Shin Bet head said to visit Greece amid scandal over Israeli-made spyware

Security sources cited by Haaretz say travel unrelated to alleged use of ‘Predator’ program against opposition politician

Ronen Bar, the new head of the Shin Bet, leaves his home in Rishpon on October 11, 2021. (Flash90)
Ronen Bar, the new head of the Shin Bet, leaves his home in Rishpon on October 11, 2021. (Flash90)

Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar made a brief visit to Greece earlier this week, the Haaretz daily reported Saturday, amid a phone-hacking scandal with Israeli-made software that has roiled the local government.

Simmering since last year, the scandal exploded at the end of July when an opposition politician filed a legal complaint at Greece’s Supreme Court claiming attempted surveillance of his mobile phone via spyware known as “Predator” by the Greek intelligence service.

Citing unnamed security sources, Haaretz said Bar was secretly in Athens for a day on Wednesday, while Public Security Minister Omer Barlev was there on an official trip. Upon Bar’s return to Israel Thursday, he held a meeting with Prime Minister Yair Lapid.

The sources told Haaretz that Bar did not attend Barlev’s meetings with Greek officials on the topic of cybercrime and other matters, and that his short trip was not related to the spyware scandal.

The Shin Bet declined to comment, according to the newspaper.

The politician who was allegedly hacked, Nikos Androulakis, a European Parliament MEP, is also the leader of Greece’s third-largest party Pasok/Kinal.

Nikos Androulakis, a member of the European Parliament and president of the Movement for Change (Pasok-Kinal) party, talks to the media after filing a complaint at the Supreme Court in Athens over attempted spying on his mobile phone with Predator malware, July 26, 2022. (Eurokinissi/AFP)

Within days of filing the complaint, it emerged that Androulakis had also been under surveillance from the Greek intelligence service before becoming party leader last year.

In early August, the head of Greece’s intelligence service and a close aide — and nephew — to Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis quit.

Greece’s parliament last month also voted to probe the wire-tapping of Androulakis.

The software, developed originally in North Macedonia and subsequently in Israel by Cytrox, allows users to access the calls and messages of the bugged phone.

Prime Minister Mitsotakis insists he had not been informed that Androulakis was under surveillance, which, though technically legal, he has called “politically unacceptable.”

The incident has weakened the premier, who is seeking re-election next year.

Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis addresses a parliament session in Athens on August 26, 2022. (Giorgos KONTARINIS/Eurokinissi/AFP)

Androulakis was considered the favorite to succeed in his party leadership vote. As head now of Greece’s third largest party, he is likely to hold the balance of power in the next election – due by mid-2023 at the latest – if no party wins enough seats to form a government without needing a coalition partner, as the current opinion polls suggest.

The government had for months also fended off accusations of wire-tapping by two Greek journalists, one of them claiming to be hacked both by Predator and state intelligence.

The prime minister said earlier in August that the government would propose changes to how the National Intelligence Service operates, including increasing its accountability and parliamentary supervision and making internal changes to bolster transparency, personnel training, and internal controls.

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