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How a dubious CIA document is fueling tensions in Catalonia

Tensions are running high in Barcelona. Last month saw a terrorist attack on one of the city’s main thoroughfares, Las Ramblas, which killed a dozen people and injured more than 100. At the same time, Barcelona and the greater region of Catalonia are a day away from an independence referendum that has pitted the Catalan and Spanish governments against each other in a way unseen since the fall of Franco’s military dictatorship in the 1970s.

The central government in Madrid is bent on preventing the Oct. 1 referendum: in the last week, Spanish military police have shut down multiple websites associated with the referendum, and raided newspaper offices, TV stations and print shops in search of the ballots and ballot-boxes to be used in the vote. The Spanish interior minister has attempted to seize control of the Catalan police. Meanwhile, two ferries docked in Barcelona’s port are housing thousands of riot police that Madrid has said it plans on using to physically stop the vote. Spanish police have arrested at least a dozen members of the Catalan autonomous regional government and others involved with the independence movement, threatening charges of “sedition“ and “rebellion.“

Last month, as the referendum fervor was heating up, leading Spanish daily newspaper El Periódico published a document alleging that the CIA had warned the Catalan police about a potential attack in Barcelona. The document stated that three months before the attack, the CIA had warned the Catalan police, the Mossos d’Esquadra, of “unsubstantiated information of unknown veracity“ pointing to a summer attack in Barcelona. The document (pictured below) named Las Ramblas as a potential target.

The revelation had huge implications—if true, it would represent a case of gross negligence on the part of the Catalan police and evidence that Catalonia’s president, interior minister, and police chief had lied to the public. But El Periodico’s initial story unraveled quickly: Soon after its publication, local journalists questioned the veracity of the document. Supposedly authored by the CIA, it was plagued with spelling and formatting errors typical of Spanish speakers. Even WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange tweeted that he thought it looked fake.

The publication of the document raises many questions. If it is indeed fake, was it created by El Periódico, or did the newspaper get spun a fabrication by an outside source who was intent on undermining trust in Catalonia’s authorities? Just over one month after the attacks in Barcelona and prior to Catalonia’s impending referendum, The Intercept has delved into the strange case in an effort to shine light on the murky origins of the alleged CIA report.

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