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US wiretap of Greece may have led to death of Vodafone technician who discovered it

Posted by Charles II on October 3, 2015

James Bamford, The Intercept (excerpts, not necessarily in order):

According to previously undisclosed documents from the Snowden archive, NSA has a long history of tapping into Olympic Games, both overseas and within the U.S.

The key to the operation was hijacking a particular piece of software, the “lawful intercept” program. Installed in most modern telecom systems, it gave a telecom company the technical capability to respond to a legal warrant from the local government to monitor a suspect’s communications. Vodafone’s central switching equipment was made by Ericsson, the large Swedish company, and on January 31, 2002, Ericsson delivered to Vodafone an upgrade containing the lawful intercept program, a piece of software known as the Remote Control Equipment Subsystem (RES).

On March 4, after weeks of investigation, Ericsson notified Vodafone that it had discovered a sophisticated piece of malware, containing a hefty 6,500 lines of code — evidence of a large bugging operation. The company also turned up the target phone numbers of the prime minister and his wife, the mayor of Athens, members of the Ministerial Cabinet, and scores of high officials, as well as the numbers for the shadow phones and the metadata describing when the calls were made.

In his testimony, Ericsson’s managing director for Greece, Bill Zikou, laid out the “how,” describing the method by which the bugging was accomplished. “What happened in this incident,” he said, “is that a complex, sophisticated, non-Ericsson intruder piece of software was planted into the Vodafone Greece network,” which by activating the RES function “thus made illegal interceptions possible.”

Sitting in his apartment overlooking Athens’ Plaka, John Brady Kiesling could make little sense of it all. “I don’t see a shred of evidence that this wiretapping did the U.S. government any good,” he said. “I think it’s just important to underscore that intelligence gathering is never free. It always comes at a human and political cost to someone. In this case it was paid by an innocent Vodafone technician [Costas Tsalikidis, who apparently uncovered the mass wiretap].”

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