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          • Year: 2016
          • Politization is major obstacle to building integrity of Serbia’s security services

          • Belgrade Centre for Security Policy is presenting an interview that BCSP Executive Director Predrag Petrovic had with a Dutch expert Matthéus van den Bersselaar.

        • Matthéus van den Bersselaar is an expert on integrity building in the security and intelligence services at the CEDAR Advisors. He worked for decades in the Dutch security service, and has extensive knowledge on Serbia and Western Balkans region.

          This is the last pieces of this conversation, the previous ones were about Russian influence on Balkan region and cooperation among security services in the EU.


          Is the politicization of the Netherlands’ security service AIVD present in any way and how is it expressed?

          All you are saying now about the politicization sound rather strange to me and probably to any person working in a security service in the EU. If the Prime Minister or members of Parliament would be sitting every two days in the headquarters of the security services, then you should be concerned about the kind of discussions taking place there. A service is for the well-being and protection of the society as a whole, not for rendering services to an individual politician or a (prime) minister.

          In order to have a solid and transparent relationship between the politicians and the services, there is a special system of control and accountability. Through Coordinator and the Council for the Intelligence and Security Services all services are working closely together.

          A government is able to put down in a document the kind of requirements it is asking the intelligence-service to pursuit and these questions are in a common discussion between the services, senior civil servants from relevant ministries and the responsible ministers. Only after mutual agreement is reached this inventory is laid down, mostly for a longer period of time. In that sense this program or inventory survives governments or the replacement of any sudden resignation of a cabinet minister.

          Besides this council, the Parliament has its own control system by way of a committee of the heads of all party-factions, including the ones of the opposition parties. Moreover, there is a neutral body, the so-called Commission for the Survey, Control and Oversight of the Intelligence and Security Services. Appointed by the highest state-body and consented by the highest judicial council.  The members are independent and non-political appointed; they are nobody’s friend or enemy. On any request from individuals and governmental bodies, but also on their own initiative, the Commission undertakes investigations into the lawfulness, the proper and decent working of the services and their unjustified, illegal use of special intelligence means or tools. The Commission in that sense guards the balance between national security and the protection of the privacy of citizens. Any internal commission in the services or an oversight from within the political arena is considered to be a risk for integrity and independency.

          It speaks in this context for itself that the law on the services in the Netherlands is spending ten pages only on describing oversight, control and accountability.


          In Serbia Prime Minister is a secretary of the National Security Council, who is also a chief of  the Bureau for Operational Coordination of Security Service.  Ruling party changed the Law overnight in 2012 in order to enable Prime Minister to take this post. Also, his close friend is Director of the BIA. Is this a healthy relationship between politicians and security-intelligence services?

          In order to prevent any suspicion of political misuse of security services and their officers, politicians of any level should keep a professional distance and take only formal approach. An example of the contrary is given by the Russians, where there is hardly any difference between the political-governmental works and the activities of the services, which have become a weapon to control society where they should act the other way around.

          In order for affairs to be transparent, let the chiefs of various political parties take over the oversight over the services, which should include the opposition parties as well, so that it is made sure that they are working for the whole of the country. Likewise, you should have a committee of esteemed persons that could go anywhere they want, that could talk to any kind of officer, could see any file, any report.

          Politicians, on the central government or locally employed, members of cabinet and their advisors, directors-general should always realize that their behavior, for 24 hours a day, any day of the year, is observed and society as a whole will calculate and adopt any doings it observes from the ones who are leading the country. If a minister appoints a good friend, with ignoring qualifications and rules of integrity, into a position with power, society will act accordingly; any -bad - example comes most of the times from above.

          Integrity of security services


          We have been talking a lot on howsecurity services should look like and what is the relationship between politics and security services. However, what about people who are actually working in security-intelligence services? What can be considered as professional behavior when it comes to security-intelligence officers?

          As a start, there ought to be no such thing like politically motivated appointments or temporary contracts for family, friends etc. Any kind of clientelism is poisoning the general atmosphere and affects the culture within an agency.

          Main objective for services is to appoint the best qualified staff; university degree or specialists in IT or other technical branches alike. Extensive psychological testing and in-depth vetting in one’s past (also of any relationships, family and friends) should at least give some certainty about one’s stability, sense for integrity and trustworthiness. No ties with shady politicians or in criminal circles, no indications of addictions, no extreme political views or hidden secrets, but on the contrary an open-minded, honest, balanced and, in terms of integrity, a whole person.

          If any of the negative elements is present, the basic decision should be not to allow him or her into a position inside the services. In other words, intelligence-officers should be bright, collegial, decent and honest persons, who, at the other end, therefore deserve a good salary and sound career-perspectives.

          With that in mind but also for security-reasons, job-rotation in this field of work is also important - one should not be left at one post for many years. Likewise, heads and substitute-heads of services should not be dismissed upon the formation of a new cabinet and government, but merely because of spending enough years in that position or because of disqualifying behavior.


          What kind of qualifications the security-intelligence officers ought to have? Should they obtain their qualifications at civilian universities? Or at specialized universities centered around the military or the security services?

          Do not forget that besides the academics in operational functions, quite a number of people is employed in supportive functions, without them, an agency could not act. Look at IT (internal communications and hacking), surveillance, monitoring, tapping, installing special devices, relationships with a wide variety of governmental and private organizations for the gathering of basic information on the targets. Not in all cases these staff-members need a university-degree to fulfill their functions adequately.

          In operational jobs however, like agent handlers have, a sound background at academic level, is necessary. The same officers will be able to make high-quality analyses and factual reports that will be used by authorities in government to make a policy upon which they can act and thus, making society more secure or more aware of phenomenons. Sometimes heads of services or subordinate officers seem to forget that at the end you are not doing all the secret information-collecting work for yourself or for the archives of the service. At one point you deliver the findings, in a written report and without revealing sources, to authorities in society to do something with the information. Special services have clients too, and they will rate the professionalism of the service by the quality of these kinds of analyses.

          It is of great importance that intelligence-officers have had their time at a university; academic studies lead to sharp analyzing and deduction between matters of more and less importance. Besides the intellectual abilities, four years among fellow-students with its clubs and debates is a healthy preparation on fulfilling a core job in the agency.

          The practical and professional subjects and issues that go with working in a security or intelligence-service can be learnt at the internal academy, most agencies have. Lectors and teachers are often experienced, senior colleagues, who will provide the fine art of humint-gathering and more.

          Police powers of security-intelligence services


          What is your opinion, should security services have police powers? Should they be involved in criminal investigations or should they leave that completely to the police?

          Police and intelligence services perform quite different functions. Nowadays, with these lone wolves killing innocent people in the name of jihad an IS, it is tempting to have intelligence-officers having police-powers. Still, as most of the agencies in the EU, I am against. Do not forget that FBI, both crime fighter and internal security enforcement, does have police-powers only for a certain segment of the officers.

          In my opinion the risk is too high for abusing powers, overlapping certain legal tasks and the vague lines between secret work and enforcement. Besides this, the chances are too big that lawyers, representing their defendants, will demand all files about the client, and thus, sources, methods of working and the actual level of knowledge of the agency will become public.

          In general, a civil service or agency has better equipped staff in analyzing and intelligence-gathering and the intelligence-officer’s scope on public administration, government-business and politicians as a whole is wider and more in context. Police-officers should catch criminals and make society more secure in terms of maintaining public order as a whole.

          Of course, the cooperation of special services with any police-unit should be narrow when necessary and collisions should be avoided by respecting each other’s domain. Especially now, in fighting terrorism, the cooperation between these two state-entities should be tied and long-lasting. But make sure things go right by making laws and protocols that will structure the cooperation, so nobody can be in the dark about how and when et cetera.

          Intelligence functions should all be concentrated in the security-intelligence services and not be allowed to be transferred to the police. I am not saying that the police should not conduct interception of communication, but that should be limited to investigating criminal offenses.

          At the end of the day, when you have police and security services all together, the borders between areas of responsibility become unclear. We, in the EU, are not in favor of having that mixed function. For me the exchange of information, for example about the entanglement of organized crime into public services and politics, is a good thing to do. The security service can find some leads or stumble into it, the actual investigations should be done by specialized police-units, where possible supported with intelligence from the security-services.


          Here in the Balkans we have a long standing tradition of secret police, which appears as a mix between police officers who carry guns and arrest people and intelligence officers who gather information for the politicians.

          There is no such thing like gathering information for politicians; it gives an image of abuse of power by the politicians and by the police, and a bad image in society for both entities. Everybody in society should know by which laws and tasks police is carrying out its duties, and that all the tasks are endorsed by the political superiors, the parliament. I do understand however the sentiment that stems from the past, when secret police was a repressive instrument of dictators to maintain their position. Nowadays a country that is mature and willing to adopt human rights and people’s representation in a parliament by free elections and to have these democratic values solidly worded in a constitution, endorsed by all, does not want secret police or vague laws for the special services! On the contrary, it is a proof of good governance when state-entities which by their tasks could hurt public privacy and human rights, are well-controlled and corrected when they abuse their powers.


          Ok, thank you, Matthe, I don’t have any more questions. Do you have anything else to add?

          Strive for it that the services - all of them, civilian and military - are regulated by the same law, with some paragraphs aimed at the peculiarities of the civilian and military service. Lawfulness is not only a piece of paper, as it should also be visible in the mentality and culture of the people working in the agencies. Create a mentality and sphere inside that employees can refuse performing certain tasks, ordered by their superiors, if these tasks are specifically leading to an act against the law or harming a person’s or the service’s integrity… without being removed or worse!  


          Recommended readings:

          Bob de Graaff and James M. Nyce (eds.). „Handbook of European Intelligence Cultures“ 

        • Tags: security services, integrity, balkans
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