No room for ego in public order

Despite all the positive results we have seen from the country’s security and public order agencies these past few months, there is a lurking danger that could jeopardize the progress made. The resounding success in apprehending the crime ring responsible for kidnapping ferry tycoon Pericles Panagopoulos is due to a large extent to the excellent collaboration between the National Intelligence Service (EYP) and the Greek Police (ELAS). EYP had the technology and the know-how to record the mobile telephone exchanges among the suspects, while the police force had the necessary experience and knowledge about the way the criminal world works so that it could make sense of the jumble of information gleaned from the tapes. The collaboration of the two bodies was also made possible because the key figures in the investigation were recruited from top posts in EYP and ELAS. EYP, after all, does not have the right to conduct police work or even to make arrests; its main role is intelligence gathering. Relations between the two bodies have not always been as harmonious as they were in this investigation. Quite the opposite, in fact. There was even a time when their mutual animosity was so intense that the police quite stubbornly refused to ask for or even accept any information from EYP. It has even been said that in a case involving terrorists, the police intentionally sabotaged an EYP operation. The relationship between the two began to improve early this decade with the investigation into the November 17 terrorist organization, since when they have made substantial progress in strengthening their collaboration. So, why is there now a risk of this relationship being derailed? Quite simply because, in effect, there are two bosses in charge of security, two politicians: Interior Minister Prokopis Pavlopoulos and Alternate Minister Christos Markoyiannakis. No one can say with any certainty what their individual tasks are nor what orders they each receive from the prime minister. Meanwhile, police and intelligence officers – like any person tasked with a difficult and sensitive job – need clear instructions and orders in order to operate effectively. If they are put in a position where they need to guess whose okay they should be seeking or whose okay carries more weight, they waste precious time trying to figure out what to do rather than actually doing it. Moreover, the issue is complicated even further by the fact that, according to the law, EYP is overseen by the minister of the interior, Pavlopoulos, while ELAS answers to the alternate interior minister responsible for public order, Markoyiannakis. The worst-case scenario is a turf war arising between the two and any collaboration grinding to a halt. Unfortunately, both EYP and ELAS have their own gung-ho elements who feel that terrorist groups are their sole responsibility and want independence to claim all the glory for their respective agency. The Panagopoulos case, however, has shown us that results are possible only when the two work closely together. In most countries, the two agencies would answer to a single official and have a crystal-clear command structure. However, because in Greece such issues tend to drag on for months, the chances are that we will see little changing in the situation for some time. Therefore, what the government needs to ensure is that there is as little tension as possible between its two officials so that the cooperation between the two agencies can continue to be smooth. There is no room for a clash of egos in these matters and history has already taught us that petty squabbling inevitably leads to major mistakes being made.