EUROPEOPINION

Albanian government is spying on NATO member countries

By Peter Tase

Wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping directed by Albanian Ministry of Interior are two effective practices of electronic surveillance, that are frequently discussed on every Albanian TV Show today.

To clarify: 1. Wiretapping involves the use of covert means in order to intercept, monitor and record telephone conversation of individuals; 2. Electronic eavesdropping may involve the placement of a “bug” inside a private property so that involved parties can secretly record conversations.

Both wiretapping and electronic eavesdropping have enabled Albanian government to monitor and record conversations and activities without revealing the presence of listening devices that are hosted by the government.

According to Mr. Cako, National Police Chief in Albania, law enforcement officials have utilized these surreptitious techniques for various investigative purposes, particularly in the investigation of organized crime and the war against drug trafficking. However, according to reliable foreign intelligence agencies, Albanian government has intentionally failed to acknowledge that its Ministry of Interior in close cooperation with the office of Foreign Minister Ditmir Bushati has bugged and constantly listens to many phone conversations and emails that have originated from a number of embassies, in Tirana, that represent governments of NATO members.

While electronic surveillance undoubtedly enhances the government’s ability to investigate organized crime, however the inherent nature of these techniques is a potential invasion of an individual’s privacy.  Indeed, as scholars of these matters have noted, “electronic surveillance has long posed a classic confrontation between privacy interests and the need for effective law enforcement” (Goldsmith).

Wiretapping obviously invades the privacy of individuals who speak on the phone. Eavesdropping allows the government to overhear and record all conversations occurring within the range of the bug.  Consequently clandestine electronic surveillance has the potential to eliminate personal privacy if left to the unfettered discretion of police officials.

Because of this threat, wiretapping and eavesdropping have been subject to major investigations against Albanian State Police led by the Attorney General’s or Prosecutor’s Office.  This time, something went wrong when the Prosecutor office had not taken seriously the suspicions raised by Albanian Intelligence Agency.

It all started on October 2015, when President Nishani declared in public television that Albanian Executive Branch had been spying on him and his family.  In November 2015, he found a “bug” in his office and officially requested an investigation to be led by the prosecutor general’s office.

Later on, as the surveillance scandal was widening in scope and matter, the prosecutor general’s office announced that the Chief of Albanian National Police Mr. Haki Cako, was suspended from his duties as he was being investigated for illegally using wiretapping equipment.

The Prosecutor General’s office issued a press release where Mr. Cako was seriously suspected of abusing with power and the court had additionally decided to hold under house arrest two other senior officials until this investigation is over.

Albanian Prosecutors have started to investigate after learning that police agents have been using wiretapping equipment against diplomats and the Presidential Family, while using equipment that had entered to Tirana “without any proper authorization”. They are also checking whether other senior officials are involved.

On March 11, 2016 at the port of Durres, Albania was intercepted an Italian car with diplomatic license plates, inside the vehicle was hidden a black suitcase whose contents sparked an internal political crisis, while also the Italian Government is playing a key role. Indeed it was a device to monitor phone conversations; it is called the IMSI Catcher.

Mr. Adriatik Llalla, Albanian Attorney General announced that: “this device was illegally introduced to Albania”, it had taken three months of investigations in order to find the origins and content of the illegal black suitcase that had appeared in the Port of Durres.  Such equipment had never received any proper authorization from the Attorney General’s Office as it is regulated by National Albanian law.  The alert signal was given by Albanian Intelligence Service (SHISH – its acronyms in Albanian Language).

On March 17th after dismissing the chief of Italian Police presence at the Italian Embassy in Tirana, Alessandro Pansa sent a clarification letter to the prosecutor’s office.

His message was forwarded by Ambassador Alberto Cutillo, Italian Ambassador in Tirana who stated that at the moment the IMIS Catcher is in the possession of the Italian Embassy so there is no need to worry! As a matter of fact, these statements produced more confusion, raised the bar of suspicion more than anything else.  Albanian citizens continue to raise eyebrows and are asking questions whether the brutal spying mechanisms inherited by Albanian Totalitarian Regime – 26 years ago – are coming back in the land of Eagles.

According to the former chief of Italian police, the tools of interception were produced by Vortex Aircube, an Israeli-made device that in Europe is imported from Ercom, a french Company and distributed in Italy from a company called ITALARMS.

Pansa adds in his letter that this device was destined to be used for the “training on the job” of local police forces.

“This training structure (IMSI Catcher) is programmed in such a manner as to be able to carry out interception activities, voice traffic, and “The box of interception would always be in the hands of Italian personnel.” It always remained in the possession of Italian operators and secured at the Italian Police Liaison Office in Tirana when not in use.

Based on this matter at the helm of this international scandal is the number one of Albanian National Police Mr. Haki Cako who deliberately avoided the inspection and seizure of the illegal black suitcase with only one excuse: “Any items that leave out of an embassy or destined to a diplomatic post have a diplomatic community and cannot be inspected. The million dollar question is whether Mr. Cako acted alone or he had previously received the blessing of Minister Tahiri, before taking such a decision.

Mr. Pansa states that “the task of the operations continues, they have materialized in training and assistance aimed at the use of instruments destined to locate and monitor mobile devices.”

But if the use of such equipment was for training, why then the local authorities and the prosecutor’s office have not been notified ahead of time in regards to the arrival of IMSI Catcher?!

The international intrigue continues to be discussed at the Albanian parliament. The outspoken former Prime Minister Sali Berisha published the following statement on  his personal page including a list of 375 names of public figures that have been intercepted, including the Speaker of Parliament; head of Democratic Party MrLulzim Basha, important business people and several others who are Mr. Edi Rama’s political adversaries.  There allegations where ambiguously rejected by Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri.

Based on the current investigation results, at fault is also the Inter Force mission, a joint task force of Italian and Albanian police Forces that were supposedly in charge of the training with IMSI Catcher.  Within this matter, a trustworthy discussion involves in this scandal the wife of the head of police mission Mr. Michael Grillo, who was allegedly involved on the sale of the aforementioned black suitcase.  The alarming surveillance scandal of Albania was organized discretely by Albanian Interior Minister under the close guidance of Prime Minister Edi Rama; meanwhile Mr. Grillo’s wife was a senior director of ITALARM Company! In 2015 she came to Tirana more than 5 times, at this time she had closed in her secret deal with Minister of Interior Saimir Tahiri, while ensuring for her company to be the winner of the procurement bid run by Ministry of Interior with the objective to install cameras in the city of Tirana, monitored by the national police.

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Peter Tase

Peter Tase is a contributor, freelance journalist and a research scholar of International Affairs, Paraguayan Studies, Middle East Studies and Latin American Affairs, located in the United States. Educated at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee and Marquette University Les Aspin Center for Government; Tase is the author of “Simultaneous Dictionary in Five Languages: Guarani, English, Italian, Albanian and Spanish” and “El Dr. FEDERICO FRANCO y Su Mandato Presidencial en la Historia del Paraguay.” He’s a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy News. His personal website is www.petertase.com

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