THE NAME of Ján Valko has been circulating in the political airstream ever since Robert Fico started considering nominees for government posts. At first the former head of the state-owned Nuclear and Decommissioning Company (JAVYS) was mentioned in the media as a candidate for economy minister but the post eventually went to Tomáš Malatinský from one of Slovakia’s employers’ associations. Now it is widely expected that Valko will be nominated to lead the country’s main spy agency, the Slovak Information Service (SIS). Prime Minister Fico announced on April 16 that he had requested the SIS to conduct a security screening of a potential candidate, without specifying anyone’s name. Fico said he would release his nominee’s name by May 2.
“Talking about Mr Valko, he is a person who first of all I trust, which is very important from the point of view of the intelligence service,” Fico stated after visiting SIS headquarters on April 16, as quoted by the SITA newswire.
At the same time, Fico’s nominee for another important but tricky post is becoming clearer. It is likely that a previous head of the SIS, Jozef Magala, will take charge of Slovakia’s National Security Office (NBÚ), the country’s authority for vetting nominees to high political posts and issuing security clearances. Magala would replace František Blanárik, a nominee from the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) party, who in 2008 was reported to have been an agent in the communist-era counter-intelligence service. The previous coalition government repeatedly failed to find a replacement candidate who was acceptable to all its four parties.
“Mr Magala is an extraordinarily experienced man and after four years within the SIS I think he would be a suitable candidate to head the NBÚ; but this will require certain procedures,” Fico stated, as quoted by SITA, adding that he must first talk further with Blanárik.
The NBÚ is an important part of Slovakia’s power structure because it has the authority to issue security clearances for high government positions.
Anyone who has been linked to the SIS’ past operations or who has had employment with the intelligence service are under intense media scrutiny after publication of the so-called Gorilla file, an unverified document reportedly assembled by the SIS that describes high-level political corruption in 2005-6. The transcripts are reportedly based on electronic surveillance of a flat on Vazovova Street in Bratislava but the Sme daily wrote that while Magala was head of the SIS the agency ceased surveillance of the flat. Sme also wrote that Magala laid off an SIS agent who had spoken about the surveillance operation.
In speaking about Magala’s term leading the SIS between 2006 and 2010, Fico said the intelligence service had autonomy, “lived in peace” and focused on its tasks defined by law.
If nominated, Valko will replace Karol Mitrík, a former MP and mayor of Spišská Nová Ves who was nominated by former prime minister Iveta Radičová. The 63-year-old Mitrík was a founding member of the Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party.
Radičová refused to appoint Valko to the top post at the Public Procurement Office (ÚVO) in June last year, citing her objections to a public procurement for a JAVYS building and car rental contracts that she found to be questionable. In late March this year, the Economy Ministry, then led by Juraj Miškov from Freedom and Solidarity (SaS) party, reported that JAVYS had not violated any law or standard procedure while led by Valko, Sme wrote.
New military spy heads
Defence Minister Martin Glváč has appointed Ľubomír Skuhra the new director of Slovakia’s military counter-intelligence agency, the Military Defence Intelligence (VOS), as well as Robert Tibenský to lead the Military Intelligence Service (VSS), the TASR newswire reported.
Skuhra previously worked in Slovakia’s intelligence services and held the post of VOS director between 2006 and 2010, during the first Fico government.
“The iron door between the ministry and VOS has been re-opened,” said Glváč, as quoted by TASR. “Mr Skuhra has my trust and along with VSS director Robert Tibenský they will be key persons in carrying out a merger of the institutions.”
The defence minister added that Tibenský and Skuhra will be tasked with drafting legislation to merge VOS and VSS.
Last year the VOS was accused of wiretapping journalists’ telephone calls, a revelation that led to the dismissal of the defence minister, Ľubomír Galko, an SaS nominee. In December last year, parliament’s defence and security committee stated that it suspected that the counter-intelligence unit had made fraudulent applications to judges to approve the wiretaps. At the time Prime Minister Radičová stated that many of VOS’ actions did not relate to its primary functions under the law but rather to probes of its own personnel regarding leaks of information.