The conservative government in Greece led by Kyriakos Mitsotakis has been accused of putting investigative journalists and opposition political leaders under surveillance using spyware. The accusations and the ensuing protests forced two top-level officials of the government, Secretary General of the Prime Minister’s Office Grigoris Dimitriadis and National Intelligence Services (EYP) head Panagiotis Kontoleon, to resign in the first week of August. Opposition parties including the Panhellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) have demanded a special investigation by the parliament into the incident. On August 7, the Communist Party of Greece (KKE) also demanded the government to constitute a special committee to inquire into the accusations.
The controversy over the use of spyware to target dissidents, opposition politicians, human rights activists and investigative journalists has already caused furor in countries like Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain, India, Israel, Morocco, Spain, and others. Several reports have exposed that many governments and their security agencies around the world used the Pegasus spyware – developed by Israeli company NSO – for targeted surveillance. Earlier this year, in Spain, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez himself reportedly was a victim of a Pegasus attack, indicating the alarming levels of intrusion through spywares and sophisticated surveillance technology.
In Greece, reports indicate that a spyware named ‘Predator’ was used to carry out surveillance on investigative journalists and an opposition leader. In April this year, investigative Greek news outlet Inside Story revealed that journalist Thanasis Koukakis was spied upon using the Predator software for months. It was also reported that around 50 websites were used to infect the mobile phones of targets. Following these accusations, the government ordered an investigation by the EYP, and later declared that the government, police, and the EYP had never purchased or used Predator or similar spyware.
However, in recent weeks, PASOK leader and Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Nikos Androulakis came forward about a Predator attack on his phone. According to reports, Androulakis found out about the attempt to infect his phone when he did a precautionary check of his phone on June 28 through a special service set up by the European Parliament for MEPs. On July 26, Androulakis expressed his concern at becoming a target of surveillance. He approached the Greek Supreme Court and filed a request to launch an investigation into the attempt to carry out a spyware attack on him. The revelation sparked widespread outrage across political circles in Greece and resulted in the resignations of Dimitriadis and Kontoleon on August 5.
While the conservative New Democracy (ND) government had earlier denied any official involvement in the surveillance of Koukakis, according to reports, in a closed hearing in the Greek parliament on July 29, Kontoleon admitted to having wiretapped two Greek investigative journalists. News outlets including Inside Story, Reporters United, Journal of Editors, and Solomon continue to publish reports on surveillance as well as alleged indirect links between Dimitriadis (who is also the nephew of Prime Minister Mitsotakis) and companies that trade the Predator spyware.
Opposition leader Alexis Tsipras from Syriza called the revelations a big scandal and stated that Dimitriadis’ resignation was “an admission of guilt” and Mitsotakis himself bore some of the responsibility.
According to a report by the Citizen Lab at the University of Toronto, which conducts extensive and independent research on cyber security, the Predator spyware is developed by a cyber tech company called Cytrox which started in North Macedonia in 2017. According to reports, in 2018, Cytrox was acquired by the Cyprus-based company WiSpears/Passitora Ltd., owned by Tal Dilian, the CEO of Intellexa and a former Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Unit 81 commander. Citizen Lab reported that “Cytrox is part of the so-called “Intellexa alliance,” a marketing label for a range of mercenary surveillance vendors that emerged in 2019. The consortium of companies includes Nexa Technologies (formerly Amesys), WiSpear/Passitora Ltd., Cytrox, and Senpai, along with other unnamed entities, purportedly seeking to compete against other players in the cyber surveillance market such as NSO Group and Verint.”
On August 10, PASOK leader Androulakis posted on Facebook, “If I were not a MEP, today myself and the entire Greek people would not have known the paradigmatic methods used by the current government. We wouldn’t have known that in September 2021 shortly after the announcement of my candidacy for the presidency of PASOK, the EYP started tracking me and a few days later there was an attempt to trap me with Predator software.”
“It escapes public discourse that at this critical time for those fighting for democracy, the EYP through monitoring me, was also watching an entire party, former Prime Ministers, MPs, and party members, who were conversing with me in regular intervals for developments. So they weren’t just setting me up but the entire party,” he added.
In a statement on August 7, KKE General Secretary Dimitris Koutsoumbas said that “the surveillance scandal is not limited to this moment or annulled with some apologies and some government resignations, since it brings to the surface a dark environment and a compromised institutional structure, which has been repeatedly denounced by the KKE.”
“The Greek Communist Party will highlight the entire dangerous and compromised institutional structure, with its intergovernmental agreements and EU policy. An institutional structure that has deteriorated in recent years under the responsibility of both the current and previous governments, undermining the rights and freedoms of the Greek people. Of course, we are under no illusions that practices linked to state services, parastatal mechanisms and big business interests can be completely eliminated in the current system,” he added.
Yanis Varoufakis, leader of the European Realistic Disobedience Front (MeRA25), called for an end to all illegal surveillance of citizens, political opponents and journalists. He demanded democratic supervision of a competent committee of the parliament in the operation of the EYP, and the prosecution of every individual responsible for surveillance through spywares. He also demanded the resignation of the Greek prime minister and called for elections in September.
Meanwhile, in the wake of reports on the Predator scam in Greece, the Progressive Party of Working People (AKEL) demanded that the government of Cyprus comment on the activities of Intellexa CEO Tal Dilian and his companies in Cyprus. Earlier in 2019, the Cyprus police had arrested three employees of Dilian’s WiSpear company over suspicions of using a high-tech surveillance van to intercept communications.