Book Release for Surveillance in Greece by Minas Samatas, Ph.D.

Title: Surveillance in Greece
Author: Minas Samatas, Ph.D.
Publisher: Pella Publishing Co.
Date of Publication: January 2004
Language: English
ISBN: 0918618908
Price: US$30.00
Description: 191pp, pbback
|Availability: Editorial Summary

A study of surveillance, either by the state or by the market, as a basic sociopolitical control mechanisms. Examination of 4 surveillance periods in Greece: anticommunist surveillance, political control surveillance, populist surveillance and current modernization and europeanization period surveillance.

Author's Remarks (back cover of text)

The variety of growing surveillance in contemporary Greece reflects the remarkable socioeconomic, political, and cultural changes in the post dictatorial Greek state and society. In fact, modernization, democratization, Europeanization, and globalization of the Greek state and society is reflected in the technological, legislative, and institutional modernization of surveillance in Greece, in relation to the European integration processes and a globalized information capitalist market. From the "ugly," repressive, anticommunist, political control state/police monopoly of sursveillance in the past, the Greek people are now subjects of a galaxy of multiple electronic surveillance by the state and surpraste, institutions and individuals, public and private, with and without consent, for legitimate and illegitimate purposes, for security and profit, and even for entertainment and self-monitoring.

This study, considering surveillance, either by the state or by the market, as a basic sociopolitical control mechanism, examines four surveillance periods in Greece; these periods reflect the changing sociopolitical control system from post-Civil War Greece up to the present, just before the Athens 2004 Olympic Games. These periods are

a. repressive anticommunist surveillance, until the end of the military dictatorship, 1950-1974;
b. post-dictatorial state political control surveillance, 1974-1981;
c. populist and "Machiavellian" surveillance, during the first PASOK administration of 1981-1989, including also the second PASOK administration of 1993-1996 under Andreas Papandreou, and the New Democracy neo-liberal parenthesis during 1989-1993;
d. the current modernization and Europeanization period, 1996 to the present (2003).

Due to the Athens 2004 Olympic Games security requirements, Greece has joined the advanced surveillance states, with contradicting effects on citizens, freedom and democracy.

In Greece, where privacy is traditionally not part of the dominant culture and civil society is not well organized, there is not an anti-surveillance movement yet. There is, however, a popular dissent against state and police surveillance, as a legacy of citizens' fear of state political control of their beliefs and activities.

Excerpts and Review in Greek American Review Magazine

As much as the Post-Greek Civil War anticommunist police was efficient in its surveillance of communists and leftist activists, the post-dictatorial police proved to be extremely inefficient in arresting terrorists. This inability of the police to enforce an efficient surveillance system, and the prolonged victimization of several foreign citizens by the terrorist group November 17, invited foreign interference and foreign surveillance in Greece.

Following we examine first the so-called "Riancourt case," which has proved the inefficiency and possible corruption of post-dictatorial Greek anti-terrorist police, and also three interesting foreign surveillance cases in Greece, namely: the Ocalan, the Vasilikos, and the Sauniers case.

The Greek police surveillance fiasco with 17N on Louise Riancourt Street

The embarrassing police operation on Louise Riancourt Street in Vithens in March 1992 revealed the incompetence of the Greek police in catching the terrorist group November 17 (17N) (see G. Gilson's report in Athens News, May 23, 2003: A08). Terrorists claimed in the 17N trial that it was a police conspiracy. "We have seen here moments of the beautiful moral world of this amalgam of stoolies, intelligence services and agents of the police brass involved in the devouring of secret funds. They should not implicate us in their dirty world," declared confessed November 17 (17N) terrorist Dimitris Koufodinas. Also, the accused terrorist Savas Xiros said that police had found the van abandoned by 17N on March 29 and, when they found a stolen gun, set up a fake sting operation the very next day in order to pocket 13 million drachmas in police funds. The alleged female informer who had received 13 million drachmas for tipping off police on a planned 17N hit says she was framed. The mystery woman, Maria Tsinteri, appeared in TV programs to deny that she was the informant and said that the police was trying to "slander" her. Then Police Chief Stephanos Makris testified that he received a call from an anonymous woman who claimed 17N was planning a strike against a judge for March 27, 1992. In a second call she said that if the hit failed, the terrorists would assemble in front of a certain three-storey building on Riancourt Street.

Thirty counter-terrorism police officers were stationed at the appointed spot with patrol cars nearby. They saw only two individuals-one with a wig-get out of a yellow van. When one officer tried to alert nearby riot police, the suspects took off. One policeman followed the stolen van but inexplicably lost track of it along the way. It was later found abandoned with a pistol stolen earlier by 17N in a raid of the Vyronas police precinct. "A stable camera was set up [to record the operation] but, alas, it did not record faces," (emphasis added) Makris told the court... "We sent the most well-trained group of officers but, unfortunately, it proved inadequate. We were unable to pin down the female informant while I served as chief," Makris testified.

Even the chief judge trying the 17N case at Korydallos prison, Mihalis Margaritis, expressed amazement at police. "I used to wonder for a long time why 17N had not been caught over so many years. Can I wonder any more? Not a single person did their job properly? What can I say?" (emphasis added) Margaritis said. . . . "This affair took place while conservative Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis of the New Democracy Party was in power... The episode proved utterly embarrassing for the conservatives, who had accused PASOK with everything ranging from incompetence to criminal negligence" (G. Gilson's report, ibid.).

A successful case for American intelligent in Greece and the region

The Greek fiasco of the Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, who had asked for political asylum from Italy, Russia, and then from Greece in January 1999, revealed an extensive US intelligence and political involvement in tracking down Ocalan. After US and Turkish catalytic pressures, all governments had denied Ocalan from settling in their country or being granted asylum. Despite this, however, the Greek government sent Ocalan to the Greek embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, in which the American satellites and ground intelligence, with the assistance of the Israeli intelligence, played a significant surveillance role in tracking him down, arresting, and delivering him to the Turkish government. According to the Sunday To Vima report (February 21,1999) the FBI and the CIA collaborated over six months with Turkey's secret service (MIT) to secure Ocalan's capture, which occurred on February 15,1999. Turkey received a continuous flow of information from US satellites, as well as by other technical means, and the assistance of US agents on the ground. Athens' choice of Kenya raised serious questions, given the strong US presence in Kenya after the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, a year before. Although "the Israeli Mossad has denied involvement in the Nairobi operation, there has been no Israeli denial of close intelligence sharing with Turkey's MIT over two years." (Athens News, February 2, 1999: A01). The Ocalan affair, which was a shameful fiasco for the Greek government and diplomacy, and a great success for American intelligence, caused a governmental crisis and a restructuring of the Greek National Intelligence Service (EYP).

The "Vasilikos Case": An American Dataveillance Fiasco

In November 2001 , several months before the arrest of the members of the November 17 terrorist group, the former US ambassador to Greece, Thomas Niles, who served in Athens between 1995-97 revealed in an interview with journalist Alexis Papahelas on the private MEGA TV channel that in 1995 the US Embassy had offered the late Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou's government a list of November 17 suspects, including an individual suspected of being the author of the terrorist group's proclamations. The retired diplomat accused the PASOK government at that time, as well as the following PASOK government of Costas Simitis, of ignoring this list, as well as others given previously. "I told the prime minister (Simitis) in 1997 that I though the organizers of this group were prominent members of Greek society who in their day jobs were other things than terrorists and had this sort of a vocation. He said that he agreed with me," Niles said... (Athens News, November 9, 2001: A05). "We told the Greek government who we thought was writing the declarations... based on (textual) analysis and comparisons over the years. There was no follow up that I know of," Niles remarked, and added that the evidence was of a kind that could "probably" lead to an indictment in a US court, and that the suspect was not connected to the government "at that time." As Papahelas reaffirms in his book on November 17 with Tasos Telloglou (2003: 179-181,183), the CIA had actually organized in 1995 a project of dataveillance, electronically analyzing all proclamations of the November 1 group. They had also made a list of key suspects, who could have written these proclamations, based on criteria like their relationship with Paris, their age, their relationship with Jean Pan Sartre, etc. Based on these criteria they selected a couple of intellectuals and electronically compared their writings with the proclamations. The computerize result was to portray as the basic suspect the well-known writer Vasili Vasilikos, the author of the book "Z ." He was the only one who made reference of Balzac, and used certain word like 'chauffeur,' a word used in the proclamations. Also, the fact that Vasiliko had translated in Greek a book of Regi Dembre's Learning from Toupamaro (1971), was considered very critical to be suspected as the key proclamation writer suspect. American intelligence watched Vasilikos in Paris, where he served as Greek ambassador in UNESCO, and according to Papahelas' sources, they even sneaked into his apartment to look for the November 17 typewriter. French intelligence had also given to the Greek government lists with suspects' names, including philosopher Cornelius Castoriadis. Niles had suggested that "one of the reasons why November 17 has been so impervious to Greece's intelligence service was it never sought to increase their numbers." He continued that "November 17 is comprised of well-known members of Greek society. . ." and further, "The people who carry out the killings I think are hired from the outside and brought in on a one-time basis." Asked why CIA and FBI officials had failed to find solid leads, Niles replied that "It's not the responsibility of the CIA or M15 to do this work. We can help. There's something, some element in the system that does not want this to happen, and has been able to prevent it from succeeding over the years." The Greek government blasted Niles for his bombshell accusations (Athens News, November 9,2001: A05), which after the arrest and trial of most November 17 group members, were proved to be entirely unfounded.

After the first November 17 members' arrests in the summer of 2002, an American Embassy official commented on the "Vasilikos case" to the journalist Alexis Papahelas that this fiasco cost a lot of money to the embassy and took about ten years of investigations. "Unfortunately it was the persistent idea of one CIA agent, who claimed with certainty to know the proclamations writer" (Papahelas and Telloglou, 2003:181).

This case confirms that dataveillance, like all panoptic high technology, is an efficient instrument only when the hypothesis about thee target and the chosen criteria of the documents selected to be matched are correct. Otherwise, as in the Vasilikos case and that of other PASOK politicians, whom occasionally Americans suspected of being linked with 17N, the data can prove to be wrong and lead to a total fiasco.

The British antiterrorist intervention after Saunders's murder

According to a leaked report by G. Gilson in the Athens News, (August 16, 2002: A03) " When Scotland Yard arrived in Greece immediately after the murder of British military attache Stephen Saunders by November 17 (17N), they admittedly experienced police culture shock. Never in the quarter-century history of 17N had the files of nearly two dozen victims been systematically compared. The Greek police's counter-terrorism bureau was not even in the nascent stages of computerization. Forensics facilities also were technologically nowhere close to the British counterpart. In June 2001, the methodical work Scotland Yard conducted in good faith with their Greek colleagues produced a report of several hundred pages. The document reveals that Greek counter-terrorism police "learned methodical analysis and computerization from Scotland Yard," and offered "a systematic overview of the activity of the terrorist group and a plethora of strategic recommendations on how to exploit existing evidence and develop new leads." The report stressed a focus on "re-examination of evidence currently held". "The review team observed that the Hellenic Police (ELAS) did not investigate crime as a linked series, did not have a computerized crime management system and did not use analysis as an aid to investigation," they said, "raising serious questions on what Greek police actually did to probe terrorism for over two decades."

According to the same Scotland Yard report, in many instances, "British recommendations required little more than common sense: adopt standardized serious- and series-crime investigation procedures, introduce computerization to assist in the cross-linking of information gathered during the course of a probe, adopt an analytical approach to the investigation of major crimes." The report proposed that "Greek authorities broaden surveillance in their probes with use of existing private closed-circuit television (CCTV) and the creation of state CCTV networks to monitor the public's movement." For example, the report says, "There are privately owned CCTV systems in Athens, together with other 'official systems,' e.g. 'traffic management.' The Hellenic Police should create a CCTV counter-terrorist data-base, subject to law, along the same lines as the IRIS Database used in London... and be directly involved in planning and sitting of CCTV systems to be introduced in Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games," Scotland Yard suggested, focusing on areas where murders had taken place. It also proposed adapting traffic management "automatic number plate readers" (ANPR) for use in counter-terrorism. Finally, broader surveillance of mobile phone communications was advised, with the adoption of cell site analysis, which should be "covered by relevant legislation."

In fact, the murder of Saunders by 17N group surfaced the issue of lifting the confidentiality of the identity of mobile phone subscribers who are suspected of involvement in terrorism. According to the daily newspaper Ta Nea, (February 21,2001) the Greek counter-terrorism authorities had recorded thousands of mobile phone conversations on the day of that murder and had determined that around 100 of those were suspect and destroyed the tapes the next day; but they were unable to exploit the evidence without knowing the identity of the subscribers, whose privacy is protected. The Hellenic Data Protection Authority prevented police from obtaining the identity of the mobile phone subscribers. That problem was resolved by the drafting of the new antiterrorist law, as we discuss later. Furthermore, after British suggestion, Greek police established an anonymous hotline for tips, encouraging citizens' cooperation with police, something that is not easy in Greece following a prolonged authoritarian police state.

In brief, the British police's intervention significantly contributed to the modernization and increased efficiency of the Greek police.

The modernization of Greek state surveillance

In early 21st century contemporary Greece, an open, democratic market society, the "traditional" mass political control state surveillance is superceded by a galaxy of "new surveillance." This new era consists of a multifaceted electronic surveillance of citizens, not only by the modernized state surveillance, data collection, and processing agencies, but also by numerous private data collectors, supra state organizations, and transnational corporations.

As we have analyzed in the first chapter, under the Greek authoritarian police state, surveillance in Greece was a state and governmental monopoly; even the few private investigators for criminal and family cases were under the strict control of the police. This mass political control state surveillance, a "traditional surveillance," was the basic mechanism of the Greek sociopolitical control system up to the 1980s; it was an efficient surveillance police network, mainly based on human intelligence, and the coercive cooperation of the police and state agencies with private informers all over the country. This mass state surveillance basically monitored citizens' political ideology and behavior, classifying Greeks as clients or non-clients to the state. Hence, traditional state surveillance had a serious impact on the sociopolitical control of the life-chances of the Greek people.

Greece in this century is now experiencing the "new surveillance" of electronic panopticism, since the traditional state has been obsolete under the socioeconomic and political processes that have occurred in the last 15-20 years. Paper police files are replaced by electronic data-bases, as state agencies and public organizations, but also private firms and corporations, have started to electronically collect and process citizens' data for institutional, marketing and other purposes. Telematics and electronic intelligence are used by the new surveillance, and market, consumer surveillance, biometrics, even biogenetic surveillance can be matched with other personal data, regarding taxes, medical, insurance, and more to produce various information profiles, even simulations forecasting future behavior of individuals.

In the following chapter we report on various private surveillance cases in contemporary Greece. We have tried to include a characteristic sample of the mushrooming variety of surveillance in order to realize its dimensions and interpret its causes.

In fact, the last years in Greece, as in all countries of informational capitalism, citizens' privacy is violated daily by state and private, legal or illegal, surveillors, using the new panoptic technologies (Castells, M. 1997 & Lyon D. 1994, 2001). The problem is summarized by the Hellenic Data Protection Authority (HDPA), which is justifying the necessity of its foundation, but also its weakness to control panopticism in Greece, as it states in its website (

"The enormous progress of information technology, the growth of new technologies, the new forms of advertisement and electronic transactions, and the electronic organization of state apparatus have as consequence the increased demand of personal information from the private and public sector. The unverifiable storage and processing of personal data in electronic and handwritten files of services, companies and organizations can cause problems in the citizen's private life."

The Hellenic Data Protection Authority's slogan is "Each citizen should be in a position to know at every moment who, where, when, how and why processes their personal data." [Edd: emphasis added by HCS]

Former HDPA Chairman Constantine Dafermos had stated that "(Greek) Security Police is a pigeon compared to the surveillance by private individuals" (Ta Nea, 205.2002: 14-15). This statement should not however cause an underestimation of the modernization of Greek state panopticism, which, as we have already noticed, after the 9/11 attacks and due to the 2004 Athens Olympic Games has been reorganized and reinforced by international cooperation. Moreover, Greeks who have suffered by the repressive mass state surveillance, nowadays enjoy a "sweet" consented and participatory TV surveillance. Like Americans and other Europeans Greeks enjoy daily the new television reality and "Big Brother"-style shows, where the audience is entertained by watching ordinary people who exchange their privacy for temporary fame and profit. Thus, the new television market by the daily TV surveillance entertainment shows, promoting a participatory consented surveillance, causes a deliberate confusion of who is watching and who is watched to the benefit of mass manipulation power centers, that is the mass media, as well as mobile phone companies. Hence the question also in Greece is who is going to watch the watchers?

The electronic and legistlative modernization of the Greek state: electronic police files and the new law against organized crime and terrorism.

Like all nation-states that are currently adopting the applications of new technologies to modernize their panoptic apparatus (Giddens, A. 1985, Webster, Fr. 1995), similarly "Greek bureaucratism," as I have called the structure and function of the Greek state apparatus, which works as a sociopolitical control system (Samatas 1986), is slowly but steadily electronically modernized. If the 1989 populist burning of the political files kept by the anticommunist state symbolized the end of the obsolete and useless anticommunist surveillance, it also meant the beginning of a systematic electronic filing of Greek citizens, not exclusively for political control purposes, but for rationalizing the whole state-citizen relationship. Greek "bureaucratism" is gradually becoming electronic and based on an "e-smart state," i.e. not only using digital technologies to collect citizens' data, but also using computer matching to cross check and verify this data in a very fast and efficient way. Despite the declared electronic modernization of the Greek civil service according to the governmental and EU-funded project "Greece in the Information Society" (,1998), many Greek public agencies are resisting computerization, still working with the traditional paper-dusted files, due to the low quality of the public personnel in those services. There are, however, computerized agencies like TAXIS, the Greek IRS, that are becoming very efficient in the cross data matching. Thus Greek state agencies are modernized using dataveillancey i.e., to not only collect and store citizens' information from multiple sources in databases, but also to process and very rapidly cross various data, with the possibility of quick identification, profile-making, and even future behavior prognosis, causing new social sorting (Lyon 2003: 20-22).

Greek police (ELAS) and security forces have been electronically modernized to cope with the "anti-terrorist war," using American and British technology and know-how, and equipped with high-tech data-bases and identification labs for the investigation of personal finger-prints, other biometrics, and DNA. In a central police fingerprint database, personal biometric data is collected, and processed from suspected target groups such as immigrants, hooligans, and anarchists. The databank of those groups is enriching the Automatic Fingerprints Identification System (ASADA), which until the summer of 2002 held the data of 400,000 persons. Police "sweep" operations (skoupa) for mass arrests of illegal immigrants or demonstrators result in mandatory fingerprinting under the Decree 342/1977, Article 27, paragraph 1.

The Greek police fingerprinting system ASADA is connected with the Schengen Information System data-bank, and the EURODAC of EUROPOL, which monitors immigrants and refugees, even anti-globalization and Euro summit protesters who have occasionally been arrested or just spotted by police (Samatas 2003a).

This new electronic police surveillance and electronic dataveillance was legalized under the universal insecure climate of terrorism and the panic it caused after the events of September 11th (Lyon, D. 2003:17,24,81-89). American and British pressure to the Greek government have contributed to the Greek Parliament voting in the so-called "anti-terrorist law," or "terror law" (tromonomos), promoting the primacy of security over civil liberties. This controversial law has modernized all surveillance provisions, and has encouraged spying on citizens and police reports providing pecuniary motives for police informers; it introduces non-jury criminal trials, a limited right of appeal, DNA testing without consent, sweeping police powers of infiltration and surveillance, and impose ten-year terms for members of serious crime gangs. In fact, the provisions of this law make no distinction between terrorist groups and criminal gangs.

Surveillance using cameras and bugging devices, as well as the interception of bank records, letters, emails, mobile phone data, etc. will be sanctioned by a panel of judges and no longer need permission from service providers... this could speed up access from up to several months to a few days. Judges will also supervise DNA testing. On "serious grounds" of suspicion, suspects will be tested without their consent. The data will be destroyed when their case is concluded. (Athens News, February 16,2001: A04).

The then Justice Minister Michalis Stathopoulos who drafted the bill has vividly defended all controversial provisions of this new law. He pointed out that most of these measures were part of the Greek penal law, including "home searches, body searches, or a prosecutor ordering blood tests for whatever reason. The solution is to ensure that laws are enforced properly. That's what mature societies do. We can be vigilant in fending off abuses. The basic element is to have democratic checks on police." Mr. Stathopoulos has ruled out the bugging of homes and offices, "a provision that would be exploited by opponents." The law allows the consolidation of broad surveillance in public spaces. The former minister indirectly confirmed press reports that thousands of mobile phone calls were indiscriminately recorded in a geographic area of Athens where 17N has often struck, and said that sweeping audio and video monitoring in public places is perfectly legal. He also stated that "we are not living under the conditions of the authoritarian post-Civil War state or the junta, but in a period of the democratic functioning of institutions" (Athens News February 20,2001: A03).

Senior Greek legal experts, civil liberties groups, and left-wing opposition parties have strongly condemned this "terror law," warning that lax control of surveillance and DNA testing could create a "Big Brother" state.

Besides Greek police modernization, Greece's National Intelligence Service (EYP), a traditional "sinful service," has also put on a new face. For the first time a top diplomat was appointed to head and demilitarize it, after the agency's tarnished image due to the aforementioned Ocalan affair. EYP's new operational framework was reinforced by strengthening its electronic surveillance capability, and mainly its civilian scientific personnel, instead of the police and military staff, in order to make it a flexible and efficient service that will cooperate with the other ministries and agencies to safeguard the national security interests. EYP has been placed under direct control of the Parliament and has been radically overhauled to fight terrorism at the 2004 Athens Olympics, ready to deal with "new types of threats to democracy and citizens like organized crime, people smuggling, and drug trafficking" (Athens News March 5,1999: A01).

Similarly, the Greek financial crime squad, SDOE, equipped with high-tech surveillance systems, has in several successful surveillance operations arrested drug traffickers, confiscated arms from smuggling rings, and investigated money laundering.

About the Author

MInas Samatas has a Ph.D. in sociology from the Graduate Faculty of The New School for Social Research, NYC; he is Associate Professor of Political Sociology in the Department of Sociology at the University of Crete. He is also Jean Monnet Fellow teaching a permanent course in the "modernization-Europeanization of the modern Greek state." His email is

(Posting date 11 April 2006 )

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