Big Brother is Listening: Leaked State Security files show total surveillance

27 September, 2021

Turns out that the State Security Service of Georgia (SSSG) listens to everyone - representatives of the government and the opposition, clergy, members of the diplomatic corps, and even ordinary people of interest.

Over 25 gigabytes of files and 3000 pages of chat log leaked on September 12 reveal that it is very easy to tap a phone. Simple order in the chat - “listen” is enough. Over 30 of such orders can be easily found in the chat log, available at dreamleaks.net - a domain blocked now in Georgia, but accessible from every other place of the world.

"We listen to everyone, we collect information about you, we collect compromising information, we seed rumours about you, we discredit you - we rule you through evil!” – wrote the alleged whistleblower, former state security service agent, who is reported to have committed suicide in July.

Leaked files are from the special “3rd unit”, within the State Security Service, which appears to focus on the Georgian Orthodox Church (GOC). Agents record priests, bishops, archbishops, theologians, businessmen, journalists, NGO representatives, political leaders and then report their findings to their boss in the chat (probably Whatsapp, or Signal). Boss, it appears then reports to his superiors in a different chat. It seems that other parallel units operate in a similar manner since often the unit head is pressing his agents to report quicker, so as not to be beaten by other “competing” units. One can also find heartwarming instances of inter-unit cooperation when a wiretapping report is kindly shared with the 3rd unit from a neighbouring unit that listens to the businessmen.

The existence of similar units, covering political party leaders, businessmen, journalists, NGOs, and even diplomats was confirmed by an unidentified source to TV Mtavari on September 19. The source said that SSSG collects and systematizes compromising materials in order to maintain Mr Ivanishvili - informer ruler of Georgia - and his Georgian Dream (GD) party in power.

Most of the leaked records are related to the clergy and the patriarchate. Records mainly include the details of the personal lives of the clergy. Priests with "non-traditional sexual orientation" and committing "adultery" are profiled in detail. Personal files exist on almost every member of the Synod (an institution that rules the Patriarchate). Cases of pedophilia and incest are often reported on, however, it remains unclear whether the cases involving underage individuals have been followed up by law enforcement agencies.

Leaked files show that SSSG has been gathering information from the EU, the US and other embassies. Intelligence briefs contain summaries of the discussions between the embassy staff members and the ambassadors, including EU Ambassador Carl Hartzell and Israeli Ambassador Ran Gidor. The leaked files include the details of the conversation between American diplomats, over whether to include the Patriarchate’s representative in the US Independence Day’s congratulatory video. Files also contain a conversation between the US Ambassador’s assistant and the Georgian MFA official over a meeting with the GOC clergy on October 9, 2020. SSSG has also filed details of the demarche from the Israeli Ambassador to the representatives of the Patriarchate regarding the anti-Semitic statements of the GOC high hierarchs.

Commenting on the leaked files, the GD chairman Irakli Kobakhidze stated that the diplomats in Georgia are not being wiretapped and that materials are not authentic, however, another key GD member, Tbilisi mayor Kakha Kaladze insisted that even foreign diplomats should be listened to, “when needed.” Prime Minister Irakli Gharibashvili asserted that the SSSG was implementing its duty to protect the Patriarch. Prosecutor’s office has launched an official investigation, however, because of many previous instances of launched investigations without follow-ups, public trust in such investigations is quite low.

The authenticity of the transcripts was however not disputed by those, whose conversations appeared in the leaks. A number of journalists, NGO leaders, and politicians, whose phone talks were filed confirm that such conversations indeed took place.

The EU and US already reacted to the SSSG scandal. Georgia’s Permanent Representative to the EU was summoned to the EU institutions to provide explanations. Peter Stano, the Lead Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union, told The Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty that this was “a very serious matter since it has implications in the framework of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations”. EU Ambassador Carl Hartzell stated that the EU “would not see it as natural that a close friend and partner like Georgia would be engaged in an activity like that against us”.

Leaked files were also decried by the NGOs, who blamed the Government for not doing anything to investigate previous allegations of illegal wiretapping. “Such a Government does not deserve the trust of the people” - stated Tolerance and Diversity Institute (TDI). Whether TDI’s prediction will materialize in election outcomes, though, will be seen on October 2.