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EDITORIAL

A fishy smell from the VSS

WIRETAPPING of journalists by the military counter-intelligence agency, leaked secret documents hinting at large-scale embezzlement of public funds by officials in a counterpart intelligence agency, shredding files linked to suspicions of criminal activities, claims and counterclaims traded by the current and former minister of defence, a bullied girlfriend and intimidated journalists: these aren’t the plot points in a spy novel but bits of media reports on Slovakia’s military intelligence managers.

WIRETAPPING of journalists by the military counter-intelligence agency, leaked secret documents hinting at large-scale embezzlement of public funds by officials in a counterpart intelligence agency, shredding files linked to suspicions of criminal activities, claims and counterclaims traded by the current and former minister of defence, a bullied girlfriend and intimidated journalists: these aren’t the plot points in a spy novel but bits of media reports on Slovakia’s military intelligence managers.

Since the Sme daily broke the story on May 16 about suspicions of embezzlement within the former Military Intelligence Service (VSS), citing a 134-page anonymous file that was apparently leaked from the agency, the public has yet to be offered any convincing evidence that citizen’s taxes are not being spent on something more than protecting the country’s interests. Rather, those who have spoken out about possible embezzlement might face prosecution for various reasons.

While the leaked secret documents might be part of a raging war between the old and the new officials of the intelligence services, there is not much hope that the bodies that were established to oversee the intelligence operations will shed much light on this spy war.

One gets the impression that Slovakia’s military intelligence operation is an impenetrable microcosm quite resistant to societal changes or any efforts to subject it to independent oversight. It is almost like having a hornet’s nest in one’s garden: recognising it is there while not seeing completely inside, but knowing fully that many people will get stung once it falls.

The problem is that these amorphous state bodies benefit from a veil of secrecy and resist public oversight by arguing that to protect the interests of the state they must keep citizens from peeking under their veil.

Too much secrecy is unhealthy not only for the state coffers but also for the country’s political environment. Insufficiently monitored intelligence services can easily run their little businesses in trading sensitive information about political opponents in return for “immunity from change”.

According to the TASR newswire, Prime Minister Robert Fico recently said that if anybody who ever worked for the intelligence services appeared before TV cameras to say whatever they wanted, the entire intelligence service could be closed down.

But if the government fails to ensure more effective control of its military intelligence agency then it could be closed down anyway, at least in the eyes of some international partners who obviously measure the trustworthiness of these kinds of operations by quite stricter standards than those who have dismissed the possibility of embezzlement as only a media hoax.

Earlier this year Georges Gansé, the former personal assistant to Ján Slota of the Slovak National Party (SNS), posted holiday photos on a social networking site featuring two top officials of Slovakia’s military intelligence, one of whom is currently the country’s military attaché to China. They were apparently photographed during a visit to Gansé’s new home country of Benin in West Africa, Sme wrote. Gansé quickly removed the photos after Sme’s story.

Gansé previously came to the public’s attention in connection with a luxurious property that Slota has frequently been observed enjoying but insists he does not own. Sme has also reported that Slota used a yacht and a plane that were owned by Slovben, a company that listed Gansé as its authorised representative. It is very unlikely that the public will ever be told the real story behind the photos or the connection between the two top spies and Slota’s former aide.

Meanwhile, Martina Ruttkayová Tvardzíková, a journalist with Hospodárske Noviny who covers military intelligence issues for her newspaper, said that she was subjected to what she called an intimidating interrogation after she submitted confidential documents to the police that she had received regarding possible embezzlement at the VSS. Nevertheless, the Special Prosecutor’s Office quickly said that it could not find any violation of rules by the police during her interrogation.

Along with Sme, several Slovak media have received secret documents pointing to the possibility of embezzlement at the VSS. But at this point it seems that senior officials are investing much more energy into tracking down those who leaked the information and making sure that journalists aren’t being too ‘nosy’, rather than actually investigating names that keep re-emerging in connection with the suspicions of embezzlement. Something smells quite fishy.

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