Greek Intel Chief and Top PM Aide Quit Over Israeli Spyware Scandal

Greece's intel service was accused of hacking cellphones of opposition party leader and investigative reporter with predator spyware made by ex-top Israeli intel officer

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Greece's intelligence chief has resigned amid a phone hacking scandal
Greece's intelligence chief has resigned amid a phone hacking scandalCredit: Yiannis Panagopoulos/AFP

The head of Greece's intelligence service Panagiotis Kontoleon stepped down on Friday amid increased scrutiny of the agency's surveillance practices, including an accusation by an opposition party leader that his phone was bugged by the service with the Israeli-made spyware Predator in 2021.

Grigoris Dimitriadis, general secretary of the prime minister’s office, has also submitted his resignation.

Kontoleon resigned "following mistaken actions found during lawful wiretapping procedures," a statement from Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis' office said.

Earlier this week Kontoleon had admitted during a parliamentary committee hearing that his service had spied on Thanasis Koukakis, a financial journalist who works for CNN Greece, two lawmakers who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said.

That closed-door hearing was called after the leader of the socialist opposition PASOK party Nikos Androulakis lodged a complaint with top court prosecutors over an attempt to bug his mobile phone with an Israeli-made spyware known as Predator in September 2021.

Androulakis, who was elected PASOK leader in December 2021, said on Friday evening that he had also learned EYP listened to his conversations in late 2021. He did not disclose the source of the information. Androulakis called on the Greek parliament to set up an investigative committee to look into the case and accused the government of downplaying the issue.

"We found out today that EYP, which reports directly to the prime minister, proceeded with wiretapping me during the internal electoral process over PASOK's leadership," he said.

Predator, which is produced by a firm called Cytrox, is almost identical to the infamous Pegasus spyware made by the competing and more famous cyber firm NSO Group. Cytrox is owned by a firm called Intellexa which used to operate in Cyprus but later moved to Greece following several bizarre incidents. It is run by former Israeli military intelligence official Tal Dilian. Though the firm is registered abroad, sources say many of its workers are Israelis and the company may even have staff in Israel.

The government later said that it had been made aware of Androulakis' surveillance, which it said was lawful as it had been approved by a prosecutor, and had sought to inform him "but Androulakis chose not to respond," government spokesman Giannis Oikonomou said in a statement.

Oikonomou added that the ruling Conservative Party, which controls 157 lawmakers in the 300-seat house, would back a request to set up an investigative committee to examine the issue. To be approved, such a motion needs to be signed by 120 lawmakers.

"I wasn't aware, I would have never allowed it. I owe Mr. Androulakis an apology for the mistake made. It was a serious and unforgivable mistake," PM Mitsotakis told To Vima newspaper in an interview.

Androulakis’s phone was examined alongside the phones of roughly 200 MEPs, in the wake of the Pegasus Project investigation, an inquiry to which Haaretz was also party, and was the only device phone to have faced a potential hack.

Investigations into misuse of Israeli-made spyware have been getting more common since the inception of the Pegasus Project consortium, a global group of over 18 news outlets across the world who investigate targeted attacks on public figures, journalists and, activists using spyware like Predator and NSO's Pegasus. Led by Forbidden Stories, the group also works with Amnesty International's Security Lab which provides digital forensics of the phones of possible victims.

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