City of Spies: the fake news that fooled the FT – Part II



II – SECRET POLICEMEN

The journalist is shown the pistol tucked in his contact’s waistband and he feels a tingle of excitement. He is told the officer fears for his life and the firearm confirms it. “My [Catalan police] colleagues could kill me for talking to a journalist, seriously. I am not sure what these guys are capable of.” Filled with such fear, the officer wouldn’t have come alone. It is more likely that he is accompanied by his legal counsel, a fellow officer perhaps, or a Catalonia-based journalist on one of the unionist titles, or maybe even a unionist politician.

He doesn’t get this kind of a thrill from the politicians, bankers, traders, and start-up entrepreneurs he’s used to dealing with. He is spun a tale of surveillance, of a police force within a police force that recruits officers to spy on unionist Mossos d’Esquadra, “politicians, professors, journalists, and civil-society groups deemed opponents of the process”; a “Catalan spy service”. His paper, the Financial Times, has spoken to four other officers and “people close to the National Intelligence Centre – Centro Nacional de Inteligencia (CNI) and Spanish government” who believe in the theory. This is a monster of a story, he thinks. What a buzz!

What our man on the spot is unaware of, or fails to mention, is that it’s old non-news – a narrative concocted from fake documents included in a police report and Lamela (High Court) case file. The “police report” – the “case file” – contains some of the most leaked and widely read “confidential documents” ever, fodder for an array of Spanish unionist journalists and their publications, lawyers, historians, and Societat Civil Catalana.

The idea that it could send dozens to jail is obviously the desire of one of our man’s interviewees, far-right Catalan lawyer, José María Fuster-Fabra. He is a well-known defender of the security forces – mainly Civil Guard and National Police, but also Mossos d’Esquadra, from state terrorist Galindo to the Mossos responsible for the death of Juan Andrés Benítez in the Raval, Barcelona.

The lawyer filed a suit against the Catalan police force in December also based on the documents seized by the National Police while on their way to the incinerator in Sant Adrià de Besos as part of their biannual clear-out after a tip-off from a mole within the Mossos. Minister of the Interior, Juan Ignacio Zoido, judge Carmen Lamela of the High Court and Mr. “Operation Catalonia”, former Minister of the Interior, Jorge Fernández Díaz, all know that the documentation is irrelevant to the events of 1 October referendum.

No action has been taken against the officers authorising and executing the incineration, as this is a standard housekeeping performed two or three times a year. On the other hand, the seizure has allowed a story to be built around it which enables unionist lawyers and newspapers to make unsubstantiated allegations against pro-independence politicians and the Mossos d’Esquadra while at the same same time playing the victim card. The suspiciously unshredded documents dating back to 2011 have ended up in the case file.

The story of the “sensitive” papers that the Mossos d’Esquadra were going to burn last 26 October and which allegedly proved the existence of a so-called “Independence Plan” first resurfaced in March of this year in e-Notícias. The story is of great importance as it forms part of the basis of one of Carmen Lamela’s case against imprisoned civil leaders, Jordi Cuixart and Jordi Sànchez.

When the excited journalist talks of the recruitment of police officers by the Information Security Centre of Catalonia – Centre de Seguretat de la Informació de Catalunya (Cesicat) – to perform clandestine surveillance operations on opponents of independentism he fails to mention that the principal case supporting the narrative of the existence of a parallel spy network within the police turned out to be an elaborate hoax, more worthy of Catfish than Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.

The role of the Spanish media in the narrative presented by Stothard, a full three months after the re-reheated mediastorm in March, is evident. When he says “information rather than violence is the chief weapon” he has a point about the important role of the Spanish unionist and nationalist media that make up the vast majority of newspaper titles and TV channels and toe the Spanish state’s line on the Catalan crisis.

As the secret policemen disappeared round the corner, the foreign correspondent should have sat down and read a few articles, such as this piece by Antoni Maria Piqué that appeared in El Nacional on March 14 entitled Cómo se reciclan mentiras de ayer para acusar a los Mossos hoy; a question of more Patricia López and less Graham Greene. The factual problems with the version of events swallowed hook, line and sinker by the FT’s man in Madrid are thrown into stark relief:

How Lies are Recyled to Accuse the Mossos again

Bad weeds never die. Four notes fabricated between 2014 and 2017 by a former Spanish Police Commissioner as revenge on a rival have made a money-making return to the pages of various Spanish newspapers this month, giving credence to documents that even the Ministry of Interior’s Fernández Díaz said were inadmissable, as revealed in Público last Wednesday. The fakes have been given a new lease of life, repackaged in “Case 3022/2017”, that the Provincial Brigade of Information Brigade of Barcelona’s National Police has presented to High Court judge, Carmen Lamela, investigating judge in the case against Major of the Catalan police, Josep Lluís Trapero, for events surrounding the 1 October referendum.

The unstamped, unheaded and unsigned, “internal” notes construct an account that the “Independence Plan” is a “structure of coverage designed and assembled for years by certain leaders of Convergència Democràtica (CDC), as well as of Unió, to camouflage the collection of bribes and/or commissions “. The truth is that they were manufactured by Police Commissioner José Manuel Villarejo, now in prison for bribery, money-laundering and membership of a criminal organization, among other alleged crimes.

The first of these notes, for example, was published in November 2015 by OKdiario, a medium through which Villarejo made public his inventions as a form of revenge on Marcelino Martín Blas, a rival commissioner whom he accused of concealing evidence. It was Martin Blas who reported Villarejo’s offenses.

These notes are now included as evidence in the aforementioned case, in which the Spanish police claim to have reconstructed the contents of 10,000 documents, audios and pendrives, seized last December from the Mossos on their way to be destroyed in an incinerator in Sant Adrià del Besòs. Many media outlets have swallowed the story and given it renewed credit this month. Someone’s sides are splitting with laughter in a police headquarters somewhere.

It was worth it

On November 24, 2015, Okdiario ran the story: “Jordi Pujol and two of his sons organized a meeting without Más in which the ‘Independence Plan’ was activated“. More than two years later, on March 5, the Europa Press agency, used the same falsehood in a news item entitled: “The start of the ‘Process’ was a meeting in 2011 with three of Pujol’s children, according to the papers seized from the Mossos“. El Mundo went with a more florid headline, but swallowed the same lie as the source: “The ‘Process’ was born to cover up the ‘3%’ corruption case, according to the Mossos’ notes“. ABC also took it at face value: “The 2011 meeting attended by three of Jordi Pujol’s children to launch a secessionist plan“. The Independent also edited the headline as a proven fact, and didn’t quote the source: “The start of the ‘Process’ was a meeting in 2011 with three of Pujol’s children“.

Pujol’s children mentioned in these fabricated documents denied to newspaper Público “that there has been any such meeting between the three of them and protested that it is a leaked version without any supporting proof, exclusively based on the false statements of [the businessman Javier] de la Rosa and [Victoria] Álvarez, “Jordi Pujol Junior’s ex-mistress.”

Demented

The deliberate leaking of documents from the case file have brought further hysterical headlines. “The government recruited Mossos as spies in safe house and after collecting personal data“, explained El Confidencial last March. Crónica Global raised the stakes with “Go-betweens recruited Mossos in a safe house to follow unionist figures.” “Police conclude that the Mossos kept Partido Polular (PP), Ciudadanos, Partit Socialista de Catalunya (PSC) and Partit Demòcrata (PDeCAT) politicians under surveillance” is the variation El Periódico used a few days earlier.

Spectacular. And false. “The alleged recruitment of spies by Cesicat (Centre de Seguretat de la información de Catalunya) was neither recruitment, nor was it of spies, and it wasn’t carried out by members of Cesicat“, explained Ara on 6 March. “The case that has been presented as an attempt by Cesicat to set up a team of agents that spied on politicians was nothing more than a teen prank“, in which a trap was set for an officer that one of them was in love with. A complaint was made and the youths were detained, tried and sentenced. It has only now come to light because the Mossos, who had initially opted for discretion, unveiled it to defend themselves against the accusations stemming from documents in the case file.

The espionage of the Mossos, it is a story that has been running for years, and it has the same basis as ever: uncredited police reports, bursting into related media, such as this piece, published by El Mundo in May 2015, whose content is very similar to that of the case file.

Villarejo’s notes are false. The espionage too. Almost everything is recycled material. The Spanish police case built on this material, will be no better.

But no, they take no notice. On the contrary, the media airing this fluff present is as firm fact on which one can count and rely. This same Wednesday, El Mundo thunders in its editorial: “It is urgent to purify the Mossos of its Catalan Stasi“. The Stasi was the political police of East Germany. It’s obvious what they’re up to. The newspaper makes no attempt to hide it. The closing phrase of the editorial says: “Why did the [Spanish] government, knowing what it knew, rely on the Mossos to prevent the illegal referendum on October 1, and why is [Ferran] Lopez still in charge of the force under direct rule? Why?” He’s a good listener.

***

The FT journalist’s attempted parallel between “Operation Catalonia” and the “Independentist Plan” (you know, the “six of one and half a dozen of the other” argument) reflects only the mirroring of independentism that unionism has been limited to for years.

Perhaps, the secret policeman should fear for his job instead of his life. If you wander around with a gun stuck in your waistband when you’re off-duty, maybe you should be under surveillance, or at least investigated by internal affairs – the police force that actually exists within every police force. There is also the danger that he might blow his balls off.

No, we don’t need a mysterious secret policeman with a gun in his waistband to tell us this tale when real policemen, especially those close to Ciudadanos leader, Albert Rivera, are prepared to peddle the narrative openly in the Spanish media. The secret policeman with the well-kempt beard fits well with the spy story conceit, but he trots out a well-worn, well-known narrative.

We heard the secret policemen’s version on Spanish nation television channel, La Sexta, back in December 2017, when the falsified documents from the case file were leaked to the press. Both David José, General Secretary of the Mossos d’Esquadra union, and Toni Castejón, spokesperson for the same trade union and Ciudadanos activist, discussed the possibility that José and his family were under surveillance. At David José’s side in the clip is José María Fuster-Fabra, his legal counsel. David José is publicly terrified, making all kinds of accusations and waving his arms about. Castejón is more prudent. In a studied way, he asserts that “if it turns out to be true then it is very serious indeed”.

Well, it has turned out to be false, but why let that get in the way of a damn good story or a string of trumped-up charges.


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