Logo del Ministerio de Defensa
Presidencia Espanola Consejo de la Presidencia Europea

Select your language

Logo del Ministerio de Defensa
Presidencia Espanola Consejo de la Presidencia Europea

Our history

Origin of the Intelligence services

Information Services have been used in every war to learn about the tactical plans of the enemy in advance. In the 15th century, the different Italian States laid the foundations for the current Intelligence Services, which were closely linked to the diplomatic corps at the time. The history of the Secret Services is as old as history itself. The need to collect information to understand reality, to defeat the enemy, to beat rivals, etc., has existed since the dawn of time.

However, it was not until the interwar period and after World War II that Intelligence Services experienced an exponential growth, as a result of which the Services ceased to be exclusively military in character.

As for Spain, Intelligence has played a decisive role in many historic events, namely the Spanish War of Independence, the Carlist Wars, the Overseas Wars and the Moroccan War, although there was no continuity in time.

First attempt and creation of SECED

The first attempt to create an Intelligence service in Spain dates back to 1935, when the Government of the Second Republic considered that it was necessary to establish an Information Service under the Ministry of War. The life of this Service was very short and had almost no activity because the outbreak of the Civil War brought an end to this first experiment.

During the Civil War (1936-1939), each bloc tried to organize its own Information Services. They created multiple information units, which tried to conduct their missions independently. In the coming years, in Spain there were up to eight different Information Services with no distinct competences, which resulted in frequent overlapping.

Among these Services, mostly focused on domestic information, were the following ones:

  • Servicio de Información del Movimiento, responsible for political information in the whole State territory.
  • Servicio de Información de la Dirección General de Seguridad, in charge of investigating what then were called political and social offences, in cooperation with the Servicio de Información de la Guardia Civil.
  • The Information Services of the Army, the Navy and the Air Force, under the Second Section (Intelligence) of their respective HQs.
  • The Services of Foreign Intelligence and Counterintelligence, under the Third Section (Operations) of the General Staff.

The decree whereby the Servicio Central de Documentación, the SECED, was created was enacted in 1972. The SECED was established as a Directorate General of the Presidency, and was directly answerable to admiral Luis Carrero Blanco, the then minister deputy secretary of the Presidency.

The main mission of the SECED was “to counter subversion”, i.e., to identify any individuals that were against Franco’s crumbling regime one way or another. This gave administrative coverage to the Organización Contrasubversiva Nacional (OCN). However, these were times of change and the work of the SECED paved the way for it: Spanish Information Services at the time accomplished their mission and helped advance on the road to democracy.

Historia 1935-1977 Miembros fundadores de las unidades operativas

The new period in Spanish history - marked by the coronation of King Juan Carlos I in 1975 - also had an impact on the organization and evolution of the Services. It was obvious that they were far too many, they did not cooperate, their competences overlapped and most of their duties and missions were unsuitable for a democracy. Times had changed, and bringing services’ interference in national politics to an end was a top priority. The new democratic system - and the subsequent legalization of the different political parties - terminated every action against groups that opposed Franco’s regime.

CESID: national defence as a central axis and internationalisation

In 1977, after the first parliamentary elections in democracy, Adolfo Suárez became the new president of the Government. On 4 July 1977 - thanks to the major boost given by the then vicepresident for Defence Affairs, Manuel Gutiérrez Mellado - the first nation-wide Intelligence service, the Centro Superior de Información de la Defensa (CESID), was created and replaced the former SECED, and the Military Intelligence, under the General Staff.

Historia 1977-1980. Mujeres en el Centro

With the creation of the CESID, Spain equaled Western countries, which already had institutions of a similar nature. Four months later, it was determined that the CESID would be the institution responsible for collecting, assessing, interpreting and providing the minister of Defence with any necessary information or information of interest to the national defence, giving priority to the needs of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

General José María Bourgón López-Dóriga was the first director of the CESID, which was structured into three divisions: Domestic Intelligence, Foreign Intelligence and the Technical Division. General Bourgón was replaced by general Gerardo Mariñas Romero, who was appointed director at a time when the Intelligence service was focused on two major threats: involution - any attempt to reinstall the former regime -, and ETA’s terrorism.

Retrato de D. José María Bourgón López-Dóriga
Escudo CESID, Saber para vencer
D. Gerardo Mariñas Romero

CESID’s priorities were defined in 1981 and it became responsible for “collecting, assessing, interpreting and providing the minister of Defence with any necessary information or information of interest for national defence that helps prevent reactionary threats, constitutional destabilization and espionage activities”.

Under the presidency of Leopoldo Calvo Sotelo in Government, and the direction of lieutenant colonel Emilio Alonso Manglano in the CESID (he was director for 15 years), “National Defence” became the core of the work of a Service that was progressively growing in resources and premises.

Cuadro de D. Emilio Alonso Manglano

In 1982, CESID was declared as the institution responsible for providing the information required by the president of the Government to lead and coordinate Government action on defence, and by the minister of Defence to dictate and coordinate immediately this policy and to enforce the military policy. As a result, new structures that included and expanded on the previous missions were created in the Service: Domestic Intelligence, Foreign Intelligence, Counterintelligence and Technology, Procedures, Targets and Premises of Interest for Defence.

1985. Internationalization of the CESID

The missions of the CESID in the first years under general Emilio Alonso Manglano were mainly aimed at helping develop the Armed Forces pursuant to the Constitution. From 1984-1985, the CESID began to to engage in institutional relations with other Intelligence services. This would lead to permanent international cooperation in the Cold War scenario.

Its main mission focused on stability in the Mediterranean. Thanks to its expertise on this area, the CESID became the best expert on Intelligence related to Northern Africa and the Middle East. There was a quantitative and qualitative increase in the priorities and resources allocated to the Foreign Intelligence Division, at a time when Spain was becoming a consolidated actor on the international scene.

The CESID opened delegations in numerous countries and entered memorandums of understanding with its counterparts. As part of these relations, the CESID engaged in regular contacts with the Intelligence Services of the Soviet Union – the KGB or the GRU – which helped ease tensions in Europe at the time of negotiations about the deployment of US strategic missiles to defend the continent from a potential Soviet nuclear attack. The CESID also fostered cooperation with the Israeli, Egyptian, Syrian, Jordanian, Iranian and Iraqi Services.

Simultaneously, the CESID conducted an Intelligence activity aimed at collecting information and conducting assessments on the networks that supported terrorist groups in Spain and abroad that perpetrated attacks on Spain. As an Intelligence service, the CESID had no police competences and its work was limited to the analysis of information that was made available to the State Law Enforcement Agencies, responsible for fighting crime.

Vista uno - aerea del Centro Nacional de inteligencia 1985
Vista dos - aerea del Centro Nacional de inteligencia 1985

This period of expansion and consolidation of the CESID was marred by a leak of classified information that provoked intense criticism against the Service. The crisis resulting from these events led to the appointment of a new director in 1995, major general Félix Miranda Robredo, who held the position until lieutenant general Javier Calderón Fernández was appointed in May 1996.

D. Félix Miranda Robredo
1995 Logo CESID
D. Javier Calderón Fernández

In 1995, the Statute of the CESID Personnel was passed. Although it did not have an external impact, since it was an internal regulation, it was particularly relevant for its members, as the Statute paved the way for their definitive professionalization as CESID members.

The year 2001 represented a landmark in the modernization of the Service: for the first time a civilian - Mr Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo - was appointed secretary of State director.

Cuadro de D. Jorge Dezcallar de Mazarredo

Creación del CNI

In May 2002, the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia was born, inheriting its director and functions, but, for the first time, it was equipped with the precise instruments to fulfil the objectives assigned by the legal and regulatory provisions, the most important of which were two laws regulating its functioning. Also in 2002, the first woman was appointed as secretary general, Doña María Dolores Vilanova Alonso.

Retrato D. Jorge Dezcallar
Foto Dña. María Dolores Vilanova Alonso

On 6 May two laws were passed that marked the transition from the CESID to the CNI. First, Law 11/2002 created the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia and compiled, in a unitary and systematic fashion, its nature, missions, principles, duties, substantial organization aspects, legal-administrative regime, and parliamentary and judicial oversight, which makes up the essence of an effective and transparent organization.

Second, the Organic Law 2/2002, regulating a priori judicial control of the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, provides for the judicial control of those CNI activities that may affect the fundamental rights recognized by the Spanish Constitution (articles 18.2 and 3).

Together with these significant dates for the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, other dates should also be remembered. In one of the most difficult periods the CNI has gone through, on 9 October a member of the CNI, Mr José Antonio Bernal Gómez, died in the line of duty as a result of a terrorist attack perpetrated in Baghdad, Iraq. On Saturday 29 November, the following members of the CNI died in other terrorist attack: Mr Carlos Baró Ollero, Mr José Lucas Egea, Mr Alberto Martínez González, Mr José Ramón Merino Olivera, Mr José Carlos Rodríguez Pérez, Mr Alfonso Vega Calvo and Mr Luis Ignacio Zanón Tarazona. These CNI members were granted posthumously the Cross of Military or Aeronautical Merit with Red Decoration.

Héroes de IRAQ
Monumento en memoria de los caidos del CNI

2004 will be etched forever in the minds of the Spanish people. On 11 March 2004, Madrid suffered the most horrific attack in the history of Spain, thus turning our country into another victim of international terrorism, after the September 11 attacks in the US.

After the 2004 general election, the new Government decided to replace the director of the CNI. Thus, Alberto Saiz Cortés was appointed secretary of State director of the CNI. A few months later, Mrs Esperanza Casteleiro Llamazares was appointed secretary general of the CNI.

The CNI entered this stage fully convinced that terrorism, including its new international version, posed the most serious threat to Spain; therefore, it increased its effort to combat it in coordination with the Law Enforcement Agencies. To this end, the Government decided, at the request of the CNI, to increase the Service’s capabilities by providing it with more staff and financial resources. The increase in budget was reflected particularly in the CNI fight against Islamist terrorism and its effort regarding every aspect linked to illegal immigration, while working with the same energy and determination to counter the threat coming from domestic terrorism.

Retrato Don Alberto Saiz Cortés
Acto de toma de posesión de Esperanza Casteleiro

Once the Government completed its term of office (2004-2008), general election was held in March. The Government appointed again Mr Alberto Saiz Cortés secretary of State director of the CNI. Then, Ms Elena Sánchez Blanco was appointed secretary general of the CNI.

secretaria general del CNI Dña. Elena Sánchez Blanco

The consolidation of the CNI. A Centre that looks to the future

On 3 July 2009, major general Félix Sanz Roldán was appointed secretary of State director of the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia.

D. Félix Sanz Roldán

In December 2011, the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia was no longer accountable to the Ministry of Defence, and now reported to the Ministry of the Presidency. In August 2012, Ms Beatriz Méndez de Vigo was appointed secretary general of the CNI.

Dña. Beatriz Méndez de Vigo Montojo

In June 2017, Ms Paz Esteban López was appointed secretary general of the CNI. In June 2018, were reorganized the ministerial departments. The Centro Nacional de Inteligencia was no longer under the Ministry of Presidency and for Territorial Administrations, and was again accountable to the Ministry of Defence. In the new stage, the CNI reaffirmed its commitment to maintaining and improving its line of action and continuing the permanent process of modernization and adaptation to the needs and demands of the new Spanish society of the 21st century.

Precisely one of the most direct consequences of the new world context and the new threats may be the increase in value of Intelligence versus information; in other words, quality versus quantity. Response to new uncertainties is not so dependent on the quantity of information – our global world provides us with a huge amount of it –, but on the quality of the information and particularly on its appropriate assessment and interpretation

The terms of office of Mrs Paz Esteban López as the secretary of State director of the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, and Mr Arturo Relanzón Sánchez Gabriel as secretary general of the Centro Nacional de Inteligencia, started in 2020.

Toma de posesión Doña Paz Esteban López
Toma de posesión D. Arturo Relanzón Sánchez-Gabriel

May 2022 marks the beginning of Ms Esperanza Casteleiro Llamazares' term of office.

The organization is in continuous evolution to be able to act and keep on implementing the principles of efficacy, specialization and coordination, in accordance with the Intelligence requirements defined by the Government.

The essence of Intelligence was, still is and will continue to be the same: supporting the authorities in their decision-making process on security and defence of the State and the interests of the Spanish people. The CNI will continue to move forward along this path with the same goal in mind, in strict compliance with the law, guided by the service to Spain and the Spanish citizens, in search for a freer, more stable, more secure society.

Enlace a la web del Ministerio de Defensa
Enlace a la web del Ministerio de Defensa
Logo CNI, Centro Nacional de Inteligencia