I have no idea how I ended up writing about this. I had totally forgotten it happened and I barely remember Kostas Tsalikidis' name. I decided to write about a Watergate-like political scandal in Greece because I bet you that 95% of Greece's population have no idea who Kostas Tsalikidis was. This is not fiction; it's not a season from “Homeland” or any other espionage-theme TV show.
The Greek wiretapping case of 2004-2005, also referred to as Greek Watergate, involved the illegal tapping of more than 100 mobile phones on the Vodafone Greece network belonging mainly to the Greek government's top-ranking civil servants. The wiretapping began sometime around the early days of August 2004 and was terminated in March 2005 without revealing the perpetrators' identities.
The phones tapped included those of the Prime Minister Kostas Karamanlis and members of his family, the Mayor of Athens, Dora Bakoyannis, most phones of the top officers at the Ministry of Defense, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry for Public Order, members of the ruling party, ranking members of the opposition Panhellenic Socialist Movement party (PASOK), the Hellenic Navy General Staff, the previous Minister of Defense and one phone of a locally hired Greek American employee of the American Embassy.
Phones of Athens-based Arab bussinessmen were also tapped.
Foreign and Greek media have raised United States intelligence agencies as the main suspects. AFP reported that one Greek official stated on background that the likely initial penetration occurred during the run-up to the 2004 Athens Olympics, saying: “it is evident that the wiretaps were organized by foreign intelligence agencies, for security reasons related to the 2004 Olympic Games.”
It is also evident that the CIA forgot to remove the wiretapping malware after the end of the 2004 Olympic Games
Long after the end of the Olympic Games, on the 24th of January 2005, a routine update was installed in Vodafone’s software. As a result, hundreds of phone messages could not be delivered, urging Vodafone to investigate the case. The leading software engineer at Vodafone Greece, Costas Tsalikidis, had already noticed some problems, observing that certain antennas seemed to overwork and transferred extra data.
Those antennas were found to be connected to the wiretapping at a later date. Interestingly, Costas Tsalikidis handed his resignation on the 31st of January to his supervisors, who instead persuaded Tsalikidis to stay in the company until a replacement would be found.
On March the 4th, after weeks of investigations, Vodafone was informed that serious malware had been found in its software systems. On the 8th of March, the illegal software had been completely removed by Vodafone and Ericsson technicians.
Therefore, any possibility of tracking down the origins of the perpetrators and fully evaluating the damage was lost.
One day after removing the illegal software, on the 9th of March, Costas Tsalikidis was found dead in his apartment. According to his relatives, his profile didn’t match a person's profile likely to commit suicide. Although his relatives tried to prove that his death was not a suicide, they weren’t able to do so until today while blaming the authorities for “leaving them on their own” to investigate the case.
The response of the Greek government in the Greek Watergate scandal was enigmatic. After the revelation of the scandal by some Ministers of the Greek government in a press conference, government officials admitted that almost a year of investigations gave them no evidence about the perpetrators' identity.
In February 2015, almost ten years after the scandal's revelation, the Greek authorities issued an international arrest warrant for a Greek-American, former CIA official named William George Basil as the human factor behind the wiretaps. The CIA official was accused of espionage, a serious accusation by an ally of the US such as Greece, the importance of which was downplayed by the former.
As far as Vodafone was concerned, the CEO of Vodafone Greece was mainly accused of mishandling the serious incident of eavesdropping. Consequently, Vodafone Greece was fined an initial 76 million euros fine (it was later converted to a 50m fine) by the Hellenic Authority for Communication Security and Privacy (ADAE).
In 2017, the European Court of Human Rights decided that Greek law enforcement had mishandled the investigation regarding Tsalikidis' death with the original forensics report, including several inaccuracies and ambiguities.
In 2018, Kostas Tsalikidis' questionable suicide was deemed murder by the Greek Department of Justice (DOJ). According to the District Attorney’s Office, criminal charges for intentional manslaughter have now been brought against unidentified suspects for intentional manslaughter by District Attorney Sotiria Papageorgakopoulou, as requested by Chief Prosecutor of the Court of Appeals, Grigoris Peponis.
Are you still wondering why Edward Snowden is hiding?