Eliza Triantafillou knew that the Greek government has been trying to control her reporting, but she was not intimidated. She has been meeting with sources and reviewing financial records related to Greece’s surveillance of its citizens for nearly a year.
This week, Triantafillou and his colleague Tasos Tellloglou published another investigation in the investigative outlet Inside Story, closing a gap in the convoluted saga.
Their reports indicated that the Greek government covertly sent millions of dollars to a company that sells the illegal Predator spyware.
How it started
Revelations about Greece’s surveillance of its own politicians and journalists first emerged in the middle of this year.
Since then, almost week after week, the allegations and investigations have accumulated into a complicated but implicated scandal.
The Greek government has admitted, in official statements and leaks, that the country’s National Intelligence Service authorized wiretaps of at least one journalist and one Greek member of the European Parliament.
But even more inflammatory has been evidence that illegal Predator spyware was used against these and dozens of other politicians and journalists, and indications that the Greek government purchased and used this illegal spyware.
So far, the scandal, often referred to as “Greece’s Watergate”, has led to the resignation of the prime minister’s secretary general and head of the National Intelligence Service, a Greek parliamentary inquiry, a European Parliament inquiry 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 investigating the labyrinthine connections between the companies selling the spyware and the Greek state.
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, based in Athens, sells Predator.
Days later, Reporters United, a Greek investigative media network, reported that Koukakis had previously been under surveillance by the national intelligence service, who was detained the day he filed a complaint with the Greek state that he was being monitored.
Reporters United journalists Thodoris Chondrogiannos and Nikolas Leontopoulos began investigating the story in December 2021, following a tip to investigate a new law that prohibits 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 was not just about Thanasis Koukakis, but about a bigger network of people,” Chondrogiannos told Al Jazeera.
“We thought it was a very important story regarding the protection of democracy and the right to privacy protected by the Constitution.”
Throughout the year, the two investigative teams kept abreast of the story: an Inside Story investigation showed that a group of businessmen had connections to both an official Greek government supplier and Intellexa.
Another Reporters United investigation established business connections of Grigoris Dimitriadis, the prime minister’s secretary general and nephew, leading to businessmen involved in Intellexa.
Dimitriadis responded to that story by denying the connections and allegations made.
Dimitriadis has now filed a lawsuit against Chondrogiannos and other journalists who have, little by little, been connecting threads between their businesses and the dealings of those involved with Intellexa and Predator.
“We feel very confident in our story. We are sure that we have followed all the principles of journalistic work. We are confident that we can back up our reports even in court,” Chondrogiannos said.
“The fact that Dimitriadis is commercially linked to Intellexa would perhaps mean nothing if he were not responsible for the National Intelligence Service. The fact that he was, that he is in on the scandal and has connections to these people, is something that the public should know.”
Four other businessmen implicated in the story also filed legal complaints against Chondrogiannos and his colleagues.
In June, an intelligence source told Inside Story’s Tasos Tellloglou that he, his colleague Eliza Triantafillou, Thodoris Chondrogiannos and Thanasis Koukakis were being watched because of their reports that the Greek government was tracking the location of their mobile phones with antennas and trying to determine if his movements matched those of sources within the government.
Triantafillou also noted that she was sometimes followed on her way to meet the sources.
“It was a confirmation that we were on the right track,” Triantafillou said. “I choose to see it as confirmation that we did our job and we did it well.”
“The only problem was that we had to go to a meeting and have a clear back and check from time to time if we were being followed, or we had to change our route to go to a meeting. Other than that, I think it had the opposite result: it motivated us even more to dig into this story,” he added.
In July, the wiretapping story broke completely into the new Greek cycle when Nikos Androulakis, the leader of Greece’s third-largest political party and a member of the European Parliament, filed a complaint that he, too, had been targeted by Predator.
This led to the revelation that Androulakis had also been placed under surveillance by the national intelligence service for unspecified national security concerns.
A protest followed, with fingers pointed at the ruling New Democracy party and the prime minister over official and illegal wiretapping.
Prime Minister Mitsotakis admitted that surveillance of Koukakis was ordered by the National Intelligence Service, but blamed other members of his government.
His government has repeatedly denied any connection to the Predator.
In the months that followed, an investigation by the Greek Privacy and Communications Authority into the Koukakis case concluded that the Greek government had not purchased Predator.
But journalists and opposition politicians have said the investigation was incomplete.
A committee of the European Parliament has urged Greece to carry out a fuller investigation. And even so, the scandal has not stopped expanding.
Last week, a front-page story in the left-wing Documento newspaper 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 biggest Greek newspapers, had traces of Predator on their phones.
In a television interview, Mitsotakis called the listing “an unbelievable lie” that contained “no evidence that this really happened and absolutely no connection to me personally.”
Document editor-in-chief Kostas Vaxevanis has stuck to his reporting.
“All of the information released by Documento has been historically proven to be true,” he said in an email to Al Jazeera, listing several other revelations Documento has released that he said were disputed but ultimately proven accurate.
“The role of the journalist is to make known what the respective authorities do not want published,” Vaxevanis said.
“The Documento newspaper insists on publishing the truth, despite the fact that it has been the repeated victim of slander by government officials and has suffered attempts to be financially strangled,” he added.
In an appearance on television news Tuesday, Vaxevanis promised more revelations next weekend.
Inside Story’s Triantafillou said he will continue to investigate the connections between the Predator and the Greek government.
“The national transparency authority did a very poor job investigating the Koukakis case, the government is doing nothing at all and the judicial system is moving very, very slowly,” he said.
“So we have to keep investigating and keep writing about this story and keep investigating until someone comes up with a solution to this problem, which is the illegal wiretapping of Greek citizens.”
Reporters United’s Chondrogiannos also plans to investigate further.
“We are not at the end of the story,” Chondrogiannos said. “This story is not about a revelation, or a story that a lot of people read and media coverage, it is about finding the truth. It is a question of democracy and freedom of expression. The outcome of this story will define the next day of our society.”