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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Espionage Difficulties May Spread to Spain

Spain has arrested a former intelligence officer on charges he acted as a double agent, selling other agents' secret identities and counterintelligence data to a foreign government, the country's spy chief said Tuesday.

The intelligence chief, Alberto Saiz, did not identify the country doing the buying, but Cadena Ser radio said it was Russia.

Saiz said the alleged espionage occurred from late 2001 to early 2004. He identified the former Spanish agent as Roberto Florez Garcia and said he was arrested Monday on Tenerife, one of the Canary Islands.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Intelligence Service said Tuesday that her agency never gives comments on such matters.

A Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said she could not comment because she had not received any information about the arrest.

If the country behind the scheme is indeed Russia, the revelation could become another point of contention between Western Europe and the government of President Vladimir Putin, which is already locked in a dispute with Britain over the poisoning death in London of former Federal Security Service agent Alexander Litvinenko.

Another spy scandal unfolded in June, when Austria arrested an official of the Federal Space Agency on espionage charges. The man, identified as Vladimir Vozhzhov, was released a week later when a United Nations inquiry found that he had diplomatic status.

Saiz, head of Spain's National Intelligence Center, called the case unprecedented for the Spanish intelligence services. Even his news conference announcing the case was unprecedented, as Saiz has previously remained behind the scenes.

An official at the National Intelligence Center said Florez Garcia had been a mid-level officer in the Civil Guard, a paramilitary police force that answers to the Spanish Interior Ministry but also has intelligence units involved in such tasks as fighting Basque separatist violence and Islamic terrorism. Florez Garcia quit the Civil Guard in March 2004, the official said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because of National Intelligence Center rules barring his name from being published.

Saiz said Florez Garcia sold classified information, including the identities of agents and data on Spanish intelligence procedures, internal structures and counterintelligence activities.

He said that neither the national security of Spain nor that of NATO or the European Union had been compromised, adding that Florez Garcia had been under investigation since July 2005.

Reuters, MT