The revelation of the involvement of two operatives from Spain’s CNI intelligence service in accepting bribes to disclose classified information to the United States has precipitated an unprecedented diplomatic tension between Madrid and Washington. In response to this development, Spanish Minister of Defense Margarita Robles, who supervises the CNI, summoned the U.S. ambassador to Spain, Julissa Reynoso, to her office to seek an explanation. Such actions are perceived as adversarial and are atypical within the context of the alliance shared by the two nations. Government sources indicate that Spanish Minister of Foreign Affairs, José Manuel Albares, also engaged in discussions with Reynoso, expressing the Spanish government’s discomfort regarding the disclosed information. Furthermore, it has come to light that at least two U.S. agents, directly implicated in recruiting the CNI operatives, have been discreetly expelled from Spain.
The investigation into the espionage operation was initiated prior to the summer when a routine CNI security check uncovered that the two Spanish agents had accessed classified information beyond the scope of their duties and without proper authorization. Subsequent internal inquiries substantiated that one of the agents, holding a mid-ranking position within the secret service, had been enlisted by U.S. intelligence operatives to procure sensitive information in exchange for a substantial monetary reward. According to sources closely associated with the CNI, the implicated agent held the position of an area chief within the intelligence division, while the other agent served as his assistant.
Following the conclusion of its investigation, the CNI Director, Esperanza Casteleiro, reported the case to the Prosecutor’s Office of Spain’s highest court, the National Assembly. Subsequently, the case was transferred to the Prosecutor’s Office of the High Court of Madrid, based on its jurisdiction. The Madrid tribunal then submitted the complaint to the investigative courts of Plaza de Castilla.
At this juncture, as per consulted sources, the Spanish government opted to share the investigation’s findings with the United States while simultaneously expressing condemnation for the events. This case holds significant gravity, as the recruitment of secret agents from a host state to betray their own nation is deemed an overtly hostile act. Such actions are typically associated with enemy or adversary governments, rather than allies. Sources within the Spanish intelligence service are reportedly perplexed, questioning why the U.S. would resort to bribery when Spain has consistently maintained an open collaboration with the United States, willingly exchanging information. According to these sources, instances of Spain withholding information of interest to Washington are extremely rare, if not nonexistent.
When Minister Robles summoned U.S. Ambassador Reynoso, the latter claimed to be unaware of the case. Allegedly, Reynoso asserted that the U.S. agents involved had operated independently, as part of a program initiated before President Joe Biden assumed office and inexplicably continued until the present. Apologizing for the situation, Reynoso pledged full cooperation with the ongoing investigation, leaving the United States in an awkward position.
In response, the Spanish Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs jointly decided to discreetly expel at least two American spies—some sources suggest there may be more—who were implicated in recruiting and bribing the CNI agents. The expulsion was conducted with urgency on the part of Washington. Simultaneously, the Madrid court classified the investigation, leading to the arrest of the two alleged CNI spies and the search of their residences. Both were incarcerated in the Estremera prison module in Madrid, reserved for security forces personnel and prison officials undergoing sentencing or pre-trial detention. The CNI assistant was released last month, while his superior remains in custody.
As per sources within the CNI, the apprehension of the CNI area chief has sent shockwaves through his peers, given his status as a seasoned operative widely recognized within the agency. Both he and his subordinate now face charges related to the disclosure of classified information, with potential sentences ranging from six to 12 years in prison under Article 584 of the Penal Code. This legal provision pertains to the punishment of “a Spaniard who, with the purpose of aiding a foreign power, association, or international organization, procures, falsifies, disables, or discloses information classified as reserved or secret, likely to harm national security or national defense.”
This incident marks not the first instance wherein the Spanish secret service has brought charges against one of its own for espionage activities. In 2007, the CNI initiated a case against former operative Roberto Flórez, who had served within the agency from 1992 to 2004. The case emerged when classified documentation was discovered at his premises and two apartments he owned in Puerto de la Cruz, Tenerife. The CNI also seized a letter addressed to the Russian secret services, wherein Flórez purportedly offered to collaborate in exchange for an initial payment of $200,000. Although conclusive evidence of Flórez delivering the secret documents could not be established, the Provincial Court of Madrid handed down a 12-year prison sentence in 2010. Subsequently, the Supreme Court reduced the sentence to nine years.