Greece’s conservative government was rocked by a long-simmering surveillance scandal on Friday after its intelligence chief and a close aide to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis resigned within an hour. Mitsotakis’ office said in a statement that Panagiotis Cantor Leon had tendered his resignation due to management “mistakes” during his tenure in the position.
Less than an hour after Grigoris Dimitriadis, secretary general of the Prime Minister’s Office, also resigned, Cantor León announced his resignation as head of the National Intelligence Service EYP.
A week ago, Nikos Androulakis, leader of the country’s opposition Socialist Party, filed a Supreme Court case over an “attempt” to use Predator malware to spy on his phone.
Two Greek journalists also took legal action this year after claiming they were victims of surveillance.
On Friday, Andrew Lakis called for a special parliamentary inquiry into the incident.
“I never thought the Greek government would use the darkest practices to spy on me,” he said.
The government has consistently denied any state involvement, saying it has not purchased this type of software, but the row has sparked an outcry in the country.
Government spokesman Yiannis Economou said the use of Predator by individuals for espionage was “justified” and the threat of surveillance was under threat across Europe.
In November, Greece’s Minister of State, George Gerapetritis, insisted to AFP that the country “is not monitoring journalists in Greece”.
“Greece fully adheres to the values of a democratic society and the rule of law, especially pluralism and freedom of the press,” Grapetritis said.
As such, he believes “no further action is necessary” to verify the 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, has suggested the journalists had been targeted by foreign intelligence agencies while in the role.
Investigative websites Reporters United and Inside Story have accused Dimitriadis – Mitsotakis’ nephew – of an alleged espionage scandal involving Androulakis and Greek financial journalist Thanasis Koukakis.
On Friday, Dimitriadis threatened to sue Reporters United and leftist daily Efsyn unless they withdraw their reports on the case. Koukakis was also warned not to retweet the story.
In his first operations since taking office in 2019, Mitsotakis drew attention by linking national intelligence to his office.
The main opposition left Syriza called the incident a “huge scandal”. Its leader, former prime minister Alexis Tsipras, said Dimitridis’ resignation was a “confession” and that Mitsotakis himself took some of the blame.
“Mr Mitsotakis has to explain to the Greek people about his own Watergate scandal,” Tsipras said.
Dystopian, Orwellian Reality
Experts point out that Predator, originally developed in North Macedonia and later in Israel, provides access to messages and conversations.
“A few days ago, the European Parliament informed me that someone was trying to wiretap my phone with Predator surveillance software,” Androulakis told the media as he left court in Athens on July 26.
“Finding out who is behind these harmful practices is not a personal matter, but a democratic obligation,” he added.
The European Parliament has set up a special service for MEPs to check their phones for illegal surveillance software after being hacked using a Predator-like spyware called Pegasus.
Androulakis used the service “to conduct a preventive check on his phone on June 28, 2022.”
“Suspicious links to the Predator surveillance tool have been identified since the first inspection,” his PASOK party said in a statement.
The software can infiltrate a phone to extract data or activate a camera or microphone to spy on its owner.
“Predator is one of the most expensive spyware and out of reach for individuals,” cybersecurity expert Anastasios Arampatzis told AFP, saying only one state would need its sophisticated security features.
“Any democratic regime must guarantee security and the protection of private life. If a country spy on its citizens, we are heading for a dystopian, Orwellian reality.”
Earlier this year, Spain’s intelligence chief was sacked after it was revealed that senior politicians including Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez and Catalan separatists had been targeted for phone wiretapping.