Reporters dig up more links between Greek government and spyware

A media outlet uncovers that the Greek government sent millions of dollars to a company that sells an illegal spyware.

Greek Journalists Stavros Malichudis, Eliza Triantafillou, and Thanasis Koukakis attend a hearing by the European Parliament’s Inquiry Committee
Left to right, Greek Journalists Stavros Malichudis, Eliza Triantafillou, and Thanasis Koukakis attend a hearing by the European Parliament’s Inquiry Committee in Brussels [File: Olivier Hoslet/EPA]

Eliza Triantafillou knew the Greek government has been attempting to monitor her reporting, but she remained undeterred. She has been meeting sources and pouring over financial records related to Greece’s surveillance of its citizens for nearly a year.

This week, Triantafillou and her colleague Tasos Telloglou published another investigation at investigative media outlet Inside Story, closing a gap in the convoluted saga.

Their reporting indicated the Greek government covertly sent millions of dollars to a company that sells the illegal Predator spyware.

How it started

Revelations about Greece surveilling its own politicians and journalists first broke in the middle of this year.

Since then, almost week by week, accusations and investigations have accrued into a complicated but implicating scandal.

The Greek government has admitted, in official statements and leaks, that the country’s National Intelligence Service authorised wiretaps on at least one journalist and a Greek member of the European Parliament.

But even more incendiary has been the evidence that the illegal spyware Predator was deployed against these and dozens more politicians and journalists, and indications that this illegal spyware was bought and utilised by the Greek government.

Thus far, the scandal, often referred to as “Greece’s Watergate” has led to the resignations of the prime minister’s general secretary and chief of the National Intelligence Service, a Greek parliamentary investigation, a European Parliament investigation into the use of spyware in Greece, and repeated calls for the resignation of Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

The Greek government has repeatedly denied any use or purchase of Predator. But Greek journalists have spent months looking into the labyrinthine connections between companies that sell the spyware and the Greek state.

The Predator malware has the ability to access every message, call, photo, and password on a mobile phone, as well as the ability to open the phone’s camera and microphone – turning any device into a mobile surveillance bug.

Infected with Predator

In April, Inside Story reported that Greek financial journalist, Thanasis Koukakis, had confirmed that his phone had been infected with Predator.

They had previously revealed that a consortium of companies called Intellexa, with headquarters in Athens, sells Predator.

Days thereafter, Reporters United, a Greek investigative media network, reported that Koukakis had previously been under surveillance by the national intelligence service, which was stopped the day he filed a complaint with the Greek state that he was being monitored.

Journalists Thodoris Chondrogiannos and Nikolas Leontopoulos at Reporters United started investigating the story in December 2021, following a tip to look into a new law forbidding the Greek Communications and Privacy Authority from informing citizens that they were under surveillance.

“From the beginning, we thought that if they changed the law, it must not only be about Thanasis Koukakis, it must be a bigger net of people,” Chondrogiannos told Al Jazeera.

“We thought it was a very important story regarding the protection of democracy, and the right of privacy protected by the Constitution.”

Bit by bit

Through the year, the two investigative teams stayed on top of the story: an Inside Story investigation showed a group of businessmen had connections both with an official supplier of the Greek government, and with Intellexa.

Another Reporters United investigation established business connections from Grigoris Dimitriadis, the prime minister’s general secretary – and nephew, which led to businessmen involved in Intellexa.

Dimitriadis responded to that story by denying the connections and allegations made.

Dimitriadis has now brought a lawsuit against Chondrogiannos and other journalists who have been, bit by bit, connecting threads between his business dealings and the dealings of those involved with Intellexa and Predator.

“We feel very confident in our story. We are sure we followed all the principles of journalistic work. We are confident we can support our reporting even in court,” said Chondrogiannos.

“The fact that Dimitriadis is linked in a business way to Intellexa would maybe mean nothing if he wasn’t responsible for the National Intelligence Service. The fact he was, that he is in the scandal and has connections with these people, this is something the public should know.”

Four other businessmen implicated in the reporting have also brought legal complaints against Chondrogiannos and his colleagues.

Tip-off

In June, an intelligence source told Tasos Telloglou of Inside Story that he, his colleague Eliza Triantafillou, Thodoris Chondrogiannos, and Thanasis Koukakis were being surveilled due to their reporting – the Greek government was tracking the location of their mobile phones with antennae, and trying to determine if their movements matched those of sources inside the government.

Triantafillou also noticed she was sometimes being followed on her way to meet with sources.

“It was a confirmation that we were on the right path,” said Triantafillou. “I choose to see it as confirmation that we did our job and we did a good job.”

“The only problem was that we had to go to a meeting and have our backs clear and check every now and then if we were followed, or we had to change our route in order to go to a meeting. Other than that I believe it had the opposite result – it motivated us even more to dig deeper into this story,” she added.

In July, the wiretapping story fully broke into the Greek new cycle when Nikos Androulakis, leader of Greece’s third-largest political party and a member of the European Parliament, filed a complaint that he, too, had been targeted with Predator.

This led to the revelation that Androulakis had also been placed under monitoring by the national intelligence service for unspecified national security concerns.

Fingers pointed

An outcry followed, with fingers pointed at the governing New Democracy party and the prime minister for both the official and the illegal wiretapping.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis conceded that the National Intelligence Service ordered surveillance of Koukakis, but placed blame on other members of his government.

His government has repeatedly denied any connection with Predator.

In the following months, a Greek Communications and Privacy Authority investigation into the Koukakis case concluded that the Greek government had not bought Predator.

But journalists and opposition politicians have said the investigation was incomplete.

A European Parliament committee has urged Greece to do a more complete probe. And still, the scandal has continued to expand.

Last week, a front-page exposé by the left-leaning newspaper Documento alleged that, according to anonymous sources, more than 30 high-level politicians and journalists – including a former prime minister, the foreign minister, and the editor-in-chief of one of the largest Greek newspapers – had traces of Predator on their phones.

‘Incredible lie’

In a television interview, Mitsotakis called the list “an incredible lie” that contained “no evidence that this actually happened and absolutely no connection to me personally”.

Editor-in-chief of Documento Kostas Vaxevanis has stood by his reporting.

“It has been historically proven that every information published by Documento is true,” he said in an email to Al Jazeera, listing several other revelations that Documento has published which he said were challenged but ultimately proven accurate.

“The journalist’s role is to publicise what the respective authorities do not want to be published,” said Vaxevanis.

“Documento newspaper insists on publishing the truth, despite the fact that it has repeatedly been a victim of slander by government officials and has suffered attempts to be financially strangled,” he added.

In a television news appearance on Tuesday, Vaxevanis promised more revelations this coming weekend.

Triantafillou at Inside Story said she will continue investigating the connections between Predator and the Greek government.

“The national transparency authority did a very poor job investigating Koukakis’s case, the government is not doing anything at all, and the judicial system is moving very very slow,” she said.

“So we need to keep digging and keep writing about this story and keep investigating until someone gives a solution to this problem – which is the illegal wiretapping of Greek citizens.”

Chondrogiannos of Reporters United similarly plans to continue digging.

“We are not at the end of the story,” said Chondrogiannos. “This story is not about a revelation, or a story being read by a lot of people and media coverage, it’s about finding the truth. It’s a matter of democracy and freedom of speech. The outcome of this story will define the next day of our society.”

Source: Al Jazeera