A Greek journalist who was targeted for surveillance with spyware has filed a lawsuit against the spyware’s proprietor, hoping to spur a criminal investigation into the malfeasance surrounding the sales and use of such spying tools.
In late March 2021, Thanasis Koukakis was notified by a team of digital researchers that his phone had been infected with malware. A reporter who typically covers finance, Koukakis had been in the midst of investigating corruption issues when his device was infected. Research later showed that his phone had been under surveillance for approximately two months.
It turned out that he had been targeted with “Predator,” a commercial spyware capable of infiltrating mobile phones and stealing pretty much everything inside of them—videos, pictures, text messages, search history, passwords, call logs, and more. Like a lot of other commercial spyware tools, Predator is typically sold to high-paying government clients—in this case, by a company called Cytrox. A secretive surveillance firm based in North Macedonia, Cytrox is owned by an Israeli parent company called Intellexa.
Over the past year, Greece has been embroiled in a domestic espionage scandal. Revelations that the government used sophisticated spyware to surveil droves of journalists and politicians have led to a bevy of resignations of high-level officials and a broader debate about the abuse of surveillance powers. While the government has denied involvement in some of the cases, a European parliament committee, PEGA, has been set up to investigate them, and its members hope to determine the extent to which the government is responsible for the rash of spying cases.
The Greek government has, however, admitted to spying on Koukakis. In a parliamentary committee hearing in August, the head of the Greek equivalent of the CIA confessed that his agency had surveilled the journalist. However, the government has denied that it uses Predator or maintains any association with Intellexa.
The lawsuit filed by Koukakis takes aim at Intellexa and its executive, alleging a criminal breach of privacy and communication laws, reports Haaretz. The founder of Intellexa, a former Israeli intelligence commander named Taj Dilian, is listed as one of the defendants in the suit, as is another shareholder, Sara Hemo, and the firm itself. The objective of the suit, Koukakis says, is to spur an investigation to determine whether a criminal indictment should be brought against the defendants.
“Despite the press revelations and the pressure from the European Parliament and the European Commission, the Greek government continues to grant complete immunity to Intellexa and its shareholders,” Koukakis said recently. “Given that the Mitsotakis administration has not yet moved in any way to limit or prohibit the use of Predator in my country, I filed a lawsuit against Intellexa and its shareholders asking from the Greek justice to take action and investigate all crimes that have been committed.”
Greece isn’t the only European nation facing a surveillance scandal right now. For much of the past year, a multitude of E.U. nations have been embroiled in what has come to be known as “Europe’s Watergate” Many of the scandals involve surveillance products sold by another Israeli spyware firm, NSO Group, whose notorious “Pegasus” spyware has been tied to political scandals all over the world.