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Government silent on spies in media

Secret service agents still present in Romanian newsrooms test the balance of press freedom against national security, finds Ana-Maria Nitoi
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In 2006 the Romanian Domestic Intelligence Service (SRI) let slip that its secret agents were working under cover in the Romanian media.
This SRI statement, given by a spokesman to journalists, was not a surprise. But it did allow the press to accuse agencies of interfering with media freedom, even though such operations were legal.
Therefore the Parliamentary commission that controls SRI’s activity started an investigation to discover in what kind of operations these agents were involved. Its intention was to see whether there was a conflict of interests between human rights and national security.
Now, 18 months later, there are still no results from this investigation and no confirmation that it has been concluded. Contacted on the phone, Radu Stroe, the president of this commission, refused to comment on the probe. The SRI did not give any reply to The Diplomat on this issue. George Maior, the head of domestic intelligence, has also been silent since the admission.
When the scandal became public, a group of media owners and senior journalists, the Romanian Press Club, introduced a change to the media Code of Conduct, recommending journalists not to work for or co-operate with the secret services. But such an initiative is only voluntary. Since then, there have been no indications that any members of the SRI in the press have left their posts.
“It is a very dangerous practice that risks undermining the credibility of the press from the inside,” says Razvan Martin, co-ordinator of programmes for the Agency for Monitoring the Press.
'1') { require('php/art_auth.inc'); } ?> However this position presumes the press is a blameless entity which could never contain individuals who would threaten national security.
“In case a foreign power recruits a Romanian journalist, the only way to counteract him or her is to have an informer or an undercover agent infiltrated in the same press institution,” argues Stejarel Olaru, national security adviser to the Prime Minister.
The SRI revelation coincided with a struggle between the President and the Prime Minister over reform of all the Romanian intelligence services.
The principles at stake were the defence of national security against the protection of human rights, including press freedom.
The Liberal Government has initiated draft laws forbidding the intelligence services using agents in the press, the Parliament, the Church and the unions.
“The Government considered such agents could practice blackmail or could negatively influence the editorial views of a newsroom, because the agents could respond to a political call which would be incorrect,” says Olaru.
But this draft law is now in development hell, with no hope of approval due to a lack of political will from all parties.

German model

In Germany revelations that spies were active in the media rocked the country. The German Foreign Intelligence Service (BND) was seriously shaken when it was revealed that the agency paid journalists to spy on their colleagues. The subsequent Schaeffer Report prompted German chancellor Angela Merkel to end such practices.
Can there be a compromise between national security and press freedom? Iulian Chifu, director of NGO the Centre for Preventing Conflicts and Early Warnings, says that both the Prime Minister and the President have considered a ‘win/lose’ situation while other countries have found the ‘win/win’ option.
President Traian Basescu has created laws which help national security and allow democracy to lose out, while Prime Minister Tariceanu has initiated draft laws that guarantee human rights, but reduce the power of the intelligence services, he argues.
“If the Government’s laws are adopted, undercover agents in the press will be pulled out and the secret services would have no other instrument to gather information from the newsrooms,” says Chifu. “These positions would be filled very rapidly by agents working for foreign or private intelligence services.”
Private investigation services are now active in Romania either for hire or as a department in large corporations, protecting the interests or patents in development of business clients. Chifu argues that audit, consultancy or security companies can also be considered private secret services.
The analyst says that it is easy to see how different sources manipulate the Romanian press. “We have to pay attention to articles in which the author writes the point of view of only one side or to articles that make serious accusations based only on rumour,” Chifu says.
Undercover operatives in the press are usually placed in important positions, such as senior editorial positions in TV, radio or print, with enough access to information and an ability to influence the news agenda. Full-time agents are hard to deploy by the security services. More common are informers, who have a part-time role for the secret services and are easier to recruit.
“Agents can obtain informations about the sources of journalists and that could seriously compromise journalists’ activity,” adds Razvan Martin. “These actions could also be considered as intimidation of the press.”

Political influence

When the secret services are headed by politicians, the intelligence services could have a political influence over the press. SRI boss George Maior was a member of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) when he was appointed director of SRI in 2006, while the new head of the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE) is Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, former Liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs.
Director of the Centre for Independent Journalism, Ioana Avadani, believes the secret services should be headed by managers, experts or technocrats.
“The intelligence services could at any time use their agents to influence and manipulate the public agenda for purposes other than the public interest,” she says.
However, Chifu argues that directors of the intelligence services must have a political cover, because they respond to the President and are controlled by Parliament.
The press exists to inform the people from an objective perspective. It has a specific role in a modern European society. Planting agents in the press may not be effective in the long term for anyone.
“[Secret services] are allowed to deploy undercover agents in the press, but at the same time these agents could be polluting sources of information,” she says. “They might find themselves in the situation in which they would have to chose whom they serve: the public or the secret service.”

Communist grip

This scandal follows revelations surrounding former collaborators of the Communist Secret Police, the Securitate, who are now working in the media. This includes Sorin Rosca Stanescu, director of daily newspaper Ziua, who was the first journalist to admit he worked for the Securitate. Olaru says it is not ethical for people like Stanescu to continue working in the press and the only solution is to stop buying the newspaper in question.
But Ziua continues to sell and readers have not sanctioned the newspaper or punished its director. From influential figures found ‘guilty’ of collaborating with the Securitate, only Liberal politician Mona Musca and journalist Carol Sebastian have voluntarily disappeared from the public scene.
The National Council for Studying the Securitate’s Archives (CNSAS) can verify whether current journalists collaborated with the Communist Secret Police. But journalists are not a priority for the Council, which first has to investigate the past of the politicians and those in senior public office.
Another example is journalist Cornel Ivanciuc, who worked for satirical weekly Academia Catavencu and admitted he had informed for the Securitate, but was unaware of the seriousness of his statements. When exposed by CNSAS, his colleagues at Academia Catavencu said they did not mind about his past, but were disappointed that Ivanciuc had lied to them. Ivanciuc left the magazine and was hired by Ziua.
Most of the journalists known to have assisted the Communist Secret Police before 1989 have worked or are still working for Ziua. This includes senior editor Valentin Hossu Longin, editor in chief Adrian Patrusca, writer Dan Ciachir and commentator and Liberal politician Constantin Balaceanu Stolnici.
All the newspapers and magazines published during the Communist regime were controlled by the Communist Party. In this situation, the press created after the Revolution in 1989 was made by journalists that worked in the same field under Communism. “Back then things weren’t as complicated as today, because all newsrooms were controlled mainly by the Romanian Communist Party, the Ministry of Interior or special departments in the Ministry of Defence,” says Stejarel Olaru. “Nothing could have been printed without the approval of the Communists.”

Old guard

There are no statistics for how many informers the Communist Secret Police, the Securitate, used to employ. Estimates are somewhere between 100,000 to one million people. Researchers still do not have access to this information.
Following the 1989 revolution the Securitate was dismantled and, in March 1990, two new secret services, the SRI and SIE, started functioning using some agents and informers from the former Securitate.
“In the past 19 years, most of these people have been replaced, but many continue to work in some departments,” says national security adviser to the Prime Minister Stejarel Olaru. There has never been a full-scale purge of the secret services to bring to justice those guilty of exploiting their positions for criminal ends or violating human rights.
Instead, a de facto amnesty has occurred on members of the Securitate since the Revolution.
Staff in the Ministry of Defence and Ministry of Justice have also worked for the Communist Secret Police. After 1989, some continued working for the intelligence services of the two ministries: the Defence Intelligence General Directorate and the Department for Protection and Anti-corruption, which then Minister of Justice Monica Macovei dissolved in mid 2006.
But director of NGO the Centre for Preventing Conflicts and Early Warnings Iulian Chifu argues that almost none of the agents from the Securitate are still working in the field. Many are now too old to work and have simply been pensioned off.

Watching the watchers

There are six secret services in Romania at the present time.

Romanian Domestic Intelligence Service (SRI), headed by former Social Democratic Party (PSD) senator George Maior, gathers and uses information to prevent and counteract actions intended to damage Romania’s national security. SRI information is available mostly to the Government, President and, in some cases, the presidents of the Parliamentary chambers or other public dignitaries.

Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE), headed by former National Liberal Party (PNL) Foreign Minister Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, is the international arm tasked by Government to obtain, check, assess, store and protect intelligence information relating to national security.

Serious crimes
General Directorate of Information and Internal Protection (DGIPI), headed by Petru Albu, is the intelligence service of the Ministry of Interior and Administrative Reform. This can gather, process and stock intelligence on serious crimes like drugs, human trafficking, attempted assassinations, corruption, smuggling, cyber-crime or terrorism.

Defence Intelligence General Directorate (DGIA), headed by Major General Francisc Radici, is the secret service of the Ministry of Defence. This institution gathers, processes and verifies data about military, civil, foreign or domestic risks and threats.

Special Telecommunications Service (STS), headed by Major General Marcel Opris, organises and coordinates the activities in the special telecommunications field for Romania’s public authorities. The institution has a military structure and is part of the national defence system. The special telecommunications can intercept transmissions and tap phones.

Protection and Guard Service (SPP), headed by Brigade General Lucian Pahontu, protects Romanian dignitaries and foreign dignitaries during their stay in Romania and their families. It also provides guard for their headquarters and residences.

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