Pangalos fends off criticism over claims Greece spied on US ambassadors

Former Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos on Thursday sought to fend off criticism following his comments earlier this week that Greek intelligence service (EYP) was tapping US ambassadors in Athens and Ankara in the late 1990s.

Pangalos, who was Greek foreign minister between 1996 and 1999, said the eavesdropping concerned Washington’s apparent opposition to Cyprus’s membership of the European Union without a prior peace settlement.

“At that time the EU was facing a dilemma of whether Cyprus should be accepted as a member without a solution to the political problem or, as the Turks – with fervent support from the Americans – wanted, give priority to Turkey over Cyprus,” Pangalos said.

Cyprus eventually joined the EU in 2004 as a divided island. After intense bargaining, EU membership talks with Turkey were launched in October 2005 but so far the going has not been easy.

“Why should Greece always be the victim?” Pangalos, a veteran socialist, told Vima radio on Thursday.

“We were tapping them because it was necessary to do so,” he said.

Greek government officials have expressed outrage at Pangalos’s remarks, which they feel have taken the pressure off Washington to account for its eavesdropping of European leaders.

“The former foreign minister has no business saying these things,” Health Minister Adonis Georgiadis said on Wednesday, reflecting the conservative-led government’s frustration with Pangalos.

Pangalos’s claim came in the wake of German news magazine Der Spiegel citing leaked information from CIA whistleblower Edward Snowden that indicated a joint Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and National Security Agency (NSA) group known as the Special Collection Service operated 90 surveillance facilities worldwide, including at the US Embassy in Athens.

Ethics committee

Meanwhile, the head of EYP, Theodoros Dravillas, was set to face Parliament’s ethics committee on Thursday to be questioned by lawmakers about the agency’s operations following reports suggesting that officials of the main leftist opposition SYRIZA were being wiretapped.

In view of the fact that EYP’s operations are strictly confidential, the contents of the proceedings will not be made public and the ethics committee members are forbidden from discussing them, even after they cease to be lawmakers.