal spying and the Spanish government admitted that  only 18 activists were monitored. The other reported cases are highly suspicious, so much so that they may even have been falsified, according to several  reports by international experts. The big spying scandal is fast turning into a big bluff.

The Pegasus Commission, however, will investigate other countries: on Monday it sent a mission to Israel,where the headquarters of NSO Group, the manufacturer of the Pegasus spyware, is located. The EU delegation will then visit Hungary, Poland and the United States, where there is an open investigation into espionage involving eight senior NSO Group executives. But there will be no visit to Spain, as pro-independence supporters had hoped in order to damage the state’s image in international public opinion. The fugitive Carles Puigdemont had even considered attending the commission, boasting that, as a member of the Commission, Spain  would not be able to arrest him if he set foot on Spanish soill. With his visit, he intended to laugh at the Spanish state and make it look ridiculous before the world.

Europe’s misgivings were made clear on Monday, when a European Commission spokesman said that the so-called ‘Catalangate’ affair was an internal matter for Spain and that safeguarding national security “remains the sole responsibility of each member state”. The spokesperson said that any attempt to illegally access citizens’ data, even by national security services, is “unacceptable”, but did not comment on Spain: in Spain, the government admitted that 18 pro-independence leaders had been investigated by the CNI, but always under strict judicial supervisionestricta supervisión.

Spurious interests

In reality, Europe is wary of the investigations that gave rise to Catalangate, as there are indications that point to spurious interests in the investigation by the Canadian entity Citizen Lab, a body attached to the University of Toronto. Despite claims by the director of Citizen Lab, Ron Deibert, that only this organisation was involved in the investigation, the truth is that a handful of organisations based in Mexico, one of the areas where Catalan independence has the most contacts, also took part in the report. Behind these organisations, apparently ‘fighters’ for human rights, lie commercial interests of a suspicious nature. In fact,all of them have been investigating the Israeli NSO Group for at least four years.

The Network for Digital Rights Defence (R3D), Article 19, SocialTIC and Amnesty International are involved in the investigation. Some of the expert reports that have appeared in recent weeks and that demolish the ‘investigatión’ of Citizen Lab point to a trade war against NSO Group behind Catalangate. In addition, NSO Group CEO Shalev Hulio stated in the US that Facebook wanted to buy the Pegasus programme to monitor its customers with Apple devices, but the company did not sell it to them.

On the other hand, some international reports diseccting the Citizen Lab investigation point out that this entity and another called Amnesty Tech were subsidised with 10 million dollars by Apple, which, logically, raises suspicions of bias. UNED and London School of Economics and Political Science professor José Javier Olivas also reports in another report that the verification of Citizen Lab’s data was carried out by Amnesty Tech, an entity with which it works in partnership. Their ‘modus operandi’ is to verify each other’s separate reports. “They provide each other with ‘external validation’,” he says.

Olivas notes that Deibert claimed he had never received payments or donations from Apple, WhatsApp or Facebook, but an official statement from Apple disproves this: in an official communication, it congratulated “groups like Citizen Lab and Amnesty Tech for their groundbreaking work to identify cyber surveillance abuses and help protect victims. To further strengthen efforts like these, Apple will contribute $10 million, as well as the costs of the lawsuit, to organisations pursuing cyber surveillance research and advocacy”. It also announced its support for Citizen Lab researchers with technical assistance vouchers. Olivas revealed that the distribution of the $10 million will soon be made by a committee of five people, one of whom is Ron Deibert, director of Citizen Lab. The other four are representatives of Amnesty Tech, Access Now, The Engine Room and Apple. These indications of millions of dollars in funding call into question the impartiality of the Canadian reports.

Mexican contact

The report drafted last May (and then expanded on 7 July) by Professor José Javier Olivas also reports that on 17 July 2020, John Scott-Railton, the lead investigator of Catalangate, “put Mr Joan Serra, Mr Torrent’s press secretary, in contact with Mr Luis Fernando García, lawyer and director of R3D, the entity that collaborates with Citizen Lab in the Pegasus investigations in Mexico, to provide advice on actions, detect attacks and find ways for judicial and media complaints”.

SocialTIC was also involved in the investigation. This is a platform created in 2012 from Reddes, a small NGO dedicated to the promotion of free technologies in the city of Xalapa, in Veracruz (Mexico). This platform boasts of having been the organisation “that has carried out the first Latin American studies on infoactivism, as well as the first workshops on the use of digital technologies for social change in Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Bolivia and Venezuela”.

A report by US Northcentral University doctoral student Jonathan Boyd Scott, ‘Uncovering the Citizen Lab. Disproving Catalangate’’ (supervised by Dr Gregorio Martin), also points out that “Catalangate is a twist of narratives, false positives, fabrications, collusion and none of the research presented is backed by any scientific evidence”. In addition, the US academic claims that Citizen Lab suffers from “a lack of integrity, honesty and academic rigour”. He also links the Canadian lab to independence since 2017. On the other hand, his report leaves the door open to a manipulation of the data, as it could have purposely omitted false positives or even the possibility that some positives have been artificially created by pro-independence supporters to justify the scandal.



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