UNDER FIRE: Secret service boss Vladimír Mitro denies that the SIS uses "communist methods".
In an article called "NATO's Allies in Slovakia", published by Jane's December 20, the SIS was described as "active in all of its former dirty tricks, with the exception, so far, of organising politically motivated assassinations".
Previously led by Ivan Lexa, a member of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), the SIS was suspected of involvement in the 1995 kidnapping of the former president's son, Michal Kováč, Jr. Lexa is currently facing charges of ordering the murder of Róbert Remiáš, a go-between to a crown witness in the kidnapping case.
While Mitro avoided talking to journalists after the January 21 meeting of the parliamentary SIS oversight committee, when he was put in the hot seat by lawmakers, the head of the committee, Viliam Soboňa, said MPs had been convinced by Mitro's arguments.
"[MPs] think this [article] might be an attempt to damage the national interests of Slovakia. According to one opinion [in the committee], it could also be part of a power struggle among some groups. But there is no proof for these opinions, they are just allegations," Soboňa said.
Shortly after the local daily SME reported the content of the Jane's article, which described Mitro as a "product of the former communist regime", the head of the SIS denied all the allegations in the piece, dismissing them as "absolute rubbish".
Mitro later told reporters that the story could have been intended to push him out of office, as the country takes steps towards Western integration.
"It's four months since the national elections and the state administration has been replaced [with new people], but the SIS has remained unchanged in essence," Mitro said.
Alex Standish, the magazine's editor-in-chief, however, denied that his publication had any interest in a domestic fight for influential posts, and stood firmly behind the article.
"We stand by the story absolutely," Standish told The Slovak Spectator January 20.
"Our main concern is whether it is appropriate for persons who have built their careers in the 1970s, [during] a period of communist normalisation following the 1968 Prague spring, to remain in positions of power when Slovakia joins NATO and the EU," Standish said.
Slovakia was invited to become a member of both organisations at the end of last year. As a future NATO member, Slovakia is obliged to carry out intensive reliability checks on all officials who in the future will be allowed to access NATO classified information.
Mitro served as SIS chief from January 1993 to April 1995, during the administration of authoritarian three-time prime minister Vladimír Mečiar. He was replaced by Lexa, then re-assumed his post in 1998, when a pro-reform cabinet led by Mikuláš Dzurinda took power.
Because of his career with the police during the 1970s and his role as Mečiar's SIS boss when the secret service was created after the split of Czechoslovakia in 1993, some Western observers have questioned whether Mitro has the right background to be the leader of local intelligence.
According to Standish, Mitro's professional life has been influenced by practices used by former Warsaw Pact intelligence forces. Therefore it would be understandable if NATO members had doubts about the loyalty of their new partners, he believes.
"If there are such doubts, the NATO leadership will simply not disclose that information, and Slovakia will inevitably become a less effective NATO member because of the limited information sharing," Standish said.
The article published in Jane's stated: "In view of the close ties between Moscow and some officers within the Slovak Intelligence Service, much remains to be done before Slovakia can be considered ready to be a fully trustworthy member of NATO."
Standish added that such a problem was not exclusive to Slovakia, but also needed to be addressed in other post-communist states that have been invited to join NATO.
Ivo Samson, an analyst from the Slovak Foreign Policy Association (SFPA), agreed that during the Mečiar era the SIS was suspected of being involved in doubtful operations, including the illegal shipping of arms to embargoed countries and wire tapping of political opponents and journalists.
"After all, it was the SIS itself [under Mitro's leadership] that pointed out the shortcomings of the Slovak arms trade in the past," Samson said.
But the analyst believes that since 1998 Slovakia has managed to prove to its Western partners that it is becoming a fully democratic country.
"If there was no trust in Slovakia, it is questionable whether NATO would invite Slovakia to join," Samson said.
Deputy Defence Minister Rastislav Káčer agreed with that opinion, and said that although he saw "Jane's as a respected and prestigious periodical," he was "surprised by the story's harsh tone."
"Slovakia is not unknown to NATO and is definitely not without its shortcomings. But the fact that the country received an invitation to NATO is a sign of trust and shows that NATO believes we are capable of addressing those matters that need to be addressed," Káčer said.
27. Jan 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová