You are here: Home Články / Articles 1997 Czech secret service under scrutiny

Czech secret service under scrutiny

The Czech Information and Security Service (BIS), the country's top intelligence agency, has been at the center of a widening scandal. Several party leaders allege that the BIS shadowed their parties in the past. Other politicians argue that the BIS's activities are non-transparent. And Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman and parliamentary speaker Milos Zeman recently even said the Czech Republic was becoming a police state, claiming to posses documents that allegedly showed the BIS had not only followed politicians but, in doing so, had coordinated its activities with the Ministry of Internal Affairs.

In November, BIS Director Stanislav Devaty resigned after Christian Democratic Union Chairman Josef Lux accused the BIS of having followed his party and him personally. Devaty, although appointed on "a temporary basis," had held the post for almost four years. During that period, the government coalition parties were unable to find a permanent replacement for Devaty who, before his appointment, had been a member of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party. Devaty's political leanings were a constant source of irritation to other parties, who suspected the BIS of being the ODS's tool. In 1994, Civic Democratic Alliance Jan Kalvoda accused the BIS of shadowing his party and of spying on politicians in general. He, unlike Lux two years later, was never able to prove his charges.

Following Devaty's resignation, reports surfaced alleging factional struggle within the BIS. Jaroslav Jiru was appointed to replace Devaty, until a new director is found. He has now been in charge for more than two months, while the government has been unable to find a permanent head. This suggests that the process whereby the BIS head is selected is fundamentally flawed. The BIS should be non-partisan, including its head. However, the fact the BIS director is selected by the government makes the selection of a "non-partisan" a highly partisan process. To find a person acceptable to all three government parties, who cooperate but are at the same time suspicious of each other, is a daunting task. Finding a person, whose nomination by the government can be approved by the parliament, in which the opposition has a majority, is almost impossible. Under such circumstances, "temporary" solutions may appear politically tempting. However, institutions usually don not work well in the environment of uncertainty created by temporary solutions.

Two weeks ago Zeman handed some fifty pages of documents that were to prove his charges to President Vaclav Havel. Zeman had announced already in November, before the Senate elections, that he had the documents. He now says he waited for two months to give them to the president reportedly because Havel had been sick. Zeman never explained why he did not give the documents directly to the parliamentary committee overseeing the BIS. Observers, however, agree that the CSSD chairman simply wanted to make a political capital out of the affair ahead of the elections.

Havel called the contents of the documents "disgusting" but flatly rejected Zeman's claim that the country was turning into a police state. Members of the parliamentary committee overseeing the BIS, who received the documents after Havel had studied them, at first claimed the documents were "serious." But following a more careful examination, they are now saying most of the documents were forgeries. Speculations have abounded that the purpose of the documents, allegedly given to Zeman by his associates, is to either discredit Zeman or an attempt by a foreign intelligence agency to further discredit the BIS. Some right-of-center politicians have called on Zeman to accept political responsibility for destabilizing the country with what he probably knew already two months ago were forged documents.

That the documents appear to have been forged should not obscure the fact that the BIS is in trouble. Since the BIS's establishment, it has not been entirely clear who is responsible for supervising it, and what the rights of the parliamentary committee that oversees the BIS are. Under the Czech law, the government and Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, in particular, are generally responsible for supervising all secret services. However, Klaus has never taken much interest in the BIS's activities. The government, as a whole, is said to have rarely used BIS reports or follow its activities.

It is hardly surprising that the weakened and unstable BIS has become an object of political games and maneuvering. Following the latest developments, morale at the BIS is reportedly so low that it may be difficult to rescue the agency. Various factions at the BIS apparently either leak secret information or even manufacture false reports in an effort to discredit their opponents.

The public's trust in the BIS is very low, owing partly to people's bad experience with secret police under the communist regime. Most former communist secret police agents have been forced to leave the top intelligence agency but, otherwise, Czech politicians--and the Klaus government in particular--have done very little to put the BIS on a solid footing. The government's attitude to both the army and secret services can be described as lukewarm--at best. On the other hand, although the current scandals surrounding the BIS further undermine its authority, perhaps they may at long last force the government to focus its attention on the BIS and attempt to deal with its problems in a more systematic way.

Reuters - 28. 1. 1997