SYRIZA's Gerovassili: A cover-up of intelligence surveillance issue 'will not be tolerated'

Olga Gerovassili SYRIZA

SYRIZA-Progressive Alliance will follow closely all developments in the eavesdropping issue, parliamentary group secretary Olga Gerovassili said on Tuesday, following a meeting with the new National Intelligence Service (EYP) chief Themistocles Demiris.

The meeting was initiated by the main opposition party following "media reports today according to which some high-level officials at EYP had ordered the destruction of material related to the well-known issue of surveillance and tapping," Gerovassili said.

"We wanted to express our concern, to persist, and to underline the need for an in-depth investigation, and that at any rate we or any of the progressive world of Greece will not accept such practices," she added.

"We will monitor closely such a great and upsetting issue, a scandal shaking Greece's political world," Gerovassili said, reiterating that the party will be vigilant to ensure that nothing is covered up but that the Greek people are provided with answers. A cover-up will not be tolerated."

Greece is to launch a parliamentary inquiry into a spy scandal embroiling the government as MEPs also step up calls for an investigation into the use of phone taps in the country.

An inquiry proposed by the centre-left Pasok party was backed by the entire political opposition late on Monday after revelations that the group’s leader, Nikos Androulakis, had been placed under surveillance while serving as an MEP.

“It is necessary more than ever for these cases to be investigated,” the Pasok MP Haris Kastanidis told the chamber, saying the inquiry should not be limited to Androulakis. Eavesdropping claims made by the communist KKE party as well as the bugging of journalists should also be addressed, he said.

The centre-right government has faced charges of a cover-up by liberal and leftwing MEPs, who are pressing for a fact-finding mission to be sent to Greece.

Lawmakers with the ruling New Democracy party abstained from Monday’s vote although they made clear that they, too, supported the inquiry in the name of reforming Greece’s intelligence service, the EYP.

The wiretap disclosures have been described as “probably the tip of the iceberg” by Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch politician heading the European parliament’s PEGA committee looking into the use of malicious spyware across the continent.

“The Greek authorities, on the one hand, claim they are innocent so they’ve got nothing to hide, and on the other hand they are very reluctant to shed light on the whole matter,” she said. “And so far all their moves over the last year or so have been to cover things up.”

The Androulakis affair is expected to be raised on Tuesday when the 38-member PEGA committee holds the first of two hearings this week on “spyware against citizens”.

Earlier this year, it emerged that the phones of the financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis had been monitored with Predator spyware, manufactured by Cytrox, a surveillance start-up based in North Macedonia.

The malware, which has the ability to read encrypted data and turn a mobile phone into a listening device, was also deployed against Androulakis but the attempted hack failed because the politician failed to activate the necessary clickbait.

The software was discovered when the MEP, who was subsequently targeted by EYP, sent his mobile phone to the European parliament’s cybersecurity department for a routine check.

The scandal threatens political turmoil in the run-up to elections next year amid calls from the former premier and main opposition head, Alexis Tsipras, for the prime minister to resign.

Kyriakos Mitsotakis 54, who has vowed to see out his full four-year term, citing the need for stability at a time of global uncertainty and rising tensions with Turkey, has said he was unaware of the bugging operation.

“I have looked the Greek people in the eye and I have assured them that I knew absolutely nothing. It is my word against yours,” he said, turning to Tsipras during a heated debate in Athens’ 300-seat parliament on Friday.

From the outset, Mitsotakis has accepted the surveillance of his political opponent was wrong. In a surprise step, his office announced the resignations on 7 August of Greece’s spy chief, Panagiotis Kontoleon – going so far as to publicly chastise the intelligence service for “incorrect actions” – and Grigoris Dimitriadis, the leader’s nephew and powerful chief of staff.

Mitsotakis has also suggested that the revelations are the result of “dark forces” bent on destabilising Greece.

With rising energy costs and economic worries topping the agenda, officials insist the disclosures have done little to dent the administration’s popularity.

A report issued by Google’s threat analysis group in May said the product was used by “government-backed actors” in several states, including Greece. Mitsotakis has rejected any suggestion of Predator being used by the Greek authorities, although the software is known to be packaged by Intellexa, a firm based in Athens and registered in Cyprus.

In one of his first moves after winning power in July 2019, Mitsotakis placed EYP under the aegis of the prime minister’s office and not the interior ministry, as had previously been the case. The direct line of communication has also played a role in the criticism being levelled against the leader.

Surveillance is by no means a new feature of the Greek state, where memories of such practices during the 1967-74 military dictatorship have yet to fade among the older generation.

Under Tsipras, wiretapping also increased, with the then government taking the step of reducing the number of prosecutors required to approve permits. Addressing parliament on behalf of the ruling New Democracy (ND) party on Monday, the MP Dimitris Keridis said the inquiry should also include the period when Syriza was in power.

The committee, which will sit in closed session, is dominated by ND MPs.

The number of wiretaps placed on citizens for reasons of “national security” have allegedly soared since Mitsotakis assumed office. The independent telecoms watchdog, ADAE, has referred to 15,000 eavesdropping requests being made last year alone.

“Other revelations are bound to follow,” said Stelios Koulouglou, a Syriza party MEP who also sits on the PEGA committee. “What has been happening in Greece reminds me of the tactics pursued by the Stasi in east Germany. Mitsotakis’s aim was complete control and under [his purview] surveillance was broadened and became extremely systematic.”

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