NEWS

US intelligence ops in Greece

YIANNIS SOULIOTIS

US agents from the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) service seen during a past operation.

TAGS: Focus, Crime

In December 2015, US agents from the Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) service and officers from the Greek Police’s organized crime unit arrested a 51-year-old arms trafficker and owner of a company based in the Jordanian city of Amman, in Aspropyrgos, an industrial town east of Athens. In the months before, the suspect had been negotiating with an undercover HSI agent for the purchase of 200 M4 assault rifles and a corresponding number of scopes and thermal cameras.

The American service first made contact with the suspect in 2014 and in the period leading up to his arrest, the 51-year-old is said to have told the HSI agent that his clients were based in Beirut and the guns would end up in Iraq. The Americans, however, had evidence or indications to suggest that the American-Jordanian national was a supplier for Hezbollah in Lebanon.

His arrest in Greece took place in a warehouse where he was waiting for delivery of the weapons. A few weeks later, he was extradited to the United States.

Another similar operation spearheaded by HSI took place in downtown Athens on February 7-9. The target in this case was a Chinese national who was in negotiations with American undercover agents for the purchase of controlled military materiel. He was arrested by Greek Police officers in the lobby of his hotel, near the Plaka district. He had previously met with agents posing as dealers in high-tech weapons systems, in an operation that first started in 2013.

The Chinese man, also aged 51, was a mechanical engineer by profession who presented himself as an expert in advanced technology with an interest in purchasing a military-grade data collection antenna. He claimed to work for a Chinese shipping company, though there were suspicions that he was acting on behalf of the Chinese government. The maximum-range aerial he was looking to acquire has the capability of collecting and decoding information and data and sending it to drones. According to a source close to the investigation, the equipment he was looking for is similar to that used for domestic digital surveillance by national intelligence services.

The HSI agents held their first meeting to discuss the deal with the suspect in Thailand between 2013 and 2014. The negotiations continued and a final rendezvous to seal the agreement was set in Athens for early 2016. Several meetings between American agents and officers of the Greek Police’s Attica Security Department were held in order to coordinate the operation, while the Athens prosecutor’s service was also informed of the impending meeting.

The 51-year-old flew into Athens International Airport on the morning of February 7 from China, via Dubai, and was immediately put under surveillance. Wary of being arrested, he was traveling light, carrying only the essentials: a change of clothes and a mobile phone. He posed as a tourist, visiting the Acropolis, and did not make a single call save that to confirm his appointment with the “sellers.” He was arrested at the meeting and the process for his extradition has already started.

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