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Exclusive interview of RM SIS Director, Mihai BALAN given to independent investigative weekly "Ziarul de Garda"

We risk to fight constantly with suspicion caused by a distorted image of a hydra who knows everything and controls everyone.

 

KGB way of thinking and methods are outside of the SIS "walls".

 

SIS, an elite institution, made up of people who accept to live two lives.

 

What legacy did you take over as new SIS Director?

 

I found a depressing moral-psychological situation. It's not at all easy to manage the tensions that can arise in SIS, because even if all the work is sufficiently compartmentalized, some rivalries may appear. Here I found people who have given declarations to political environment, who have discovered / disclosed information with limited accessibility or intercepted telephone conversations. Currently, such persons are under internal investigation, and others - even under justice investigation. In this difficult situation, the performance in employee integrity is important, as well as equidistance and institutional deontology.

 

An unfortunate legacy is also the echoes of some media attacks against SIS. The essence of this kind of aggression consists of hysterical behaviour exhibited by so-called group of anonymous officers, yet, it is known that there are many cunning stratagems, obscure Machiavellian techniques and methods of distorting the reality, complicating by confusion the state of things, dispersing and manipulation. The ultimate goal is to muddy the waters so much as to discredit any intention to put things on a normal path. I want, however, to mention that among the wicked, corrupt and incompetent ones, SIS does have islands of seriousness, since SIS recruits respected professionals. We also have areas of excellence, which, however, some ones have the gift of denigrating them even better than our enemies do.

 

So, I took over arrears, including in the "public image", I found a number of premises for inside modernization, but without and institutional reform. Right from first days, after taking the Director office, I talk to policy makers and junior officers, including those recently employed. I do not talk only with those who always agree with me, I also talk with those who have the courage to contradict me, and they are quite enough. Most say thatSIS did not accomplish important things because the human resources management was lacking. Another invoked reason, in the context of SIS inefficiency, is that this institution was not given sufficient trust. Thus, all we do now is to get not only trust, but also the certainty that SIS can satisfy, implicitly, the demand for national security. At present, many have already expressed their hopes, including our cooperation partners, and I do not want to disappoint them.

 

Why did you accept, anyway, this position?

 

The proposal of the Head of state, Nicolae Timofti, which, by the way, I accepted after many sleepless nights, determined me to review my professional pathway and vocation. In order not to remain just watchful at this historical stage of Moldova's European momentum, this civic determination inspired my desire to arrange things in entrusted area so that our citizens, wherever they are, would know that they are in absolute safety.

 

There are talks about reforming the SIS. What is this reform all about?

 

The Strategy itself of reforming the SIS gives comprehensive solutions to important challenges and difficult moments at this stage. Solutions have been defined so as to determine a better management of them in the future . Reform does not belong exclusively to certain people in SIS, but is an integral part of the whole institution - because certain internal vulnerabilities, as well as the evolution of the security environment also influence the State, Society and the Citizen.

 

Our preoccupation is to ensure the Republic of Moldova has a strong and effective intelligence structure. This goal means rebuilding the entire structure. The concrete results of this ongoing process will be visible in 4-5 years.

 

In a context you declared that SIS employees should not be trained any more in former KGB schools, but European ones. Have you already managed to initiate a European training?

 

SIS gives a major importance to training of valuable specialists, their professional promotion and development, including in training centres of European community. Recently in this regard the methodological-didactic and sectoral examination was initiated with 4 partners. SIS also uses high professional skills of intelligence officers trained in various specialized centres in the region. It is necessary to optimize the current system of professional training of SIS officers. Immediate priorities involve behavioural transformation of entire SIS staff, strengthening the informative potential and increasing the efficiency of human resource management so that Moldova would benefit from support in its becoming as regional viable player, able to protect European values in ​​circumstances that are generating asymmetric risks and threats, as well as unmatched opportunities. The stated objectives are achievable also by reforming the National Institute of Intelligence and Security "Bogdan, founder of Moldova" (NIIS). Each officer will have to adapt to requirements imposed by internal and external security environment, or the essence of a genuine security and intelligence service is integrity, competence and intelligence.

 

What are the wages of SIS employees?

 

The salary of a novice not differ from that of many civil servants, representing about 3500 lei. It is reprovable that our security and intelligence officer can hardly cope with current requirements, with a minimized package of social guarantees, while other countries' experience shows the opposite. There are difficulties in this respect. Nobody is comfortable to give up important things - and I do not refer to material issues, but rather to the fact that any of SIS officers would like to have a program which is if not stable, then at least predictable. Yet, the speed and difficulty of their task forces them to work hard and rely on understanding of their families. As for me, I work towards addressing the concerns of SIS employees, be it professional needs or those related to ensuring a fair level of income.  

 

In case of tragedy in "Padurea Domneasca" ("Royal Forest"), the institution you lead was heavily criticized on the grounds that it learned too late about what happened. What actually happened?              

 

SIS has exposed its position on the incident in "Royal Forest" through press releases and public interventions on the issue. We continue to be available to provide competent informational support to relevant bodies to immediately elucidate this unfortunate event. 

 

Did telephone interception scandalize the society? Does SIS know who is being tapped?  

 

The legal framework stipulates directly that implementation of special investigative measures by SIS within criminal proceedings, including the tapping procedure. Investigative officer resorts to execution of this procedure only in circumstances that certify the existence of the authorisation issued by investigative judge and the prosecutor's request, ensuring in technical terms the interception by delivering the signal to the prosecution body. The fact that SIS is the only body authorized by law to conduct technical interception and, again, it's only about providing technical support, - serves as a guarantee that interception of conversations will not be made illegally by some forces or interested structures. I emphasize that our technical equipment records any access, excluding the possibility of illegal access to electronic management system. This can be checked - anytime - by competent bodies, within the limits of the law.   

 

How many former KGB employees are still working in SIS?

 

This figure, hyperbolically presented to public opinion, does not reach even 1%. A full rotation of generations of officers did happen within the institution. Today, the average age of staff is 30-35 years, young people who have nothing in common with the former KGB practices. My opinion is that SIS should assume its past, acknowledging its mistakes and weaknesses, its evolution can not be different from that of Moldova. I believe that through reform measures that we have started, we have also marked off the past. It is an irreversible process. At 22 years of independence there has been a change of generations in the whole society and SIS. Often, too high importance is attached to the past to the detriment of substantive debates on present and future. In fact, now we are facing enough challenges and dangers, which we should cope with. References to the past should not become a "sheltering" in the past.

 

Do you think that former KGB officers can get rid of Soviet, authoritarian style of those structures?

 

SIS is an institution with a complicated history, specific to countries which has undergone through a change of regime, at the same time being also a structure going through an accelerated process of transformation in order to adapt to the standards of intelligence community in countries with consolidated democracies. Professional power and moral probity are required to support the credibility test. However, we should not enter a wrong track of distorting the reality, otherwise you risk to struggle constantly with suspicion caused by a distorted image of a hydra who knows everything and controls everyone.

 

Certainly, the KGB way of thinking and methods are outside of SIS "walls".

 

It was written that SIS archive has sufficient evidences to prove the criminal nature of the Communist regime. How they are being used? 

 

The fundamental premise for the separation from blamed and controversial past was the process by which SIS provided the society with a part of its tumultuous history. Since 2010 SIS has declassified and sent to the National Archives documentary materials from the fund of judicial case-files initiated on victims of political repressions of the totalitarian regime. Now, in special SIS warehouse there are still approximately 13,463 such case-files. Numerousarchival information was accessed for the first time by the Commission for studying and assessing the totalitarian communist regime, which presented to the public a comprehensive report on atrocities of totalitarian communist epoch. Due to the involvement of experts in the field, various SIS archive data were used in accordance with the public interest, generating major echoes in society. In fact, by everything we do, we confirm the fulfilment of strategicSIS objective: providing free access for citizens and scientists to documents of historical, museographic and social interest. In different regard, I find that SIS has an effective cooperation with the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Council, to which unpublished material were submitted about the crimes committed against victims of the Holocaust in the Second World War. We cooperate with the investigation Commission for examination of situation concerning the Archives of State Security Committee (KGB) of the MSSR, in order to provide information of competence.

 

What the SIS people are afraid of?

 

SIS, perhaps more than other institutions, is extremely sensitive to "turbulences" from inside and outside, being always obliged to adapt quickly to new requirements and to cope with new challenges. I just can reconfirm a fact recognized in many bilateral or multilateral meetings with regional and international partners: SIS assumed democratic values, bringing an added credibility to its daily work, contributing to optimization of public perception concerning the degree of transparency. One thing is certain: just the one who wilfully doesn't want, for reasons contrary to common sense, to recognize the obvious, only that one will not see that SIS exercises with honesty and professionalism its mission to safeguard and promote, by specific means, the national interests.

 

How a case-file is initiated by SIS? Who, in fact, is in the focus of this institution?

 

In particular, in the focus of SIS are the people, organizations or events which, by practicing violent methods, have the intention of violating the fundamental human rights and freedoms, undermining the bases of constitutional order of the Republic of Moldova, as well as undermining the rule of law values. In this context, special measures, designed and accomplished by SIS, are focused on deconspiration, prevention and counteracting negative events such as - international terrorism and related activities, extremism, organized cross-border crime and other very severe spectra threatening the economic, financial and social security. 

 

SIS reacts when it has information that could affect national security, all material being accumulated by investigative officer in a special case-file. I emphasize that any case-file managed by SIS can not be a basis for limiting the rights and freedoms of citizens, or to guarantee the rule of law is one of the main tasks of SIS officer.

 

What are the greatest dangers to the national security of the Republic of Moldova?

 

Inside SIS we operate with the distinction between threats - with major or imminent impact on security, risks - with a lower manifestation, extended in time, and vulnerabilities - aspects arising from internal, systemic deficiencies. Knowing these risks requires not only analysis of phenomena, but also to anticipate the developments. In this context, we note that there remains a significant number of important vulnerabilities affecting our security - in the economic area, infrastructure, energy, to name only a few - which are overlapped by important phenomena of increased risk caused by extremism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, trafficking networks and organized crime, expansion of terrorism. Links between international terrorism and organized crime became obvious. There can be no way of neglecting the persistence of regional-state rivalries with direct influence on Moldovan interests.

 

The risk and opportunity analysis is an area where we want to develop the role of SIS.

 

On February 19 President Nicolae Timofti attended the review meeting of the SIS Board. What are the SIS priorities outlined by the President?

 

During the SIS review meeting President Nicolae Timofti emphasized that 2012was a baseline for initiating the institutional reform process, representing a stage in which we tried to ensure increased informational product quality designed for legal beneficiaries. President noted that SIS has covered various areas of interest for substantiating strategic decisions and policies in areas of vital interest for the state and citizens. It was stressed the imperative to develop SIS analytical expertise, qualified forecasting capacity to anticipate certain security challenges. New strategic mission for SIS were drawn too. Thus, it was stated the desire to actively promote the interests of state security, in cooperation with partners in the Euro-Community area and with other services that have major impact in the international system. We are talking not just about providing informative data, but also information that would help Moldova to gain a strategic advantage in external negotiations or debates, held by top decision makers of the country. For me, as director of this institution, more important than a formal approach to a review action, - the activity of SIS is a realistic one, marked by critical spirit that would reveal without restraint the actual situation and phenomena of major importance for national security.

 

What's left to SIS relating to the events of April 7, 2009?

 

SIS is still providing informative competent support to Prosecutor General's Office related to the criminal case-file on investigating the events of April 2009. At the same time, through joint actions we investigate the spectrum of vulnerable environments that would have led to violence in PMAN (Central National Square).

 

Otherwise, the status of my position allows me to refrain from legal and public assessment of those events in the context in which we are awaiting for the final decision of the investigating authorities and subsequently the court. 

 

After your inauguration in SIS,several dismissals were performed. What were the specific reasons for particular dismissal of those officials?

 

SIS undergoes through achange of human resources. In three months, 18 people had to leave. Among them were officers present in the structure before 1991. Unfortunately, they held top commandment positions. Another category eligible for dismissal was that aged one, or if they stayed for 20 years at the helm of directorates, the young ones, trained in European spirit, had no way to grow. Moreover, older people were also accepted in the most sensitive cases that we work with, foreign intelligence, counterintelligence in economy, in other missions we have with foreign partners. As they were, they could not be approved by growing generation.      

 

As for the professional development of SIS staff, I decided to preserve thevaluable ones. The moral part of institutional changes relates to preservation and use of each professional in intelligence, even if it is about those before1991, of course only if they did not harm the human rights in their previous work.

 

 

Shall some other layoffs follow?

 

I will further require from entire SIS staff, from absolutely all of them, to show firmness, maintaining equidistance and neutrality - which give strength and legitimacy to elite corporative actions. As for leaders of central subunits, including territorial offices, if they wish to remain in office, they should urgently increase their performance and prove in-depth knowledge of intelligence phenomena. Only under such conditions of professionalism, their authority will be less bureaucratic and formal. The heads of subdivisions, regardless of profile, don't have to show how things must be done, but where the structures and people they supervise should be directed to. I will encourage just dynamic forms of organization. I will ensure, on inside, the transition from rigid hierarchical structures towards flexible working groups, as modern intelligence services are less pyramidal and more centric type.

 

Who has priority to be employed in SIS?

 

Most candidates enter under the view of SIS, as potential employees, from universities, due to academic achievements, excellent proven physical conditions. Often, young people do not sense they are going to embrace this mission, carried out beyond TV screens in almost complete discretion, designed to signal top political factors about changes in the national security environment, including in geopolitical environment. By the way, in case of these young people, it's not just muscle that matters, but also a lot of intelligence. Being intelligence officer means not just being a man of outstanding general education, but also having an increased sense of quick orientation in difficult situations. Virtues of a SIS officer are completely anonymity and loyalty, because all assumed missions are about national security. Few, however, of those who are dreaming about different identities and diverse facets, i.e. spies, have appropriate competences. In this regard, in order to have more chances in accurate final assessment, I asked the colleagues responsible for human resource management to limit subjective interference. You have no right to make mistakes in this respect. In fact, in 2012, of 70 aspirants who passed the pre-selection, a process that usually takes at least a year, only 22 were admitted by SIS Validation Commission, of which only 18 were able to get involved in NIIS training. Practice shows that after graduation even fewer get hired in SIS - the elite institution made ​​up of people who agree to live two lives, willing to get a job place where the beauty of work is complemented by high risk.

 

Does SIS have heroes?

 

Moldova's secret service does have heroes, those who acquire information, which then is being properly used with risk to their own lives. Some of them suffer until the end of days for the way how they completed a mission. Even so, security and intelligence officers must find a balance, which only few manage to have. With very few exceptions, they keep the secrets of fulfilled missions forever.

 

How often do you receive at SIS anonymous letters or calls? What do you do with them?

 

Of those 557 petitions received by SIS in 2012, about 16% have an informative content concerning the exceeding power of authorities, persons from state structures. These petitions were reviewed and submitted to the competent authorities. By the way, SIS answers to all addresses, provided that solicitors observe the legislation in force. Proceeding from the specificity of submitted requests, citizens are invited to our office to receive documents or get acquainted with materials from the archive. If the information submitted by citizens is relevant for national security, then based on presented fact SIS self-initiates actions according to its competence.

 

Thank you.

 

/No.7 (411), February 21, 2013/