Greece’s conservative government was rocked on Friday by a long-simmering oversight scandal after its intelligence chief and a close aide to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis resigned within an hour. Panagiotis Kontoleon has offered to resign due to management “mistakes” during his tenure, Mitsotakis’ office said in a statement.
The announcement of Kontoleon’s resignation from his post as head of the national intelligence service EYP came less than an hour after the resignation of Prime Minister’s Secretary General Grigoris Dimitriadis.
The resignations came a week after the leader of the country’s socialist opposition party, Nikos Androulakis, filed a complaint with the Supreme Court for ‘attempting’ to spy on his mobile phone using the Predator malware. .
Two Greek journalists also filed a lawsuit this year after claiming they were victims of surveillance.
Androulakis on Friday called for a special parliamentary inquiry into the incident.
“I didn’t expect the Greek government to spy on me using the darkest practices,” he said.
The government has always denied any state involvement, saying it did not buy any such software, but the wrangling sparked an outcry in the country.
Government spokesman Yiannis Economou said it was “plausible” that individuals had used Predator to spy and that all of Europe faced surveillance threats.
In November, Greek Minister of State George Gerapetritis insisted to AFP that there is “no surveillance of journalists in Greece” by the state.
“Greece fully adheres to the values of democratic society and the rule of law, in particular pluralism and freedom of the press,” Gerapetritis said.
As such, he argued there was “no need for further steps” to verify the alleged surveillance of investigative journalist Stavros Malichudis.
Kontoleon, who was appointed head of the EYP in 2019 after Mitsotakis’ conservative party came to power that year, had hinted while in the post that journalists had been targeted on the order of foreign intelligence services.
Investigative sites Reporters United and Inside Story have accused Dimitriadis – a nephew of Mitsotakis – of being linked to alleged spy scandals involving Androulakis and Greek financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis.
Dimitriadis on Friday threatened to sue Reporters United and the left-wing daily Efsyn if they did not withdraw an article about the case. Koukakis was also warned to refrain from retweeting the story.
In one of his first acts upon taking power in 2019, Mitsotakis raised eyebrows as he tied down the national intelligence service to his office.
The main opposition party, the left-wing Syriza, called the case “a huge scandal”. Its leader, former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, said Dimitriadis’ resignation was “an admission of guilt” and that Mitsotakis himself bore some of the blame.
“Mr. Mitsotakis needs to explain to the Greek people about his own Watergate,” Tsipras said.
A dystopian and Orwellian reality
Experts note that Predator, originally developed in North Macedonia and later in Israel, can access both messages and conversations.
“A few days ago I was informed by the European Parliament that there had been an attempted bug on my mobile phone with the Predator surveillance software,” Androulakis told the media as he left a court. in Athens on July 26.
“Finding out who is behind these harmful practices is not a personal matter but a democratic duty,” he added.
The European Parliament has set up a special service allowing MEPs to scan their phones for illegal surveillance software following hacks using Predator-like spyware called Pegasus.
Androulakis used the service for “a preemptive check of his phone on June 28, 2022.”
“From the first check, a suspicious link linked to the Predator monitoring tool was detected,” his PASOK party said in a statement.
The software can infiltrate cell phones to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on their owners.
“Predator is among the most expensive spyware and is beyond the reach of individuals,” cybersecurity specialist Anastasios Arampatzis told AFP, saying only a state would need its sophisticated security features.
“Security and privacy must be guaranteed by any democratic regime. If a state spies on its citizens, we are heading towards a dystopian, Orwellian reality.”
Spain’s intelligence chief was sacked earlier this year after it emerged senior politicians – including Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalan separatists – had been targets of phone hacking.