NEWS

Spotters had ‘important’ data

KALAMATA (AP) – Displaying piles of Greek military data from commercial manuals and the Internet, defense lawyers yesterday challenged a ruling that British and Dutch plane spotters had filled notebooks with secrets that put Greece in peril. «Do you really think they came here to spy?» Judge Giorgos Efstathiou asked the air force officer whose testimony helped convict the 12 British and two Dutch aviation enthusiasts of espionage-related charges seven months ago. Their appeal – watched over by diplomats and political figures from Britain and the Netherlands – once again pitted Greece’s tight military security against the pastime of cataloging the movements of warplanes. In the first trial, defense lawyers struggled to explain the hobby to baffled Greek judges. This time, they sought to show the three-judge appellate panel that information jotted down by planespotters is available in stores and websites. Defense lawyers grilled a fighter pilot, Capt. Nektarios Samaras, who ordered the spotters’ arrest at an air base near the southern city of Kalamata in November 2001. «They were acting suspiciously… Their notes were very detailed and they concerned combat formations from nearly all Greek military airports,» said Samaras. «This data should not fall into the wrong hands.» He added: «Either they were pursuing a hobby or they were using it for some form of deception… All I can say is that the information they gathered was important.» The judges also closely quizzed Samaras on whether anything in the spotters’ material was actually classified. «I think it’s going well,» said Paul Coppin, 57, who organized the trip to Greece last year. «But I thought we had proved our case the last time, so we’ll have to see.» The trial is expected to end today.