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Politics

Spyware Cases Pop Up in Greece, Politicians, Journalists Targeted

ATHENS – Greece’s National Intelligence Service (EYP) has been called on to investigate reports that attempts were made to put spyware on the phones of the leader of the PASOK-KINAL party, the Communist KKE and a journalist.

PASOK-KINAL lawmaker Haris Kastanidis told the Parliament’s Committee on Institutions and Transparency that the party leader and Member of the European Parliament Nikos Androulakis was targeted, as well as investigative reporter Thanasis Koukakis, who said earlier his phone was infiltrated.

Kastanidis said no answers have come from the New Democracy government although Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said he will get them, and the lawmaker said EYP should find out who did it.

There was a hot debate in the committee over the case over unlawful surveillance that has become prevalent and the European Union said it found indications that phones of some of its top officials have been compromised by the Pegasus spyware, said Agence France-Presse (AFP.)

Androulakis said the European Parliament’s cybersecurity service alerted him of the attempt to put Predator spyware on his phone, which can provide access to all data, including phone numbers, photos, contacts and in the case of journalists their sources and whistleblowers.

Androulakis filed a complaint with prosecutors after he was told about the attempted bugging and wants answers as to who did it and why.

“There was an attempt to bug my mobile phone with the Predator surveillance malware,” Androulakis said. “The revelation of those hiding behind such sick practices … is not a personal issue but my democratic duty,” he said.

The hacking tool gives access to the victim’s mobile device, including passwords, files, photos, browsing history, and identity data and can take screen captures, record user input and activate the camera and microphone.

New Democracy denied acquiring the surveillance tool that some governments have been accused of using to track citizens and journalists and Androulakis said if that’s the case that EYP must find out who tried to bug him.

EYP chief Panagiotis Kontoleon said the agency had legally complied with a request from a foreign secret service not identified to lift phone privacy but didn’t specify against whom, but believed to be Koukakis, said Kathimerini.

That case is already under investigation but the attempt to surveil Androulakis, who has resurrected the dormant PASOK-KINAL since winning its leadership in December, 2021 raises the states as his party could be a potential coalition partner if New Democracy wins elections again in 2023.

A change in election laws made by the former ruling Radical Left SYRIZA in its dying days in power in 2019 eliminated a 50-seat bonus for the winner of elections which could mean a third party would be a kingmaker in creating a government, with PASOK-KINAL in prime position as it’s rising in popularity.

WHOOOO DID IT?

Androulakis said he won’t stop pressing for answers about the attempt to put the surveillance software on his phone, putting more pressure on Mitsotakis as he faces growing criticism from SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras.

A European Commission spokesperson told EURACTIV that “We are aware of the media reports regarding spyware used by some governments. Any attempts by national security services to illegally access data of citizens, including journalists and political opponents, if confirmed, is unacceptable.”

The EU spokesperson also cited the latest 2022 Rule of Law report about Greece, which referred to the case of a journalist who was targeted by Predator and another journalist who was “allegedly monitored by the national intelligence service,” which is under the supervision of Mitsotakis.

Media reports said that a check on Androulakis’ phone was made on June 28 and found a suspicious link to the illegal Predator spyware software and PASOK-KINAL sources not named said he had gotten a text message on Sept. 21, 2021 just before the start of a key party meeting.

That invited him to click on a link whichch a report by the Citizens Lab of the University of Toronto said is used as a decoy to install Predator tracking software on the target’s mobile phone, the site added.

The message read, “Let’s get a little serious, man, we’ve got a lot to gain”, followed by a link, which was a spoof of a genuine website. Androulakis did not click on the link which would have gained access to his phone.

The same sources added that in more than 200 mobile phone checks of MEPs carried out by the European Parliament, this was the first case of attempted bugging of a personal telephone device.

The center leftist party said the aim was not only to get into Androulakis’ phone but undermine and sabotage the party which ranks third in polls behind New Democracy and SYRIZA.

All the opposition parties have denounced the attempt and Koukakis said in May that Google’s Threat Analysis Group (TAG) warned that “we assess likely government-backed actors purchasing these exploits are operating (at least) in Egypt, Armenia, Greece, Madagascar, Côte d’Ivoire, Serbia, Spain and Indonesia.”

The European Commission, the EU executive’s arm in Brussels, has said it had found indications that phones of some of its top officials have been compromised by the Pegasus spyware, said Agence France-Presse.

In the letter to Dutch MEP Sophie in ‘t Veld – who is on Parliament’s spyware committee – EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said he was alerted by Apple in November 2021 of a possible hacking of his smartphone by Pegasus.

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