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Greek mobile wiretap scandal unpicked

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More details have emerged on how Vodafone's Greek network was bugged three years ago to spy on top government officials.

To recap one of the most extraordinary wiretapping scandals of the post-Cold War era: eavesdroppers tapped the mobile phones of Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, cabinet ministers and security officials for about nine months between June 2004-Mar 2005 around the time of the Athens Olympics.

The mobile phones of about 100 people, whose ranks include journalists and Arabs living in Greece, as well as the country's political and security elite and a US embassy worker, were monitored after snooping software was illegally installed on the systems of Vodafone Greece.

The spyware diverted phone conversations from Vodafone subscribers to 14 'shadow' pay-as-you-go mobile phones, allowing calls to be monitored and - probably - recorded.

The Greek government reportedly first learned of the spying in March 2005, following a tip-off from Vodafone Greece after the cellco traced problems receiving text messages in January 2005 to eavesdropping software. But for this bug, introduced after the eavesdropping software was modified, the snooping might have gone on for years undetected.

The case is being investigated by the Greek government, which is expected to point the finger at likely culpits. A report is due shortly, according to the New York Times.

Part of the government's investigation will re-examine the supposed suicide of Kostas Tsalikidis, 39, Vodafone Greece’s head of network design. He was found hanged in his Athens flat on March 9 2005, days after Vodafone Greece confirmed its network was bugged.

No arrests have been made in the case and speculation on who was responsible has focused, perhaps inevitably, on foreign intelligence agencies, mostly notably the NSA, the US's signals intelligence agency.

How-dunnit

The July issue of IEEE Spectrum, the normally dry journal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, carries an article based on testimony in from parliamentary committee hearings about on the scandal and freedom of information requests. The piece, by computer scientists Vassillis Prevelakis and Diomidis Spinellis, is called The Athens Affair and makes for a very interesting read.

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