THE FIRST charges have been made in the investigation of an illegal wiretapping by the Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS). The SIS must now defend itself on numerous fronts, as critics call for a major reform in the service.
Military prosecutors recently charged three SIS officers, one of whom is the former and another the current head of the wiretapping section, in relation to an illegal wiretapping scandal dating back to early 2003. At that time, a tape with a recorded interview between head of the ruling New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) Pavol Rusko and a journalist with one of the country's biggest dailies, SME, was made public.
A few months later, the investigators revealed that the paper, rather than Rusko, as originally believed, was under surveillance. They also said that more people could be charged as the investigation continued.
Meanwhile, the current head of the SIS, Ladislav Pittner, who himself is under pressure from critics who suggest that he should resign from his post, divested his predecessor, Vladimír Mitro, of a vow of secrecy, to enable prosecutors to continue the investigation.
Despite the existing findings, Mitro said that he was not aware that illegal wiretapping took place at the SIS while he led the service from 1998 to March 2003, but he said he would answer the investigators' questions to help shed more light on the case.
Amid the ongoing investigation, however, the SIS must also respond to growing criticism by leading politicians, such as parliamentary deputy speaker and head of the ruling Hungarian Coalition Party (SMK) Béla Bugár, who have insisted that SIS must undergo an in-depth reform to make sure that illegal wiretapping does not continue.
President Rudolf Schuster's spokesperson Ján Füle recently said that the president was concerned about the situation in the SIS, and that the service had failed to "diffuse the president's concern that illegal wiretapping is possible in Slovakia and that information on people is gathered in such a way."
While PM Mikuláš Dzurinda backed Pittner, and Interior Minister Vladimír Palko stated that he did not have signals that illegal wiretapping continued to happen at the SIS, other politicians suggested that the cases that surfaced to the public were only a fraction of the problems in the SIS.
Head of the opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) Vladimír Mečiar said in a TV discussion show recently that what was publicly known of illegal wiretapping by the SIS was "just the tip of the pin".
No other officials backed up this statement, however. The SIS has a turbulent history from the time Mečiar was the country's PM, between 1994 and 1998. To this day, suspicion that the SIS abducted then president Michal Kováč's son in 1995 has not been cleared, mainly because Mečiar issued amnesties to the suspects in the case.
But not just the opposition is critical of the situation at the SIS.
SMK's Bugár has called for reforms in the services and his party has even drafted a law that would take wiretapping equipment away from the SIS and ban the service's access to it altogether.
Instead, Bugár said a new office should be created to carry out legal wiretapping, and strict control mechanisms should be put in place to oversee the agency.
ANO MP Jirko Malchárek said that his party would support such a bill, and Mečiar did not rule out the possibility that his party would back the potential law as well.
SIS spokesperson Vladimír Šimko said to The Slovak Spectator on November 10 that a possible new wiretapping office was a matter of political decision, and that the SIS would respect the results of a parliamentary vote, but "from a technical point of view", Šimko did not favour such a move.
The creation of a separate wiretapping authority "would not solve the problem", Šimko said.
"Whatever the institutional form of the wiretapping would be, it would always come down to people who are always susceptible to defective behaviour. If the new office failed in turn, would another office be founded?"
Responding to calls for a reform in the SIS, the spokesperson insisted that transformation of the service was taking place.
He said that Mitro had started a reform in the SIS and that Pittner had continued taking the steps necessary to clear the service of former communist secret service (ŠtB) members, about 12 percent of its employees.
"In 1998, Mitro started the reform when big personnel and organizational changes started to take place at the SIS.
Pittner is continuing in these steps and it is also little known that some time ago SIS had already fulfilled all requirements that are part of [the country's national program ahead of NATO entry] PRENAME," Šimko said.
At the same time, a large-scale recruitment of new officers is taking place in the SIS, and Šimko said that, by the end of 2003, there would be no former ŠtB people working at the service.
He said the SIS has received about 2,600 job applications.
"It's not easy to recruit quality staff. Also it is important to say that training good intelligence officers takes eight years," he said.
PM Mikuláš Dzurinda repeatedly backed Pittner, diffusing any doubts that the official could be recalled. "Just as Mr Pittner is clearing the SIS off ŠtB men, he will also deal with those who committed illegal wiretapping," the PM said.
18. Nov 2003 at 0:00 | Martina Pisárová