Capital Athens
Time Zone EET (GMT+2)
Country Code 30
Mobile Codes 690,693,694,695,697,698,699
ccTLD .gr
Currency Euro
Land Area 131,990 sq km
Population 11.3 million
Language Greek
Major Religion Orthodox Christianity

Greek Security Challenges and Opportunities: Interview with Dr. Athanassios Drougos

In this new interview for Greek correspondent Ioannis Michaletos gets the insight of Dr. Athanassios Drougos, a senior lecturer for the Hellenic Defense Colleges (Army, Navy, Air Force and Joint Command) and NATO, providing analysis on issues related to defense and counterterrorism.

Dr Drougos has published numerous articles and been cited frequently in Greek media on subjects including defense and security, international relations and geopolitics in the Eastern Mediterranean, Balkans, North Africa and Russia, as well as NATO issues, asymmetric warfare, weapons of mass destruction and more.

Ioannis Michaletos: What are the main security challenges facing Greece currently? Are the issues involved interlinked with domestic problems only, or also related with wider international issues?

Athanassios Drougos: Concerning the ongoing challenges and threats to Greece, I would personally consider that contemporary asymmetric issues (with global or regional ramifications) should receive more attention and prominence from the responsible state authorities.

For instance illegal migration, terrorist networks, the narcotics trade, maritime security threats, horizontal proliferation of ballistic missiles and illicit trade of weapons of mass destruction, energy threats, etc. For the time being, I certainly belong  to  a minority in my country [as I] consider of more significance the non-linear/unconventional threats compared to conventional one… frankly speaking, I see less danger (at least visible) coming from well known  and historic conventional threats.

Some of these are related to the current globalized nature of threats and moving instabilities, for instance, the various regional and Mediterranean ‘open issues’. But beyond any doubt the deep and chaotic situation in Greece (due to extreme financial and social problems) has led to an upgrading of domestic instabilities and has enhanced existing vulnerable spots (social grievances and other parameters led, to a certain extent, to the re-emergence of urban terrorists in Athens, for example.

IM: More specifically, as far as international Islamic terrorism is concerned, what is the [official] Greek stance on confronting these networks? Moreover, is there a possible threat to Greek security from organizations, such as al Qaeda or individual terror cells?

AD: The jihadist movements are extremely provocative and dangerous, too. Unfortunately in Greece (with few exceptions from certain analysts) there is no well-constructed coverage and analysis of the various violent extremist groups. The authorities have not produced any substantial and comprehensive reports on the home-grown or any other Islamic threat.

I would daresay that they have marginal knowledge of such a serious topic and, compared with other countries, they are unfamiliar with the multidimensionality and tactics of [Islamist] groups, and the existing or future threats emanating from them.

There is no clear-cut [state-security] policy, and there have been deep and undeniable gaps in the field of intelligence.

Although Greece is not the main target of violent Islamic fighters, in the coming years I would say that on an incremental basis there will be some connections to extremist circles and violent groups in the broader Middle East region (especially to rejectionist Palestinian fronts and to Lebanese groups). The scale of the problem is related to the forthcoming developments in the Middle East, and to the existence of illegal groups (not visible and overt for the moment) on Greek soil. During the coming years, I expect the gradual radicalization of some individuals in my country, with unhealthy implications on domestic security.

IM: In your opinion, which [specific] security authority in the country has assumed the bulk of responsibilities for Greece’s security, in light of these developing threats?

AD: Under normal conditions, [it should be] the Ministry of Public Order (now renamed as the Ministry of Citizen Protection). But over the last few years we have experienced dramatic insufficiencies in handling domestic terrorism cases… an untold [number of] mistakes. So, I would suggest the creation of a dynamic, constructive and reliable reorganization of certain departments of the Ministry/police, especially in the fields of counterterrorism, intelligence and counter-narcotics.

The new wave of terrorism in Greece is deeply linked to criminal gangs, violent groups and merchants of small arms/light weapons. More remains to be done. Particularly, the better evaluation of people’s backgrounds, more penetrating and active intelligence-gathering, and a broader professionalism of police and judicial  authorities, in order to challenge the current and future terrorist and criminal profiles, tactics and strategies for low-intensity warfare in the cities.

IM: Can it be estimated that due to the multitude of issues developing in international counter-terrorism policy, Greece will have to either alter or shift its present-day priorities, so that its services can maximize their potential and be able to counteract asymmetrical threats such as terrorism and organized crime?

AD: As a lecturer to almost all the Hellenic military and police Colleges, during the last few years I have [undertaken] a personal fight to change minds here, and to transform them to be more efficient and upright, in order to deal with the 21st century threats. Of course, we have made some progress, due to the fact of getting some experiences and know-how in preparation for the Olympic Games of 2004.

However, it is necessary, and remains very urgent, to share ideas, theories and practical experiences with more developed and professional people, people who have specialization in the areas of asymmetric warfare and unconventional threats, from other countries such as the USA, UK, Israel, France, Germany and so on.

I would say that we should be concentrated about maritime security, protecting energy lines, cyber-security, and to reinforce our intelligence training institutes and schools. From another angle, I would suggest more inter-connectivity and joint training/education between the police forces and the Special Forces of the Hellenic Armed forces. For sharing lessons learned… now is the right time for [enhancement] in the area of counterterrorism.

IM: Since the end of the Olympic Games back in 2004, there has been a lot of talk about whether the Greek security authorities would be able to maintain their high level of alertness against security perils [in the future]. Do you think that Greece is as prepared as it was a few years ago, and has the cooperation between the country and other agencies from abroad been productive?

AD: We got substantial and useful lessons and expertise during the years before the 2004 Summer Olympics. But unfortunately we did not continue to elevate our lessons learned to higher standards. We did not embolden further analysis for the emerging asymmetric fields. Explicitly speaking, we lost time and capable human resources, due to politicization/party links, at the expense of professionalism.

I fully encourage and support the reestablishment of any connections in all the relevant areas with the intelligence/counterterrorism departments of our allies and friends in the EU and especially in the Atlantic Alliance. The recent upgrading of contacts at any level and upgrading of our cooperative partnership with Israel is a promising development. We have the opportunity to learn a lot in the areas of counterterrorism/asymmetric battlefields and intelligence [from them].

IM: Regarding the issue of illegal immigration into the country, and more specifically the flow of individuals from Islamic states, do you assess that this will further pressure the Greek authorities to implement stricter security measures and to upgrade their capabilities?

AD: Under normal conditions I would answer you positively. But the country is in a deep mess (social-economic-corruption etc), and I am afraid [we are] not following the broader events and developments accordingly. We have decided – and I fully disagree with this decision – to cut a lot of positions abroad, [positions previously used] for training, education and special studies.

There is no clear understanding of the dangerous and unpredictable ramifications of Islamic terrorism and extremism. We lack serious and professional channels of communications and intelligence. I am convinced that the jihadis are preparing themselves in the Middle East and North Africa to penetrate [European] societies, and to use Southeastern European countries not only for support and logistical activities, but for active operations too. We have a broad spectrum of vulnerabilities. And we have to accelerate our steps to reduce or minimize them.

IM: Do you estimate that the Greek police and intelligence authorities should pay more attention to the asymmetrical threats developing in the Balkan region?

AD: Yes, of course; we have to keep a vigilant eye on contemporary developments along our northern borders, especially on the criminal and terrorist activities of fundamentalist groups, Islamic charities, illegal migration, and links to other groups- for example, in Afghanistan, Russia and the Northern Caucasus, and even Africa.

The police forces and other homeland security agencies should work more on studying and collecting information about these networks, groups and organizations. It would be interesting to see more Greek military personnel contributing with specialized materials and knowledge to improve the coverage, analysis and penetration of events in Greece’s near abroad.

IM: Has the cooperation between Greece’s security agencies and those of its neighboring states been successful so far?

AD: There is some level of cooperation with all neighboring countries, but more remains to be done (bilaterally and multilaterally), among the Southeast European states [themselves]. Additionally I believe that we should expand our interests and intelligence-gathering materials to African countries- there is a creeping radicalization in some groups there with links to their affiliates in Greece, especially the Somalis.

[For example] the NATO Center for Maritime Interdiction in the area of Souda Bay in Crete could become a magnetic pole for conceptualizing and materializing cooperative projects to counter asymmetric threats.

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