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          • Year: 2017
          • Intelligence officers should say NO to the illegal demands by politicians

          • Belgrade Centre for Security Policy (BCSP) is presenting the second part of the interview with Ferenc Katrein, former Chief Adviser to the Director General of Constitution Protection Office conducted by BCSP Executive Director Predrag Petrovic.

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          Ferenc Katrein has worked for Hungarian National Security Office (NBH) and then for the Constitution Protection Office (AH) between 2000 and 2013. The highest-ranking position he reached during his professional career was Executive Head of Operations, and later he became Chief Adviser to the Director General. This interview was conducted in prepartaion for a public debate on legislative reform of the security and intelligence system of the Republic of Serbia. First part of the interview can be found HERE.

           

          Two services and a joint monitoring center are the best solutions for Serbia

           

          How would you organize security-intelligence system in Serbia? What is better: to organize security-intelligence according to intelligence/counter-intelligence divide, so to have one counterintelligence and one intelligence service, each of them having military sections: or to organize along military/civilian divide, so to have one military and one civilian services performing all functions (security, counterintelligence and intelligence)?

          This issue should be taken seriously. More security services contribute to de-concentration and balance of security power. After 1990, Hungary had founded five independent security services - two military and three civilian services. The main goal was to deconcentrate the power and to create a more transparent system which could be overseen and controlled by civilians. But this solution has also created inner rivalries, overlaps and problems in coordination among security services.

          Starting point in any discussion about structuring of security-intelligence system should be potential enemies/threats to national and human security, but also the resources that are at the disposal to a given country. Taking this into account, as a very reasonable proposal seems to me that Serbia has two security-intelligence services, organized along military and civilian lines, each performing counter-intelligence and intelligence duties. 

          Having two mixed-type security services would also ease the communication and exchange of information between Serbian services and EU security structures and individual services.

           

          In Serbia, civilian and military security-intelligence services have law enforcement powers. Are those powers necessary for security-intelligence services as they claim, because contemporary threats are linked to organized crime?  Is this a reasonable explanation to you?

          In Hungary, civilian counterintelligence service doesn’t have law enforcement powers.  Security services don’t want very often for their investigations to end up in juristic process, and thus make them open to public. However, a close working link to a criminal police unit is needed, and is present in Hungary. If there is a necessity to process certain cases before court, cooperation with this unit is initiated. Members of this police unit are trained and have security certificates in order to get access to our information and data (intelligence) which could be used as court evidence.

           

          Both Hungary and Croatia have established independent monitoring center (for interception of communications). Is this a good solution for small countries?

          I agree. This is an optimal solution for smaller countries.

           

          Are there any drawbacks to this solution?

          However, make sure to provide this monitoring center with enough resources, so to avoid situation in which monitoring center is not able to satisfy legitimate request by different actors (police, security services) for interception of communication. Sometimes, there is a waiting queue for communication interception implementation so different actors have to use personal connections to speed them up. 

          Also, centralization could kill flexibility and speed in respond to specific needs. For instance, it is complicated to swiftly engage translators for specific languages. This was much easier when this system was decentralized. 

           

          How can Serbia regain the trust of the western security-intelligence services?

          In my opinion, the fact that Serbian and Western security services try to focus at their common interests could be very helpful. It must be step-by-step process, through very concrete cooperation on the issues of organized crime, proliferation, counter-terrorism etc. However, the “green light” always comes from the top government officials.

           

          Almost all post-communist countries had some mentor for reforming their security intelligence system - it was Norway for Bosnia, USA for Albania… What country should be mentoring the reform of Serbian security-intelligence system?

          It is a question of confidence, but, if we put this aside, the British and German security services have the most successful experiences in helping to post-socialist countries in reforming their intelligence apparatus. I’ve experienced that intelligence officers trained by them are very professional and effective. However, it’s up to Serbia to decide if there is a need for engaging certain service with a mentorship role.

           

          We’ve been speaking about specific solutions in reforming security-intelligence system. But in your interview for Index.hu you mentioned the experience of Czech Republic, which actually dissolved security services and created them from scratch, from zero. Would it be a good decision for Serbia to do the same in current context? Why?

          It is a very “hot” question. Initially, I believed that stability and continuity were the top priorities. But looking back to the scandals involving security service that I worked in, maybe it is better to make a fresh start with a new structure and new generation of security professionals. I know it takes time and that first couple of years will be very hard, but it pays off. But time and patience are needed from decision makers, as well as to leave the services to think on long-terms. Sometimes, in certain situations this might look like an utopia.  

           

          Only limited control of the security services is possible

           

          To what extent is possible to control and oversee the work of security-intelligence services?

          Good question, but very difficult to find the right, adequate answer. Secrecy both externally and internally is the most important principle in daily work of any service, which makes almost impossible to fully control security services. Even within the security services, only a very limited number of individuals could review all current investigations and know the real names/personal data of services’ agents and informants. And among these individuals only a few specialist are authorized to review the archive. Even the director general doesn’t have complete information on all issues.

           

          If it is impossible to fully control them, then what are the most important aspects of their work that could be controlled and overseen?

          Regular briefings of the general-director conducted minimum twice a year by the parliamentary committee, where work plans and tasks as well as work results are examined, is a good starting point. Also, regular field visits and checks of the security services done by the committee members could be an useful measures.   

           

          How concrete should be the priorities issued by politicians to security-intelligence? 

          The security services should receive clear yearly priorities by the executive. However, sometimes there are also ad hoc and very concrete information requests. For instance, if there is an unexpected sell of finance assets (shares) belonging to important, large company, decision makers want to know what is going on. But all such requests must be in accordance with a law.

           

          What is for you the politization of security-intelligence services? What are the key indicators of politization that we should look at?

          Professional intelligence officers need to know to say NO to the leadership if they are requesting unlawful and illegitimate activities. However, the greatest responsibility for saying NO to such requests rests on director general. If illegal requests are forwarded deeper into the structure, then it might be too late. Operatives, especially the younger ones, don’t have other option than to follow such orders.

          Often answering NO or YES to such a request could completely change your professional career.

           

          How dangerous is when security-intelligence services go beyond their mandate? For instance, when military counter-intelligence is providing security/counterintelligence protection for prime minister and collect information on/from civilians. 

          When security service goes beyond its mandate, it immediately creates ground for overlaps and even confrontations with another partner services. The rivalry and turf wars are perfect opportunity for non-friendly security services in achieving their goals. 

           

          How to avoid the situation when services are rogue element of the security sector?

          By controlling the outsourcing of intelligence. Today security services rely often on private sector, by outsourcing certain activities in order to compensate for the lack of certain capacity or capability. These activities are needed, but they usually go without any control.

           

          When it comes to (illegal) spying, almost all attention goes to state security-intelligence services. What about private security companies which often have links with political parties and crime groups? How serious is this problem and how to address it?

          This is a problem, but counter-intelligence service, with it’s constantly limited resources, should be more focused on other, more serious players. The one that use very long-term thinking and sophisticated methods of covert activities and influence. In order to discover and to handle them, very hard and very precise counter-intelligence activities are needed. Usually, “victims” of such activities could be found in decision making circles and especially among informal leaders of political life.

           

          How deep should be the oversight of the public? What should public pay attention to the most when it comes to oversight of security-intelligence?

          Security-intelligence services don’t like public attention very much because they achieve best results behind the curtain. However, security services in the contemporary world need to have a good public image in order to provide trust and good cooperation with citizens. Good relations with journalist and the media is an integral part of it. Director General and his cabinet staff are the most responsible for achieving and maintaining a good image of the service.

           

          Read on how it looks like when head of security service can’t say NO to high-level politics and allows for complex and long counter-intelligence operation to be destroyed overnight:

           

          Szabolcs Panyi, The Great Escape of ‘KGBéla’, Hungarian MEP Accused of Spying for Russia, VSquare, 4.10.2017. 

           

          Ferenc Katrein was one of the participants at the BCSP's public debate  supported by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands through the project "LEGASI - Towards Legislative Reform of the Security and Intelligence System", within the MATRA program. 

        • Tags: security services, state security service, intelligence services, military intelligence agency, special measures, interview, Predrag Petrović
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