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Slovakia: Intelligence Service Reverts To Communist-Era Practices

  • Jolyon Naegele

Bratislava, 29 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - It has been more than seven years since Czechoslovak authorities in Prague dissolved by decree the feared communist State Security (StB) service. The dissolution took years to carry out in the Czech lands. By 1993 the last former members of what the Czech parliament labeled a criminal organization were forced to leave government employment.

But in Slovakia, the StBU's structure has never been fully dismantled. Many of its surveillance devices were left basically intact, only to be subsequently reactivated as revealed in the highly-publicized case of listening devices at the U.S. Consulate (later to become the U.S. Embassy) in Bratislava about five years ago.

Today, the Slovak intelligence agency SIS operates much as the Czechoslovak StB did before 1989. Domestic and foreign journalists, opposition activists and church officials are routinely subjected to surveillance in Slovakia and, in some cases, abroad.

Cameras hidden under jackets draped over one shoulder, walkie-talkies in the shape of fountain pens, small microphones hidden under cuffs and lapels -- all standard tools in the days of the StB -- are back in Bratislava and other big cities. Indeed, intelligence experts say that those instruments are now accompanied by even more up-to-date technology, including disposable one-time-use microphone-transmitters the size of a lead pellet that can be shot at a target's back and clings to him until he brushes it off.

Officials in the intelligence community in Bratislava and Prague say SIS has set up an active operations residency in the Czech capital. How much of the surveillance work SIS conducts on its own and how much it farms out to unregulated Czech private security agencies remains however unclear.

In Slovakia, SIS faces allegations that it carried out the kidnapping of President Michal Kovac's son, Michal junior, in 1995 and that it has been behind a series of car bombings. This includes the fatal attack on a former SIS agent, Robert Remias, who had allegedly been involved in Kovac junior's abduction and who subsequently informed opposition reporters of SIS involvement in the kidnapping.

But Igor Cibula, co-founder of SIS in 1993 and currently security advisor to the opposition party Democratic Union (DU), says that SIS differs from the StB because the law precludes it from carrying out certain "repressive functions" which the Communist State security undertook. Even so. Cibula recently told RFE/RL in Bratislava that it is still possible to use the secret service in illegal actions, such as kidnapping the president's son.

"SIS is an institution which can serve to strengthen the autocratic regime of Vladimir Meciar," Cibula said, adding however that he doubts whether this represents the kind of public threat comparable to that of the old StB.

Cibula noted that Slovak law requires Slovak legal entities, such as Slovak companies, to cooperate with SIS if called upon. But he says private citizens, if asked to collaborate or provide information, are not required by law to do so.

But Cibula said that SIS should be viewed with distrust. He noted that the relationship between SIS and its Russian federal counterpart during the current Meciar government has become "extraordinarily intensive."

In 1993 and 1994, SIS relations with the Russian successor to the KGB used to be limited to exchanging data on organized crime and a "certain distance" was maintained. But more recently, Cibula said, Russia has "gained greater space for contacts" and is becoming the main area of external contact for SIS with Western intelligence agencies reducing or limiting cooperation with Bratislava.

Cibula said that after his departure from SIS slightly over two years ago, former StB employees have gradually begun to return to intelligence work, finding jobs especially in SIS counterespionage operations. He said these have included people who under the Communists were active in what in the old days was known as "the struggle against the internal enemy," that is, the fight against dissidents.

"The majority of these people obviously did not belong to the former secret service's intelligence elite but rather were mediocrities, virtual garbage," Cibula said, adding that most have failed since November 1989 to establish themselves in civil professions.

Cibula noted that the StB officer who was in charge of his case when he was a reform Communist dissident within the Lenin's Spark Club has recently started working for SIS in operations against "the internal enemies."

"There is a danger that this service could once again engage in practices of the former State Security and thereby break the law," Cibula said referring to a bill defining SIS' tasks.

Cibula said that experience of the past two years has shown that SIS's activities extend beyond the confines of this law. He mentioned several cases, starting with the kidnapping of the president's son and a case -- he termed it a "provocation" -- of an attempted reactivation of StB unit within the office of the Roman Catholic diocese in Banska Bystrica in central Slovakia.

(See special report Slovakia: A Status Report )