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Dispelling the myths about Slovak spies

THE ASSOCIATION of Former Slovak Intelligence Officers (ABSD), a non-governmental organisation formed in April 2006, is trying to answer some questions. Questions like, are Slovakia’s secret services being misused for the political goals of government parties? Have they been transformed into democratic intelligence services? What are they doing and what are they here for?

THE ASSOCIATION of Former Slovak Intelligence Officers (ABSD), a non-governmental organisation formed in April 2006, is trying to answer some questions. Questions like, are Slovakia’s secret services being misused for the political goals of government parties? Have they been transformed into democratic intelligence services? What are they doing and what are they here for?

The group said it’s mission is to counter the traditional negative stereotype of intelligence services and to give the public at large a chance to learn more about the background of the intelligence community.

According to the group’s founder, Igor Cibula, the head of Foreign Intelligence for the Slovak Information Service (SIS) from 1993 to 1995, the main goal of the association is education and information.

Cibula thinks the public has a distorted idea of what information services are about. Citizens of Slovakia, and those in other post-communist countries, formed their opinions about secret services based on infamous totalitarian intelligence services. In Slovakia, it was the communist secret service (ŠtB).

“Therefore, the intelligence service is a synonym of ‘evil’ for common people,” Cibula told The Slovak Spectator.

The image problem was made worse in Slovakia because when the intelligence service was led by Ivan Lexa, from 1994 to 1998, it violated the laws, too, Cibula said.

He singled out the kidnapping of Michal Kováč Jr., the president’s son, in August 1995 as a serious problem. The Higher Regional Court in Vienna ruled that the abduction was carried out with the involvement of the Slovak Information Service.

In December, the ABSD and the Bratislava School of Law organised an international symposium called Changes in the Intelligence Services. Its participants included the former top officer of the Czech counter-intelligence, Petr Zeman; the former head of counter-intelligence for the SIS, Juraj Kohutiar; and a former officer from the Hungarian intelligence service, Kálmán Kocsis.

“Intelligence services . . . must have, and do have, a certain autonomy when fulfilling their tasks,” Kocsis told the symposium in Bratislava. “Sensitive questions are often decided during the investigation, on the spot. And not every intelligence official is an angel. But let’s be honest: angels are not the best category for this profession.”

Schengen not a big deal for secret service: Cibula

The Slovak Spectator (TSS): According to the news that is spreading, you trade in information.

Igor Cibula (IC): I would not like to comment on that until the trial is concluded. I would not like to sound as if I engaged in a campaign.

TSS: Do former officials trade in information? Do they sell information they gathered in the secret service after they leave it?

IC: If I knew specific details about that, I would file a criminal complaint.

TSS: But you admit that theoretically, it is possible.

IC: Theoretically, it is possible. I would not rule it out. But these things are of such a nature that you do not find out about them, or rather they are hard to prove legally. There may be some presumptions in this matter.

TSS: What will be – in your opinion – the traps luring our secret service now that Slovakia has joined the Schengen zone? Will there be any changes? Or will the secret service remain the same?

IC: Entering the Schengen zone mainly raises the demands on the police corps.

TSS: So you mean that Schengen entry will not affect the secret service too much?

IC:Maybe to the extent of – let’s say – monitoring the activities of potential members of terrorist groups. But I stress that this is an issue for the police instead.

TSS: Do you see any threats to the security of Slovakia?

IC: Mainly matters connected with international terrorism. This risk is not so important from the point of view of our interests, but it concerns our European allies. Slovakia is a territory where some of these groups come to relax, to gather strength, to get their documents and materials, etc.

TSS: Do you see any other risks?

IC: There are some security risks that have a domestic nature – these are potential ethnic tensions provoked by extremist politicians. Luckily, the vast majority of our citizens do not react to such provocations. But provocations like these could grow so much that they could spark social-political shifts with unpredictable consequences.

TSS: And what about Russia? Could the fact that we have been divided by the Schengen area represent a security threat for us?

IC: I do not think that Russia is a security risk to us. Russia is a superpower that strives for influence. In this regard, it is understandable that the intelligence service must monitor the Russian interests in Slovakia’s territory, but the extent of this influence is limited by our relationships with the allies we have in the EU and NATO. There is a distinct increase in power claims from Russia in global politics, but this only concerns Slovakia indirectly.

Cibula started working for the secret service of the socialist Czechoslovakia in 1968 and two years later, he was dismissed during “normalisation”, the period when the reform movement was stopped following the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia. Between 1970 and 1989, he was active in the Slovak dissent movement and after the communist regime fell in 1989, Cibula rejoined the federal secret service. After 1993, Cibula was involved in founding the Slovak Information Service (SIS), and he became the first head of its Foreign Intelligence division. He resigned in 1995. He is now a businessman.

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