By Apostolis Fotiadis

The acquisition of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), or drones, by the Greek police will top the agenda during Wednesday’s visit to Israel by Public Order Minister Vassilis Kikilias.

According to a report in the Sunday To Vima newspaper, the government is mulling over the details of the ‘Kikilia's plan’ to create a network of drones, without however clarifying the details and how far the plan has developed. The new equipment will be employed to monitor the borders and to keep an eye on targets – either related to terrorism or high-level crime – within the country.

However, the antiquated way which anti-terrorism decrees are interpreted – in Greece and in many other European countries – raises questions as to who and how many targets will be monitored by these aircraft once they are deployed. Almost certainly they will delivered within 2015.   

The purchase of the drones has been dubbed the ‘Kikilia's plan’ because he happens to be the minister now. But the idea for the purchase of drones by the Greek police predates his arrival at the ministry and was hatched many years before at a demonstration of drones organised by Frontex in Aktio on October 17- 21, 2011.

Indeed there was a fuss when it was later revealed in the press that the European organisation had paid for the expenses of the companies that took part in the presentation (Israel Aerospace Industries, Lockheed Martin, FAST Protect AG, L-3 Communications, FLIR Systems, SCOTTY Group Austria, Diamond Airborne Sensing, Inmarsat, Thales, AeroVision, AeroVironment, Altus, BlueBird) to transport and present their equipment to Greek as well as officials of other European police forces, meaning potential buyers.

Frontex had said at the time that the companies had received between  €10,000 to €198,000 to participate in the demonstration. Senior Frontex officials saw no wrongdoing in the promotion of these products since it is covered under the push to promote research and development in the domain of security. The European Commission held a similar position on the matter.  

Two Israeli companies participated at Aktio with their own aircraft. Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) with the Heron model and a partnership between Israeli ‘BlueBird’ and Greek ‘Altus LSA’ presenting  ‘Spylite’.

This appeared to be the first time that Greek authorities expressed interest in the supply of drones, according to Kathimerini newspaper. The paper’s report said the presentation took place in February 2012 (instead of October which is the actual date). This was possibly because IAI delayed to upload the press release referring to its participation at the presentation. The paper said ‘the idea to purchase unmanned aircraft was hatched in the period when ‘The Indignados’ were gathering at Syntagma Square’ – in other words, a few months before the demonstration.  

While in this report by Kathimerini last July, it appeared that the Greek police was interested in IAI’s  Heron model – a large aircraft that takes off and lands on a runway, the  model (not named) reported in To Vima ‘has a length of 1 to 4 metres, a flight radius  ranging from 30 to 300 km, a velocity of more than 40 km/hour and a surveillance capacity of over 1klm’ which can be transported with station bases and special launchers for taking off.

These specifications are very similar (though not identical) to those of Spylite model of Bluebird and with another two mini-UAV Bluebird models.
 The To Vima report also came with a photo of an ‘airborne target’ model that takes off from a launcher – which Altus LSA participates in its production.
The airborne target-several photos of which are posted on the company’s site – is used in tests for terrestrial and airborne anti-aircraft systems but it is not an ‘unmanned aircraft’.

According to EU documents, the ALTUS LSA also appears as a partner of Greek police in a plan to deploy unmanned aircraft. On April 28 and 29 this year, a meeting was held in Athens, during Greece’s presidency, of the European Network of Law Enforcement Technology Services (ENLETS). The minutes at the  meeting stated clearly that “members of ENLETS were presented with the ‘pilot programme of unmanned aircraft for the monitoring of borders’ by the Greek police and Altus-LSA”.

Until now, there has been no official briefing or media reports about the existence of this programme  which has been described as  classified. The purchase of drones from an Israeli company by the Greek government carries with it the risk of acquiring equipment which uses technology that has been tested in repeated operations in Gaza.

The two versions presented to Greek police officials present this risk. It has been proven that an upgraded Heron model, Heron TP which has been designed as a bomber, took part in operations in the region. Similarly, all the mini-UAV of Bluebird are equipped with ‘combat proven’ technology,  according to the company. According to  the researcher David Cronin, this is the term used by companies to indicate that their equipment has been used by the Israeli army in monitoring and bombing operations.

The UN, Amnesty International and a host of other organisations have either accused or warned Israel that operations in Gaza could constitute war crimes. The moral issue does not concern just the Greek government but European authorities as well.

The completion of the project, which will cost dozens of millions of euros, will be co-funded by the new European Security Fund which has earmarked €1.4 bln for similar programmes. The monitoring of the EU’s borders is a strategic target of the Union and it is  being promoted in cooperation with member states.   

Apostolis Fotiadis is a journalist and an independent researcher. His first book on the Militarization of European Immigration policy will be published soon.