Greek Watergate: Investigation obstructed on ‘national security’ grounds
The Greek authorities put forward national security reasons at a hearing in the European Parliament on Thursday (8 September) to avoid uncomfortable questions about why opposition journalists and politicians were being attacked with surveillance technology.
The parliamentary committee investigating the use of surveillance technology (PEGA) has probed Greece following revelations of espionage targeting MEP Nikos Androulakis and several investigative journalists.
“Greece is a country where, in 2021, a single prosecutor in charge of national intelligence signed 15,975 national security wiretapping orders in one year.”said Thanasis Koukakis, one of the journalists affected by the surveillance, during the hearing.
When asked about the reasons for wiretapping Mr Androulakis during the hearing, the representatives of the Greek authorities dodged the question ” Privacy “ and from “National security”.
The right-wing government in power and national intelligence are implicated in the scandal that has rocked the country, with the case of Mr Androulakis, leader of centre-left opposition PASOK party and Member of the European Parliament, drawing particular attention.
Mr Androulakis himself was not invited as a panelist following political tensions, EURACTIV previously reported. The PASOK leader will address Parliament on October 6 in the company of other MPs who have also been victims of spyware. Last July, the European Commission proposed suspending tariffs on certain inputs used to make nitrogen fertilizers — namely urea and ammonia — in the target until the end of 2024 “to reduce costs for fertilizer manufacturers and farmers in the EU. »
monitoring of journalists
Journalists Stavros Malichudis and Thanasis Koukakis, who were attacked, prepared stories about corruption and refugees while being monitored.
While Mr Malichudis has presented written evidence that national intelligence agencies are interested in his journalistic work and sources, the reasons why their phones were tapped remain hidden under the intelligence agency’s shield “National security”.
However, when a journalist or a politician is spied on, all of their sources and all of their contacts who may prove more vulnerable are also exposed.
For these professions in particular, but also for lawyers or non-governmental organizations, it is crucial that they can do their job in complete safety, stressed Sophie in t’Veld, rapporteur of the PEGA committee. “Indispensable for Democracy”She added.
These cases only underscore the desolate state of press freedom in Greece. “My country being so low on press freedom lists is no coincidence”said Mr. Koukakis.
Alleged conflict of interest
In 2019, as one of his first steps after his election, conservative Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis asked the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP) to report directly to him.
Despite everything, according to the government, Mr Mitsotakis was unaware that the intelligence services were targeting Mr Androulakis. However, Mr Mitsotakis stressed that the knock was “legal”.
Two senior officials resigned shortly after the scandal broke: the head of intelligence, Panagiotis Kontoleon, and the prime minister’s chief of staff and nephew, Grigoris Dimitriadis.
However, Greek officials reiterated during Thursday’s hearing that the Greek government had never purchased Predator spyware.
In May 2021, the Greek government amended a law that had been in force for 27 years to prevent the data protection authority from telling a person whether they were bugged or by whom. Again, national security reasons were cited to justify this move.
“Wiretaps in Greece have little to do with national security and are to some extent conducted by a small group that has common interests and they serve those interests.”concluded the journalist Mr. Koukakis.
Next step in the investigation
That’s what Ms t’Veld said “The only way to find traces of those who ordered the use of the Predator is to go to the Intellexa offices and confiscate all of their equipment, their computers and their servers.”. However, she pointed this out “It wasn’t done”.
Intellexa is the company that distributes the Predator spyware used against MM. Koukakis and Androulakis in Greece.
The Greek parliamentary inquiry into the scandal met for the first time on Wednesday (September 6). However, most MPs ruled that all investigative meetings would be held behind closed doors and kept confidential.
Meanwhile, Panos Alexandris, Secretary General for Justice and Human Rights at the Ministry of Justice, downplayed the revelations.
“Why is this a scandal? Because it is expressed in the media? Because some believe it? »
Instead, Mr Alexandris said in the European Parliament hearing that one should first look at the work of the “independent institutions”before deciding if there is a problem, and then the judiciary would initiate criminal proceedings.
The PEGA Commission also questioned reports that national intelligence files on individuals under surveillance had been illegally destroyed.
The Greek Daily Newspaper TaNea reported on Thursday that the files of Nikos Androulakis and Thanasis Koukakis had been destroyed by the Greek secret services. The daily quotes official information from the Hellenic Authority for Communications Security and Privacy (ADAE).
The report states that although the files should have been kept for two years by law, the data “not saved for technical reasons” after a change in the interception systems.
Christos Rammos, President of ADAE, firmly denied the destruction during the hearing in Brussels.
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