NEWS

Secret ‘OLAF’ tapping war

At last Thursday’s press conference, Public Order Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis claimed – among other things – that the National Intelligence Agency (EYP) was in no way involved in the tapping of the cell phones of the prime minister and many cabinet members that had been discovered in March of last year. That may be so. However, at the same time new evidence shows that the «system» is riddled with what are essentially active enclaves, some of which appear to have been maintained, although they shouldn’t have been. One of these enclaves, the existence of which was mentioned to Kathimerini by official Defense Ministry sources, is the «OLAF Program.» It all began shortly before the Athens Olympics, when the government at the time decided to set up a team to tap phones. For as-yet unknown reasons, perhaps as a reference to Scandinavia’s excellent technology or perhaps to Sweden’s assassinated prime minister Olof Palme, this group was given the code name OLAF. Whatever doubts surround the origin of the name, there is no doubt about the events that followed, according to reliable sources at the Defense Ministry. OLAF was set up under the then-prime minister, Costas Simitis, within the framework of EYP and was to report directly to EYP’s director. Political responsibility lay with the Public Order Ministry. While it was being set up, EYP requested the inclusion of an (unnamed) army officer in the team, someone who had been transferred to EYP in 1998 and had undergone further training in Britain in 1992 and 1993. The Joint Chiefs of Staff (YETHA) approved the move and the team begin work before the Olympics, continuing to tap phones throughout the Games. According to the terms under which it was set up, it was supposed to be disbanded shortly after the closing ceremony. However, OLAF kept on working under full steam, possibly monitoring the phones of not only local «anti-establishment» groups or foreigners suspected of terrorist activities, but many others, according to sources at YETHA. It was then that a secret war broke out between the National Defense and the Public Order ministries. Right after the end of the Games, YETHA asked for the army officer to be transferred back to his original post. This occurred for two reasons, according to ministry sources. First and most importantly was that his mission was over and the team’s continued existence was not only purposeless but dangerous. The second was that all along, Army General Staff (GES) officers had been monitoring OLAF’s activities, particularly that of their own officer, and had reportedly reached the conclusion that he had been acting above and beyond his brief. So the goal was to stop him as quickly as possible and remove him from the scene. They were unsuccessful. According to the above sources, the Public Order Ministry and EYP opposed the official request, claiming that their officer was «necessary» and «the best man for the job.» Sources at YETHA said the issue was soon raised with Defense Minister Spilios Spiliotopoulos, who took the matter up with Voulgarakis – from whom he received the same reply, that the officer was «invaluable.» YETHA asked for its man to be returned after the Games, but EYP refused. YETHA insisted, issuing a ruling. However, a month later (in September 2004), the officer himself submitted an appeal against the order for him to return to his post. The ensuing complex web, legal and otherwise, continued for a whole year, but the army had still not got its officer back, despite repeated efforts by the defense minister himself. Finally on November 15, 2005, GES issued its final order to the officer to return to base. Suddenly, the Public Order Ministry’s interest waned and the officer was released and, by order of the Defense Minister himself, posted to Didymoteicho, near the Evros River border. However, the officer has never shown up there, having supplied a medical certificate stating that his wife suffers from multiple sclerosis. Even now it is unknown whether EYP’s OLAF group has lost its leader, whether or not it is still functioning, or whether it broke up a short while ago. According to YETHA sources, the funds managed by the group did not go through «procedure H/7,» that is EYP’s official budget, but through «special management»; some of them even came from the Third Community Support Framework. It was the army officer, according to the above sources, who had carte blanche responsibility for managing the funds which, according to the evidence, amounted to some 1,747,422 euros. The money was used to buy extremely advanced phone-tapping equipment capable of tracing RF frequencies from 10KHz to 2,000 MHz, a long-range telecontrolled camera valued at 225,000 euros, capable of filming the iris on video, optical fiber cables and probes, Secline a-Plus encryption devices valued at over 290,000 euros, 60 decoding devices valued at over 700,000 euros capable of transmitting almost any kind of data, plus many more. The team spent over 190,000 euros in adapting vans to the requirements of their job. The Olympic Games were prepared for (with the involvement of the above-mentioned officer in the Operations Center), held and then ended. However, the OLAF group went on working, with powers that the combined forces of the GES and the national defense minister were unable to break. As to their activities in the interim, that must be answered by those who kept the team going and who fought so hard over its «brains.»