By Ioannis Michaletos and Christopher Deliso
The Greek parliament is currently debating a significant new law covering intelligence reform and modernization. The legislation, which would have applicability for both the Greek military intelligence service and the civilian National Intelligence Service (NIS), may be voted on as early as February 18. It is the first such law to be considered since the original 1986 act that provided the agency with its legal status.
The main points of the far-reaching new law concern both procedural reform and structural realignment, in light of new realizations of the strategic threats facing Greece from decentralized terrorist cells and organized crime groups, including cyber-crime rings.
While most of the proposed modifications have relatively little to inspire political controversy, a couple of them do have political overtones. One would be the addition of accountability safeguards, deemed to be lacking under the old law. A further departure from the past would give the agency the ability to screen and ask for information from the entire public sector; the original law specified the need for a series of requests, including judicial approval. The new law envisions a simplified procedure in which even low-ranking officials will be entitled to make such requests.
The proposed legislation was initially developed in 2005 by the conservative Nea Dimokratia government of sitting Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, which cited problems in the functioning of the agency, including a prevailing mentality deemed outdated and out of touch with modern intelligence-gathering practices. The governing party and its ally, the far right-wing LAOS party, will vote in favor of the new law. However, the leftist parties are expected to vote against the law, which is nevertheless likely to pass.
These liberal opponents include Synaspismos and the Communist Party, which claim that the intelligence agency’s new powers will be used against those who voice criticism of government policy, while also increasing the likelihood of unwanted electronic surveillance of the public. The main left-wing opposition party, PASOK, is also expected to largely vote against the law, even though some PASOK parliamentarians may well abstain, mostly due to their opposition to party President Giorgos Papandreou. While PASOK complains that the law is inadequate, they also do not trust the government in general, and this is a tacit reason for opposition.
The fact that it has taken so long for this law to get to its final stages owes to scandals, intelligence-related and otherwise, that have plagued officials associated with it. The legislation was first prepared by the Public Order Ministry in 2005, but the resignations of its leading authors, Giorgos Voulgarakis (now Maritime Minister) and a current MP, Vyronas Polydoras, resulted in a lengthy delay.
The former was blamed in the infamous “Pakistani abduction case,” in which 28 Pakistani immigrants were allegedly kidnapped by intelligence agents in Athens. He claimed ignorance, attesting that the government did not engage in “James Bond’-style tactics. Voulgarakis’ involvement was revealed by the newspaper Proto Thema, which actually cited sources behind the revelations from within the intelligence agency. Proto Thema also disclosed the names of 15 alleged Greek agents and an MI6 spy chief allegedly involved with kidnapping and torturing the Pakistanis eight days after the London bombings of July 7, 2005.
Complicating things further, the newspaper’s owner is now entangled in an investigation. Themos Anastasiades, who owns 40 percent of the paper, is accused of receiving a sum of 5.5 million euros from an identified individual without reporting it to the tax service. He was also stopped on the Swiss-French border in October 2007 carrying unreported checks worth one million euros, which were then confiscated by the French customs. Nevertheless, it is widely believed that the main reason for the “Pakistani abductions” disclosure was the close ties that certain Greek politicians have cultivated with British officials (to the displeasure of the formers’ rivals). Moreover, the potential of a strong cooperation between NIS and MI6 might have alarmed other services in the murky world of international security and espionage. At the time, then-Minister Voulgarakis complained that the newspaper’s revelation had forced Greece to evacuate two agents from turbulent Kosovo- the very place where, in May of the same year, allegedly, the NIS station chief had been assassinated by members of an Albanian militant group.
Over the past two years, the Karamanlis administration has made great steps towards modernizing and refocusing the Greek intelligence apparatus, in light of changing security factors. Until now, the Greek intelligence community has in most respects remained focused on Cold War methods of operation, mainly orienting its operations towards traditional foe Turkey. While the transformation of the landscape by new asymmetrical threats, not the old state-centered ones, has forced a rethink, some officers still complain about an inability to get “official” Athens to implement more robust activity in the areas of Islamic terrorism and Balkan militancy.
Nevertheless, while it is coming slowly, change is coming to the Greek intelligence community. The continuingly unstable situation in the Balkans and the international war on terrorism constitute the major considerations for Greek security specialists today. In summer 2007, the enormously destructive wildfires that decimated large swathes of countryside emerged as a new menace- and one that may yet be repeated with even more brutal effect in the years ahead. Although arid, sun-baked Greece is a natural victim of forest fires, what happened last summer was without precedent and became for a time the chief priority for the intelligence services, in a country essentially under attack. Further, deliberate arson aimed at a country increasingly vulnerable to desertification and lacking sufficient water resources can have devastating long-term effects for actors with political or economic objectives in mind.
While everyone from rogue property developers and organized crime syndicates to anarchists and leftists have been blamed at one time or another for the many and widespread fires that gripped the country during the summer, another and even more disturbing possibility is that least some of the fires that occurred, and that are likely to occur in the future, can be attributed to Islamist networks. A recent report, citing US intelligence channels, claims that an Arabic-language jihad website has urged Muslims in Europe, America and Australia to use arson as a tool of terror. The website apparently cited imprisoned Al Qaeda “theorist” Abu Musab Al-Suri as the ideological progenitor of this plan. While Greece is not specified among the countries to be attacked, and while it is not a contributor of troops to the US-led coalition in Iraq, it has been vital to the war effort by allowing the Americans access to its island bases, transport and other logistical services.
Further evidence attests to a possible connection between Islamists and the forest fires in Greece. A type of improvised explosive device used in setting off the fires was ignited with a mobile phone. By calling the phone’s number, the device exploded, sparking a blaze that soon grew out of control. The advantage for the perpetrators is that this result can be achieved from a safe distance- even from abroad. Significantly, it is similar to one of the methods used in the Madrid bombing in March 2003.
Further, a ranking Greek intelligence officer, speaking on the condition of anonymity, states that during the height of the summer fires a Saudi national equipped with such a device was arrested by Greek border police in the north of Greece, in the company of several Kosovo Albanians. It is no secret that the latter consider Greeks to be an enemy, in light of the latter’s historic support for the Serbian point of view regarding the Kosovo issue. However, there is no way of confirming this claim, so it must remain a mystery, at least for now. Nevertheless, there is evidence, some of it gathered in an August 2007 Jamestown Foundation report, of Greece being used as a transit zone and even potential target for al Qaeda and related groups.
Further, the spread of organized crime originating from the Balkans, and Greece’s delicate geopolitical placement between the Balkans, Turkey and the Middle East, all add increased urgency to the need for a significant upgrade and redirection of the country’s intelligence services in a rapidly changing and insecure era. Although the proposed law is not as extensive or complete as it could be, it is an improvement over the current situation of relative inertia and inefficiency. The major points of the bill will be discussed below, following mention of some reforms that have already started to come into practice.
Military Intelligence Modernization: the Move to Open Source
Greece‘s Military Intelligence service (DDSP) has developed a new focus on OSINT (Open Source Intelligence), just as its American counterparts are calling for increased exploitation of global Islamist websites, webcasts and other forms of easily acquired media. The Greek army’s global OSINT center is meant to monitor all news, analysis, briefings, reports and information in general about global military affairs on a 24-hour basis. This includes a constant examination of information from the media, websites, web logs, think-tanks, public comments and other OSINT based information. The Center is headquartered in the Army’s J2 Staff Office.
According to the monthly defense journal Stratigiki (1), the OSINT center started operating on a pilot basis in October 2006 and became fully operational in May of 2007. It is composed of a group of men and women (officers and NCOs) selected on the basis of their knowledge of foreign languages, internet management and education on issues relevant to OSINT management and intelligence gathering. Moreover, most of the members of this unit underwent training in Greece and other NATO countries on the aforementioned subjects. Some of them also hold degrees in international relations, diplomatic studies and journalism. Another similar directorate, in existence since 2003, is subordinate to the Hellenic Joint Chief of Staff Headquarters. It is directed by a brigadier general on a rotating basis, taken in turn from the army, navy and air force. This sector is called the Military Intelligence Chiefs of Staff Directorate.
The weekly Greek newspaper Investors World (2) commented that this new army unit is the first of its kind in Southeastern Europe, and will play a decisive role in collecting the vital pieces of open-source intelligence that the military might need. Whether it is a flattering remark on Greece’s field intelligence efforts or not, at least 90 percent of all information collected from the intelligence or security services currently comes from OSINT. This information is vital for discerning the “big picture” from the mass of seemingly insignificant data that comes in on a daily basis.
Further, the new OSINT center will also include a specialized team of officers tasked with monitoring the internet for potential attacks on the military’s networks and servers, and intentional or unintentional leak of sensitive documents and classified information (3). The team enacted its operation a few months ago and, according to several reports published in the Greek media, it has already uncovered six cases of leakages by military personnel who shared files or posted documents of sensitive nature onto the internet. In two instances, it was revealed that ex-military personnel exchanged files of a sensitive or even classified nature with foreigners via popular internet file-sharing systems.
This specialized team is also tasked with conducting inspections all along the spectrum of the military’s critical information infrastructure, in order to make sure safety rules are followed and that necessary adjustments can be proposed. The team members were selected due to their computer and high-tech skills and use advanced software platforms that operate constantly. They also cooperate closely with the Greek Special Police Unit on Electronic Crime that has functioned over the past decade (in this regard, it should be noted that the future authority and division of labor between these cooperating bodies is another controversial issue regarding the proposed intelligence reform bill).
In late July 2007, the Greek government resolved to form a platform of cooperation and interconnection between all organizations concerned with internet security, surveillance and telecommunications, even though no other details have surfaced in the press as to how this will affect the military infrastructure of the country in that field. Moreover, the Greek army’s OSINT center will have access to the Command Control and Information facilities of the army, navy and air force. Thus it will be capable of conducting wide range research across the country, and to speed up the “intelligence cycle” considerably.
Over the coming years, the Greek military aims to create an information structure that includes the use of satellites, AWACKS, OSINT centers, CCTV’s and electronic surveillance planes and ships, so as to reduce the costs of intelligence gathering- while also upgrading considerably its abilities to conduct intelligence management in the 21st century (4). Further, the Center closely cooperates with the Greek police’s Electronic Crime Directory that is being supervised by the Security Command of the Attica Prefecture (5).
The importance of OSINT management has gained wide recognition all over the world. US intelligence figures have recently announced that they will increasingly monitor web logs and even YouTube videos as a mean of gaining a wide-angle view on societal developments internationally. In Greece, the new OSINT center has the potential and the legal framework, according to the Greek political review Diplomacy, even to recruit HUMINT assets, as well as to explore new means of acquiring essential intelligence by consulting specialized institutions, research centers, universities and the mass media (6).
To a large extent, however, the possibility of success depends on the ability of the Joint Chief of Staff’s intelligence center to develop a successful working relationship with the already existing J2 branches in the army, navy and air force; the latter tend to view the newest development from a conservative point of view, fearing that their role will be downgraded in the future as a result of “competition.’ The creation of a similar army OSINT Center has further indicated the continuing role of internal antagonisms, and in the future Greece may well have three OSINT centers, along with an overarching joint one.
Finally, on the more purely military side of things, a crucial addition to the Greek Air Force, in relation to the dynamics of the OSINT Center, is the 4 EMB-145H AWACS that are being constructed by a French-Brazilian-Swedish consortium for the military. For the first time in its air force’s history, Greece will acquire air radar capabilities with an average detection range of 350 km for enemy planes and 150 km for incoming cruise missiles. It is assumed that these four aircraft could fully meet the needs for defending the Northern Aegean archipelagos up to the central portion of the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. The Greek army has already procured the French made Sprewer type UAV’s that will assist for real-time information, and which are expected to be deployed mostly on the eastern border with Turkey (7).
Civilian Intelligence Modernization and Restructuring
Greece‘s National Intelligence Service (NIS) is a part of the Ministry of Public Order, except for during times of war or national emergency, when it should answer to the Ministry of Defense. In mid-September 2007, right after the Greek general elections, however, a reshuffling and merger occurred between the Home Affairs Ministry and the Ministry of Public Order. Thereafter, the NIS became subject to the minister of the interior, who is also responsible for public administration.
The new law being debated now by the Greek parliament will transform the NIS’ operability, reach and responsibilities, with an eye towards implementing more efficient administration and countering emerging security threats. The main points discussed that are applicable to this civilian agency include: the designation of an “in house” special judicial overview function, represented by the Greek equivalent of a District Attorney; the creation of a joint ministerial intelligence committee composed of officials from the eight most important ministries, and chaired by the interior minister; and the NIS’ heading of the national CERT (Computer Emergency Response Team), giving it the overruling authority for the security of critical networks and non-military state servers in the country.
Under the proposed law, the NIS would also be given the authority to ask any kind of information from public services and organizations in Greece about any individual, when dealing with a case. This controversial aspect of the law would oblige state bodies to hand out information whenever requested. However, as a sort of concession to the liberal critics of this practice, the new law proposes a check on the agency in the form of an annual review of the NIS’s operations provided by the appropriate parliamentary committee.
(1) ” Army’s Information Unit”, News Briefs, Stratigiki, (Greece), Vol. 150, p. 33, March 2007
(2) Manos Iliades, “Army Creates Intelligence Center”, Investor’s World Newspaper (Greece), March 31, 2007
(3) “Army’s Intelligence Center”, News Briefs, Defense & Diplomacy Journal (Greece), Vol. 192, p. 184, April 2007
(4) “Greek Army Enacts OSINT Center”, Greek Information Section, Greek Defense & Security Journal (Greece) Vol. 14, p. 25, April 2007
(5) Ioannis Michaletos, “Greek Defense Developments”, Greek Studies Section, Research Institute on European & American Studies, www.rieas.gr, March 18, 2007
(6) “Army’s Intelligence Center”, op cit
(7) Makis Pollatos, “The Military Intelligence”, Diplomacy Journal (Greece), Vol. 27, February 2006
(8) Ioannis Michaletos, “Greek Defense Developments”, op cit
Relevant official websites
Greek Ministry of Defense: www.mod.gr
Greek Ministry of Public Order: www.ydt.gr
Greek Ministry of Interior : www.ypes.gr
National Intelligence Service: www.nis.gr
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