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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 10 October 2015
NEWS 24 THE WEEKEND NEOS KOSMOS | SATURDAY 10 OCTOBER 2015 DIGITAL.NEOSKOSMOS.COM Athens knew of CIA, NSA involvement in 2004 wiretaps AGGELOS PETROPOULOS It was the morning of 9 March, 2005. Panayiotis Tsalikidis was heading to have coffee with his brother Costas in Kolonos, downtown Athens, before a meeting. As he entered the building, he heard his mother screaming: "Cut him down!" He entered the apartment and saw his brother's body hanging in front of the bathroom door. "I immediately called my wife and asked her to bring a high-definition camera so I could take some pictures on the spot, because I didn't believe it was a suicide," says Panayiotis today. A decade later, the Tsalikidis family continues to believe that the death of the 39-yearold Vodafone technician was instigated by a third party. The evidence they have managed to painstakingly gather over the years, together with the written statements of the judicial authorities who worked on the case, clearly suggest that Costas Tsalikidis' death is inextricably linked to the bugging through the Vodafone network of the phones of high-ranking government officials during the administration of Costas Karamanlis, including the prime minister himself. "It's not easy to talk about such a loss," says Panayiotis' wife, Eleni, her eyes brimming with tears. "We still feel kind of guilty for being unable - through no fault of our own - to get answers. I'd like to believe that there are people who will choose to talk one day." Kathimerini, in a joint investigation with international publication The Intercept and noted reporter James Bamford, spent months researching the case both in Greece and the USA, and now presents, for the first time, testimonies from high-ranking US intelligence officials who either took part or have knowledge of the phone-tapping operation in Greece. The Kathimerini investigation also brought to light for the first time previously unpublished NSA documents pertaining to Greece and the wiretapping scandal that emerged by gaining exclusive access to the archive of former US intelligence analyst Edward Snowden. HELPING WITH SECURITY AHEAD OF THE OLYMPICS The 2004 Athens Olympics were the first Summer Games to take place after 9/11. Safety concerns were evident in both the international media as well the constant pressure from American officials on their Greek counterparts. As it emerges from previously unpublished documents from the Snowden archive, US intelligence agencies started drawing up operation plans for the Games some two years in advance. According to one of the documents seen by Kathimerini, at least four NSA strategists had been working on the subject of gathering information for the Athens Olympics since 2002 and, in cooperation with other departments within the agency, ensured "that an analytic attack was in place and that the targets' social networks are defined". "Although the first race, dive, and somersault are still a year away the intelligence community is in full 'training mode' for the event," reads another document, dated 15 August, 2003. "In truth, NSA has been gearing up for the 2004 Olympics for quite some time, in anticipation of playing a larger role than ever before at the international games." According to the same document, cooperation between the Greek and the American intelligence agencies was to be very close. "The security organisation that the NSA will support is EYP," says the document, referring to the Greek National Intelligence Service, while another explains that "the co-location of IC (Intelligence Community) analysts both at the US embassy in Athens as well as at the Greek Intelligence agency" significantly enhanced the capabilities and quality of information collection. However, despite the fact that cooperation was close and NSA officials had been placed inside EYP, the one bone of contention that remained between the Greek and US authorities in the period leading up to the Games was the technical inability of Greece's law enforcement to surveil suspicious phone calls and electronic communications on a mass scale. EYP's capabilities were limited to very localised surveillance within a very spe- CIA would then go and seek out the person who had access to that switch, go in there, and then it would be the CIA that would effect the operation. And then the take from it would be exploited by the NSA." "Human intelligence guys can Edward Snowden cific distance. "From an American point of view, that was terrifyingly primitive," says Brady Kiesling, who resigned his post as head of the political section of the US Embassy in Athens in protest at the US invasion of Iraq just a few months before the Games. Under immense pressure from the US, the Public Order Ministry leadership under the PASOK government had already called a meeting in December 2003 between the three cell phone providers at the time (Vodafone, Cosmote, Tim) to discuss how lawful interception could take place. General elections scheduled for March, however, made it impossible for the necessary - yet politically sensitive - presidential decree to be issued. However, even after the elections, when a New Democracy government came to power and the ministry was taken over by Giorgos Voulgarakis - who had said in similar meetings in April 2004 that lawful interception was "just a matter of a week's preparation" on the part of the providers - until the flame was lit at the Olympic Stadium in Athens, no legal framework for lawful taps was in place. In any case, on 4 August, 2004, some 6,500 lines of code were added to the source code of the software used by Vodafone to operate its network. The developer of that software, which is used by cell phone companies all over the world, was Swedish tech giant Ericsson. The input of those 6,500 lines of code of illegal software activated a subsystem of the Ericsson software called Lawful Intercept, normally used by authorities to intercept phone calls. The Lawful Intercept subsystem - which up until then was part of the Vodafone network but not active as the provider had not purchased the digital key needed to activate it - was now able to forward a stream of intercepted calls to 14 shadow cell phones and possibly to digital data recorders for storing and processing. More than a decade since that day, and for the first time, a former high-ranking US intelligence official who was involved with the 2004 phone tapping in Greece openly admits that the secret operation was carried out by the NSA and that, in its initial stage at least, it had the green light from the Greek government: "The Greeks identified terrorist nets, so NSA put these devices in there and they told the Greeks, 'OK, when it's done we'll turn it off.' They put them in the Athens communications system, with the knowledge and approval of the Greek government, this was to help with security during the Olympics." EVIDENCE POINTS TO LARGE NUMBER OF OPERATIVES According to classified NSA documents from the Snowden archive brought to light by Kathimerini, the preparations of the US intelligence agencies were unprecedented for any event. According to a classified NSA report seen by Kathimerini, such information was available to the US intelligence community and had, in fact, been collected prior to the Games by the CIA, which "recorded the GSM networks in Athens", referring to the Global System for Mobile PHOTO: AP/THE GUARDIAN. communications. The NSA documents confirm that the US intelligence mission to Athens during the Games included members of both groups, while TAO - according to a 2004 NSA report - "performed CNE [Computer Network Exploitation] operations against Greek communications providers." According to a report by the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE) in 2006 though, the participation of Vodafone insiders was "absolutely necessary" in certain phases of the wiretapping operation. This, as Snowden's documents show, may have been the work of the CIA. Another group that works under the NSA is the Special Collection Service (SCS), staffed by the NSA and CIA. Known inside the agency as F6, the group is not just mentioned in the PowerPoint presentation as one of the ways of accessing the Lawful Intercept subsystem, but also, according to previous NSA document leaks, was permanently headquartered inside the US Embassy in Athens. Furthermore, a former US intelligence official involved in the wiretapping operation explains that recruiting telecom company employees around the world is standard practice, in which the CIA and the NSA work together. "For example, at a foreign Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, if NSA determines it needs to get access to that system, NSA and/or the CIA in coordination would come up with a mechanism that would allow them to replicate the existing switch to be swapped out. The provide sometimes the needed physical access without which you just can't do the signals intelligence activity," confirms General Michael Hayden, NSA head from 1999 to 2005, who, according to the documents published in the Snowden archive so far, ran America's biggest domestic bugging operation without the necessary warrants. Asked whether he remembers the Greek bugging case, he said it is "not something I can talk about". Chris Inglis, deputy director of the NSA from 2006 to 2014, was also asked whether the agency was involved in the Greek wiretapping, which he neither confirmed nor denied. "I couldn't say whether NSA was involved in that or any other activity that might have been alleged to be conducted by an intelligence service, let alone NSA," he said. So the question of who could have carried out the operation in Greece remained unanswered for years, until the name of William Basil came to the fore. THE 'TELEPHONE MAN' WHO GREW UP ON KARPATHOS Two months before the bugging operation began, a woman walked into a store on Akti Miaouli Street in Piraeus and bought four cell phones with SIM cards. A 2011 ADAE investigation found that within a few weeks of purchase, the devices were used as shadow phones to receive the calls intercepted from the Vodafone network, while at least one was later used with a SIM card registered to the US Embassy in Athens and made calls to the central exchange, the emergency line, the Marine guard and the FBI office in the building on Vassilissis Sofias Avenue. The devices and cards, according to the testimony of the store manager, were purchased by the wife of William Basil, a CIA agent whose family came from the island of Karpathos. "We used to call him the telephone man," said a former CIA colleague of Basil's in Athens.
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