Resignations over „Predator“ spyware scandal in Greece

The Greek secret service spied on at least one journalist, today its head resigned. In addition, the prime minister’s secretary-general quit his post. The affair reaches the EU level after a current MEP was also spied on.

The Greek wiretapping affair involving the „Predator“ spy programme is widening. According to media reports, Grigoris Dimitriadis, the Secretary General of the Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis, resigned today. Today, his office writes that the head of the secret service, Panagiotis Kontoleon, has also submitted his resignation.

The association „Reporters United“ had previously reported how a network of companies with the participation of Dimitriadis was making money from state operations of the spyware. Intellexa, the company that distributes „Predator“ in Greece, is part of this. The revelation is also explosive because the two are relatives: The Secretary General is the nephew of the Prime Minister, who in turn is directly responsible for the secret service as a user of „Predator“.

Chairmen of the Social Democrats also bugged

The manufacturer of „Predator“ is the company Cytrox, founded by Israeli and Hungarian nationals as a joint-stock company in Northern Macedonia. It is said to have offices in both countries for the production of the cyberweapons. Cytrox now belongs to a company in Hungary and is believed to be owned by 70-year-old air force veteran Meir Shamir from Israel.

Back in April, the Greek internet magazine „Inside Story“ reported that the spyware had been found on the phone of journalist Thanasis Koukakis. The expert specialised in finance and corruption, who works for CNN among others in Greece, therefore filed a complaint with the supreme public prosecutor’s office. As a result, a Greek prosecutor opened an investigation into the matter.

Last week it finally came out that the leader of the socialist opposition party PASOK Nikos Androulakis had also been bugged with „Predator“. At the end of 2021 he allegedly received an SMS with a corresponding link , but did not click on it. In the meantime, the politician is a member of the European Parliament for the Socialist Group. Androulakis has now also filed a complaint with the public prosecutor’s office.

Parliamentary investigation committee in Athens

The left-wing parliamentary group SYRIZA, as the largest opposition party in Greece, had initially unsuccessfully demanded the convening of a parliamentary committee of enquiry into the „Predator“ spy programme. However, the majority of the parliament in Athens rejected a corresponding motion. Only after the PASOK party also demanded an investigation after the espionage against the politician Androulakis became known, was a joint motion by SYRIZA and PASOK to convene the committee approved. SYRIZA called on the Prime Minister to investigate the two cases.

The central intelligence service EYP, which is responsible for domestic, foreign and military affairs in Greece and reports directly to the Prime Minister, is considered to be the originator of the surveillance. Last week, the head of the service, who has now resigned, allegedly admitted to the parliamentary Committee on Institutions and Transparency that his agency had spied on a journalist, Reuters reports. The journalist in question was Koukakis.

The justification for spying on the journalist is not known. During the hearing, Panagiotis Kontoleon, the head of the EYP is said to have pointed out that his agency also acts on tips or requests from foreign intelligence services.

EU committee could investigate incidents in Greece

The European Union is also dealing with the use of state spying programmes against opposition members and media workers on several levels. Since March, a Parliamentary Committee has been meeting on the use of the software „Pegasus“ by governments in Hungary, Poland and Spain. Members of the committee are now demanding that the cases in Greece also be investigated. This would be covered by the mandate, the committee is supposed to investigate other spying software besides „Pegasus“.

After the espionage with „Pegasus“ became known, the EU Commission sent several letters to the governments in Warsaw, Budapest and Madrid. In another letter, the Israeli government, which had approved exports of the spyware, was also asked to comment.

In response to a question from the left-wing politician Dimitrios Papadimoulis, also from Greece, the Commission yesterday commented on the spying with „Predator“. Papadimoulis is Vice-President of the EU Parliament, which may have prompted the Commission to give a more detailed answer. It comes from the Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders, who himself was possibly being attacked with the „Pegasus“ spying software.

Not much initiative by the EU Commission

According to Reynders, the unlawful interception could violate several EU laws, including the General Data Protection Regulation, the Directive on attacks against information systems and the Directive on privacy and electronic communications. It is up to the Greek government to intercept and enforce EU rules, the Brussels-based authority reminds.

However, the Commission, as the „guardian of the EU Treaties“, also has a duty to detect and prosecute breaches of EU law. Last year, the Commission published a recommendation on the safety of journalists, according to which member states should ensure that they are not illegally tracked or intercepted online. There may also be a reference to hardening digital products against state espionage attacks in the proposal for a European legal act on „cyber-resilience“ that the Commission wants to present in autumn.

Not much more can be expected from the Commission. However, the results of the European Parliament’s committee of enquiry on „Pegasus“ are awaited „with interest“. Its final report with corresponding recommendations is not due until spring 2023. The implementation of these recommendations will eventually be monitored by the Commission, promises „Pegasus“ victim Reynders.

Image: From a promotional video by the company that distributes the „Predator“ spyware (Intellexa).


Autor: Matthias Monroy

Knowledge worker, activist, editor of the German civil rights journal Bürgerrechte & Polizei/CILIP.