Wiretapping of journalists’ telephone calls by the Defence Ministry’s counterintelligence arm cost the defence minister, Ľubomír Galko, his job in late November. However, as the wiretapping scandal, which involved the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), unfolded the public learned that one of the journalists monitored on Galko’s watch was also wiretapped when the ministry was controlled by a nominee of the Smer party back in 2007.
The Pravda and Nový Čas dailies reported on November 21 that three reporters from Pravda’s domestic politics department – head Patrícia Poprocká and reporters Peter Kováč and Vanda Vavrová – as well as the head of TV news channel TA3, Michal Gučík, had been wiretapped by the VOS. It has also emerged that the VOS operation involved wiretapping of two senior Defence Ministry employees, according to leaked documents obtained by Slovak media outlets.
Prime Minister Iveta Radičová, who after dismissing Galko is now serving as interim defence minister until the general election in March, also sacked Pavol Brychta as head of the VOS and named Róbert Tibenský as his replacement.
It was Brychta who signed the request to apply what are known as information technical devices to bug journalists. The wiretapping – officially referred to as “monitoring the contact base” of the journalists – was approved by a judge.
Galko, who continues to enjoy the support of Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party – even making it to the fourth spot on the party’s candidate list for the March election – argued that the wiretaps were performed legally and were intended to uncover criminal activity. SaS has alleged that Galko’s sacking was actually a political attack on the party.
In early December the parliamentary defence and security committee said it suspected that the VOS had made fraudulent applications to judges to approve wiretaps. Radičová, commenting on the results of the committee’s findings, suggested that most of the VOS’ actions did not relate to its primary functions under the law but rather to probes into its own personnel and leaks from within, adding that the internal control system had been altered so that wide-ranging leaks of information had become possible.