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Dimensions of illegal wiretaps and Greek case

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Nov 17, 2022 - 01:19 AM

ISTANBUL (AA) – Intelligence is a weapon, so it has to be used correctly. If it is a weapon in question, it should be used in a timely manner. The law should be the main determinant, otherwise a price must be paid.

Wiretap scandal in Greece

We recently saw the most obvious example of illegal wiretapping in Greece. Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis is having a hard time these days regarding illegal wiretaps.

Those listened to include politicians, businessmen and members of the press. According to the news, two of the prominent figures who were placed under surveillance are Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis and opposition PASOK party leader Nikos Androulakis.

In April, spyware was detected on the mobile phone of Greek journalist Thanasis Koukakis. The International Press Institute (IPI) asked the Greek authorities to investigate the detected spyware program on Koukakis’ mobile phone. According to IPI’s statement, in 2021 Koukakis’s cell phone was tracked with spyware called “Predator” for 10 weeks. Following this incident, EYP President Panagiotis Kontoleon submitted his resignation to Mitsotakis on the ground of “carelessness in the information gathering process”.

The scandal was growing in Greece. The surveillance operation was carried out on direct orders by the Prime Minister’s Secretary General, Grigoris Dimitriadis who is also Mitsotakis’ nephew, claimed news outlet Documento. Dimitriadis left his post on the same day with Kontoleon. It was alleged that he had commercial relations with the company that sold “Predator” and its owner.

Surprisingly, Documento said, the first wave of the spying by Israeli-made Predator spyware targeted not opposition figures, but prominent members of the government bloc led by the Nea Dimokratia Party.

The spying targets reportedly included such top figures as Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias, Deputy Defense Minister Nikos Hardalias, Development Minister Adonis Georgiadis, Labor Minister Kostis Hatzidakis, Finance Minister Christos Staikouras, former Prime Minister Antonis Samaras, former Public Order Minister Michalis Chrysochoidis, and former National Security Advisor Alexandros Diakopoulos, it said.

In June, Androulakis had his phone checked if it was being tracked with spyware, using the special service of the European Parliament (EP). According to the initial examination of his phone, a suspicious link related to Predator was detected. Further investigation revealed that Androulakis had received a text message with a link which was meant to install spyware program on his phone.

In his televised address to the nation, Mitsotakis said, “The National Intelligence Service obtained legal authorization last September to wiretap the cellphone of Nikos Androulakis, who was then a member of European Parliament, and he was informed of this a few days ago.” He said “the wiretap lasted only three months until Androulakis was elected leader of PASOK.”

Apparently, Mitsotakis said that this wiretapping was legal, while it was wrong for Androulakis to be tracked after he was elected leader of PASOK, and he did not know about it. “Although everything was done legally, the EYP underestimated the political aspect of this action. It was formally okay, but politically unacceptable,” Mitsotakis said. In response to the Prime Minister’s words, Androulakis said that “Mitsotakis is trying to paint himself as innocent and justify a criminal act and a violation of the constitution.”

The main opposition party SYRIZA found the illegal interception of the PASOK leader “unacceptable”. Opposition Parties (SYRIZA, PASOK, MeRA25, KKE) urged the Prime Minister to “take responsibility and set up a commission of inquiry to investigate the scandal”.

Androulakis made the necessary criminal complaint to the Greek Supreme Court and said that Mitsotakis “refrains from making any statements about the established deep state order.”

The opposition demanded the resignation of Mitsotakis, however in his speech in the Parliament, Mitsotakis argued that domestic and foreign powers are in a desire to destabilize Greece and said, “I will not allow a mistake to turn into a political crisis.”

Spyware manufacturer Israel

In 2021, it was revealed that Israel-based NSO Group’s spyware “Pegasus” monitored more than 50 thousand phones worldwide. Thereupon, the EP established a special committee for investigation. The US government banned the import and use of Pegasus, technology giant Apple sued the NSO Group.

Today, wiretap applications are done with spyware for minimizing the risk for intelligence gatherer and also the coverage could be very extensive, and its cost is low. The target person or institution can install spyware on their device and start wiretap without knowing it. What’s more is that wiretap is very difficult to be aware of. However, within the service, on the grounds that this activity is illegal or for political reasons, a person can make a disclosure, and then the victims can bring their necessary complaints to the court. There is also another way of detection which is technical inspections.

Pegasus Committee members working under the responsibility of the EP visited Athens after the wiretapping scandal erupted in Greece. In the report prepared, committee rapporteur Sophie in’t Veld said, “We expect the issue to be clarified urgently and in all aspects before the general elections in any case.”

Scandals in Germany

According to the news of Der Spiegel, it has been announced that the German Foreign Intelligence Agency (BND) has been wiretapping Türkiye since 2009. When this situation arose, eyes were turned to the then Chancellor Angela Merkel. Although the German government has not officially confirmed the allegations, its sources speaking to the Frankfurter Allgemeine confirmed Der Spiegel’s report. Ankara demanded an official statement from Germany and mutual talks were held between the authorities of two countries.

The second incident is when the US National Security Agency (NSA) revealed that in 2013, former German Chancellor Merkel’s cell phones were tapped. After meeting with Latvian Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma in Riga, Merkel reacted by saying, “There is no wiretap between friends.” Merkel emphasized that she made this statement for the US after the NSA scandal. The German Bundestag established “NSA Research Commission” and the necessary processes were run.

These two wiretapping scandals are not internal intelligence activities.

Wiretaps and features

Intelligence agencies carry out activities in order to protect their countries and to help achieving national goals, with legal authorities in their responsibilities and interests, and based on the functioning of the state.

The start and end time, target and purpose of wiretapping in a foreign service authority and directed from outside, and which data collection method is used are unknown. This type of wiretapping can be done indefinitely in case it is not detected, prevented or certain legal or diplomatic initiatives could not be initiated. In fact, these wiretaps under the authority of foreign intelligence services are a sign of hostility.

Wiretapping is the most widely practiced form of intelligence gathering. The intelligence services of powerful countries such as the US may dare to wiretap, even though they have no rights. According to a classification based on power, intelligence services such as the US’s CIA, Israel’s Mossad, Russia’s FSB or China’s MSS have “dominant” features compared to others. Dominant intelligence agencies both use the dominant power of their countries and have superior characteristics in the field of intelligence originating from their traditions.

Those in the other group move down the rankings. These are the “weak” ones which Greek intelligence service can be included in. Even it can be said that Greek intelligence is under the control of other intelligence services such as CIA.

The intelligence world is in a competition with itself, in peace time, countries gather intelligence from each other in various ways. While doing this, they make use of the latest technological products and methods. The US is one of those who do this the most. The United States, as it tries to listen to its own enemies, also wants to shape all kinds of developments on a global scale according to its own interests by listening to its allies on a world scale.

Following the wiretapping from abroad, if the operation is disclosed, the relevant governments and authorities claim that they were not aware of the activity and do not take responsibility for the incident.

If domestic wiretaps are made for political purposes, it is illegal and undemocratic. If the politicians in the country are using the intelligence services for their own interest, this is unacceptable. If the intelligence services of a country conduct wiretapping under the responsibility of a certain group that is nested within the state, this is also unacceptable.

* Opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Anadolu Agency.

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