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Czech Republic: Intelligence Chief Under Fire -- Again

  • Jolyon Naegele

Prague, 8 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- The acting director of the Czech civilian counter-intelligence agency, Stanislav Devaty, is once again facing a barrage of criticism. Among the critics are parliamentary deputies, several newspapers and even members of the coalition government.

The brunt of their attacks focus on allegations that the agency, known as the Security Intelligence Service or BIS, may have spied on politicians, that it may have been linked to a recent collapse of the Kreditni banka, that it may have been making unauthorized changes to secret files and that it may have kept inadequate secrecy in correspondence between Devaty and Klaus's office. These allegations are recurrent, and their bottom line is a concerted drive to remove Devaty himself.

The green light for the current series of attacks was given by Pavel Bratinka, minister without portfolio and senior member of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA), who suggested last month that the government should appoint a permanent head of BIS rather than keep Devaty. Bratinka said that the agency should be headed by a person who capable of preventing further disintegration of the service.

Bratinka chairs the government's Council on Intelligence Activities, a coordinating body for the country's security and intelligence services. His call won support from the KDU-CSL, another junior coalition party. But his proposal that the government takes up the matter was rejected by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and officials from his Civic Democratic Party (ODS).

Devaty, who was one of the ODS's founders but left when appointed to BIS, still apparently enjoys support in the government.

Most of the allegations made in the news media, particularly in the left-wing daily "Pravo," seem to have originated from a former BIS employee, Jaroslav Basta, whom Devaty dismissed from the agency years ago. Basta is now a Social Democratic parliamentary deputy and head of the parliamentary committee monitoring BIS activities.

This week Basta led his committee on a visit to BIS headquarters and afterwards told reporters that Devaty and other BIS officials provided no answers to issues that the committee considers important. He stopped short of providing details.

Today the Prague newspaper "Pravo" headlined allegation that Devaty's BIS was "spying on the chairman of one of the ruling parties." The newspaper's unnamed source is said to have been a disgruntled BIS employee who filed a complaint with the parliament. The "Law on BIS" specifically bars counterespionage employees from approaching parliament without specific authorization.

The paper says strict secrecy is being maintained about, what it terms, the "smoldering new affair." It speculates that all interested parties fear that the "affair" could harm the coalition government just before the November 17 Senate elections.

Leaders of Bratinka's ODA last year alleged that BIS was spying on political parties, particularly on deputies of the opposition ultra-right Republican party (SPR-RSC).

Last night President Vaclav Havel said in a televised interview that the situation in BIS could stabilize if a permanent head were appointed.

Havel declined to say who he believes should fill the post, noting this is a matter for the government to decide. But he said he would be happy if the question were not in his words, "a matter for partisan games" and if it were not a political issue. He also said the post should be taken by someone who is "credible and qualified."

Also last night, Devaty gave a live television interview during which he said that most of BIS activities flow from the law on intelligence services, which, he said, expressly defines the agency's tasks. The rest, he said, is spent fulfilling government requests for intelligence.

Devaty said BIS has not been asked by the government to conduct operations in the country's scandal-ridden banking sector, but was given the task of looking into what he termed "gas matters" - an apparent reference to plans by the Transgas gas pipeline company for major commercial expansion of its operations. Devaty also said that the government is likely to ask BIS to look into some privatization issues.

Under the Communists, Devaty worked at the Slusovice agro-industrial combine in eastern Moravia. He founded the "Society for Friendship with the USA" (SPUSA). He was one of the few active anti-communist dissidents to join Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus' Civic Democratic Party (ODS) when it split from the rest of the Civic Forum in 1991. The few other ex-dissidents in Klaus' ODS include Interior Minister Jan Ruml, ODS spokeswoman and parliamentary deputy Jana Petrova, deputy Hana Marvanova and Devaty's own top aide at BIS Frantisek Starek.

Devaty has apparently told Klaus that he would like to stay on to maintain continuity. He also was reported to have argued that he has developed good relations with Western intelligence services, particularly in the United States and Britain.

Sources close to Devaty say that unlike intelligence services in Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, which are still largely run and staffed by Moscow-trained ex-Communist secret service operatives, BIS has been thoroughly purged of former Communist StB employees.