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Greek Intelligence Chief Admits Spyware Tracked Journalist

ATHENS – The head of Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP), Panagiotis Kontoleon, reportedly told a parliamentary committee his agency was behind spyware put on the cell phone of investigative journalist Thanasis Koukakis.

The panel was formed after the leader of the center-left PASOK-KINAL party, Member of the European Parliament Nikos Androulakis, said an attempt was made to install Predator spyware on his mobile phone.

He went to Greece’s highest court in a suit aimed at finding who was behind the bugging attempt and the New Democracy government denied any connection although Konteoleon reports to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Two lawmakers not named told the news agency Reuters that Kontoleon admitted to the lawmakers that EYP had spied on Koukakis, who reports financial news, although no reason was given.

“He admitted the surveillance, absolutely,” one of the lawmakers said, declining to be named because the meeting was held behind closed doors and the issue has become a political hot potato for the government.

Kontoleon declined to comment when contacted by Reuters but government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou told the news agency that it’snot using the spyware allegedly deployed in the hacking of Koukakis and does not do business with companies selling it.

“The government has nothing to hide and has called on the justice system to investigate the cases thoroughly,” he said. “Without crossing to the extreme of technophobia, such malware does pose a threat and must be tackled efficiently,” he also added.

Kontoleon told the panel that EYP performs its work not only based on its own information but at times after tips or requests by foreign intelligence services, the two sources said, but he didn’t identify them.

Koukakis, whose work has included investigative reporting on financial crimes, said he has no idea why anyone would want to surveil him through his phone or why it was done.

“I am surprised that areas that I cover as a reporter, economic policy and the banking system, can be a national security threat,” he told Reuters as the two cases could further roil Greek politics with elections looming in mid-2023.

The use of spyware, including by governments, is growing amid worries by digital rights groups that the invasive tool could be used to collage all data and information of users, cell phones essentially tracking devices.

Governments and law enforcement agencies who buy spyware say it’s needed to protect national interests, monitor terrorists and keep countries safe and that their work should remain secret to protect sources.

Spyware allows hackers to capture a target’s phone and all the data and information, which could compromise whistleblowers and journalist’s sources, including including calls, messages, photos and video.

But agencies say they much balance those demands with the need for secrecy, arguing that much of their work to keep their countries safe should remain classified to protect sources.

In April, a Greek prosecutor probed the allegation by Koukakis that his smartphone had been infected by surveillance software which he said was discovered by European Parliament analysts after he gave them his phone to check, anxious about the more sophisticated Pegasus spyware tracking politicians and journalists.

Greece’s major opposition and former ruling left wing SYRIZA in 2021 asked for a parliament committee to investigate the use of spyware but it was rejected, and now resurrected because of the political flap.

SYRIZA asked Mitsotakis to reveal what happened in both cases of Androulakis and Koukakis, citing issues for democracy and citizens’ privacy rights, the news agency said of the significance.

Predator spyware can extract passwords, files, photos and contacts and activate a phone’s camera and microphone, enabling surveillance of conversations nearby but requires a user to click on a link, unlike Pegasus.

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