Re­form of state se­cu­rity ser­vice gets lost in bu­reau­cratic maze

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY ILLIA PONOMARENKO [email protected]

Re­form­ing Ukraine’s State Se­cu­rity Ser­vice, bet­ter known as SBU, was top of Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko’s to-do list when he took of­fice in May 2014.

It was one of his main cam­paign pledges: To trans­form the SBU into a mod­ern and ef­fec­tive West­ern-style in­tel­li­gence agency, cut off from its un­sa­vory Soviet-era roots.

Four years later, the SBU re­mains un­touched.

More­over, the agency whose mean­ing in­creased since Rus­sia started its war against Ukraine in 2014, be­came one of the most crit­i­cized govern­ment bod­ies, of­ten ac­cused of cor­rup­tion, in­ef­fec­tive­ness, and abuse of its im­mense power.

The Re­form Con­cept for the SBU, a first-step doc­u­ment drafted with the help of the Euro­pean Union and NATO en­voys, has been ping pong­ing around the Ukrainian bu­reau­cratic maze since 2016.

While the West calls for swifter progress, Ukrainian anti-graft watch­dogs say the rea­son for the years-long de­lay in SBU re­form is Poroshenko’s own re­luc­tance to give up di­rect pres­i­den­tial con­trol of the pow­er­ful ser­vice.

More­over, watch­dogs fear Poroshenko’s foot-drag­ging on re­form­ing the SBU could also mean Ukraine fails to meet its strate­gic re­form dead­line to bring its de­fense and se­cu­rity sec­tor into line with NATO stan­dards by 2020.

Pub­licly, how­ever, Poroshenko con­tin­ues to back the re­form of the SBU. In March 2017, he said that the Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fense Coun­cil will "soon" con­sider the con­cept of the re­form. It hasn't hap­pened yet.

A new ap­proach

A di­rect de­scen­dant of the fear­some Soviet-era KGB, the SBU in Ukraine en­joys sim­i­lar broad pow­ers, and is the coun­try’s dom­i­nant se­cret ser­vice.

Ac­cord­ing to Ukrainian leg­is­la­tion, it is a special law en­force­ment

agency, sub­or­di­nate to the pres­i­dent, with a broad man­date that in­cludes counter-es­pi­onage, counter-ter­ror­ism, eco­nomic counter-in­tel­li­gence, and the fight against cor­rup­tion, smug­gling, and or­ga­nized crime. It can also con­duct pre-trial in­ves­ti­ga­tions.

But West­ern en­voys say the agency, in terms of pow­ers and func­tions, has lit­tle in com­mon with its Euro­pean coun­ter­parts.

“It’s a fact that the SBU now has more tasks and func­tions than we see as be­ing nat­u­ral in a mod­ern, strong democ­racy,” Ann-Kristin Bjer­gene, the deputy di­rec­tor of NATO’s Li­ai­son Of­fice in Kyiv, told the Kyiv Post in a re­cent in­ter­view.

NATO en­voys, along with the Euro­pean Union Ad­vi­sory Mis­sion in Ukraine or EUAM, pro­posed that the SBU be stripped of its law en­force­ment func­tions, mak­ing it a purely do­mes­tic in­tel­li­gence agency. Its ba­sic tasks were to be counter-es­pi­onage, counter-ter­ror­ism, pro­tect­ing state se­crets, and se­cu­rity anal­y­sis.

The agency’s other func­tions were to be handed over to other, newly-cre­ated law en­force­ment agen­cies; anti-cor­rup­tion func­tions would go to the special Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau or NABU, while the fight against or­ga­nized and eco­nomic crime would have been car­ried on by the Na­tional Po­lice and other law en­force­ment agen­cies.

How­ever, stream­lin­ing the SBU in this way would also mean a dra- matic cut in per­son­nel. The agency cur­rently em­ploys, ac­cord­ing to var­i­ous es­ti­mates, be­tween 27,000 and 32,000 em­ploy­ees. Its Bri­tish coun­ter­part, MI5, has only some 4,000 em­ploy­ees for a na­tion of 65 mil­lion peo­ple.

And ac­cord­ing to Bjer­gene, the SBU should be de­mil­i­ta­rized and con­verted into a com­pletely civil­ian ser­vice.

“In fu­ture, to be­come a nat­u­ral part of the in­tel­li­gence se­cu­rity fam­ily of Europe, they should be some­thing that is rec­og­niz­able to other ser­vices,” the NATO of­fi­cial said. “And (Europe’s ser­vices) are not mil­i­taris­tic.”

Most im­por­tantly, ac­cord­ing to the re­form plan, ef­fec­tive demo­cratic con­trol over the SBU was to have been in­tro­duced – in par­tic­u­lar through a new par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee vested with the author­ity to hold the pow­er­ful ser­vice to ac­count.

“The SBU at that time did agree with us that they needed more over­sight,” says Bjer­gene. “A ser­vice can’t be ef­fec­tive un­less it is over­seen.”

No ex­cuses

But it wasn’t un­til six months into Poroshenko’s pres­i­dency, in Jan­uary 2015, that the SBU in­vited NATO and EUAM of­fi­cials to form an In­ter­na­tional Ad­vi­sory Group to for­mu­late the Re­form Con­cept.

The group com­pleted its work as far back as in July 2016. In Oc­to­ber 2016, the SBU pre­sented the agreed draft to NATO al­lies in Brus­sels.

But then the process stalled. The Re­form Con­cept got lost in the bu­reau­cratic maze be­tween the of­fices of the SBU and the Na­tional De­fense and Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, which was meant to ap­prove the doc­u­ment.

Dur­ing a cer­e­mony to mark the 25th an­niver­sary of the SBU’s found­ing on March 24, 2017, Poroshenko as­serted that the NDSC “would re­view the con­cept of the re­form un­der best NATO prac­tices.”

Noth­ing hap­pened, and the West’s pa­tience seemed to be run­ning thin: On July 4, 2017, EU Am­bas­sador to Ukraine Hugues Min­garelli urged Kyiv to start the long-stalled re­form as soon as pos­si­ble.

“It’s im­por­tant to speed­ily en­sure the SBU con­cen­trates on counter-in­tel­li­gence and the fight against ter­ror­ism, and stops ac­tiv­i­ties that had been del­e­gated to other law en­force­ment agen­cies,” Min­garelli said.

But nearly two years af­ter its in­cep­tion, the Re­form Con­cept re­mains in limbo. In a re­sponse to a Kyiv Post en­quiry, the SBU press ser­vice said that the ser­vice was hold­ing “ad­di­tional con­sul­ta­tions” with NATO and EUAM re­gard­ing amend­ments to the doc­u­ment.

Af­ter that, the SBU said, the con­cept would go to the Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fense Coun­cil for con­sid­er­a­tion and ap­proval.

Mean­while, time is run­ning out for the re­form. Along with the rest of Ukraine’s se­cu­rity and de­fense sec­tor, the SBU is sup­posed to con­form to NATO stan­dards by the end of 2020, ac­cord­ing to the Strate­gic De­fense Bulletin signed by Poroshenko in June 2016. That is less than 1,000 days away.

Kes­tutis Lancinkas, the head of the EUAM in Kyiv, told the Kyiv Post he sees no valid ex­cuses for the de­lays.

“I don’t know rea­sons why this (Re­form Con­cept) just got stuck some­where in the bu­reau­cratic cor­ri­dors,” Lancinkas said.

He said the coun­try’s lead­er­ship say the re­form’s slow progress is due to the fact that Ukraine is at war.

“But from our un­der­stand­ing, if you have pre­pared a plan and a clear strat­egy, that’s not an ex­cuse,” Lancinkas said. “The clock is tick­ing, and two years have passed al­ready. We’d like to see more tan­gi­ble re­sults and steps.”

To­gether with his NATO col­leagues, the EUAM mis­sion is pin- ning hopes on the pend­ing law on Na­tional Se­cu­rity of Ukraine that was sub­mit­ted to the par­lia­ment on Feb. 28 and passed first read­ing on April 5. The draft bill fore­saw the cre­ation of a spe­cial­ized par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee to con­duct demo­cratic civil­ian over­sight of all Ukraine se­cu­rity and de­fense agen­cies.

But the SBU was not in­cluded in the list of agen­cies to be over­seen by the com­mit­tee.

In re­sponse, Lancinkas, to­gether with EU del­e­ga­tion head Min­garelli, NATO’s top rep­re­sen­ta­tive in Kyiv Alexan­der Vin­nikov, and U.S. Am­bas­sador Marie Yo­vanovitch, on March 15 wrote to Poroshenko, Verkhovna Rada Speaker An­driy Paru­biy and Na­tional Se­cu­rity and De­fense Coun­cil Chair­man Olek­sandr Turchynov warn­ing that re­mov­ing the SBU from par­lia­men­tary over­sight, which was a “fun­da­men­tal goal and re­quire­ment,” would “fall far out­side the main­stream of EU and NATO prac­tices in this field.”

The let­ter worked; on April 5, Turchynov as­serted that the SBU would be sub­ject to par­lia­men­tary over­sight un­der the new leg­is­la­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to Poroshenko him­self, it is the Na­tional Se­cu­rity draft law that will be­come a game changer for the SBU re­form when ul­ti­mately signed into force.

Mas­ter­minded by his ad­min­is­tra­tion, the act leaves the SBU with a man­date that in gen­eral meets the West­ern de­mands: counter-es­pi­onage, anti-ter­ror ac­tiv­i­ties, cy­ber­se­cu­rity, state se­crets and hu­man rights pro­tec­tion. It will also in­tro­duce the par­lia­men­tary con­trol of the SBU.

“From my per­spec­tive, sim­i­larly with the opin­ion of our part­ners in NATO na­tions, that is im­por­tant for en­sur­ing the com­plete com­pat­i­bil­ity of (the Na­tional Se­cu­rity draft law) with NATO stan­dards,” Poroshenko said on March 24.

True rea­son

None­the­less, the In­de­pen­dent De­fense Anti-Cor­rup­tion Com­mit­tee, a de­fense anti-graft watch­dog, be­lieves that the true rea­son for stalling the SBU’s trans­for­ma­tion may be cor­rup­tion.

Olena Tregub, the watch­dog’s sec­re­tary gen­eral, says the big­gest prob­lem is that apart from cut­ting the SBU staff in half, West­ern ad­vis- ers de­mand the elim­i­na­tion of the SBU’s main direc­torate for or­ga­nized crime, more com­monly known as Direc­torate K.

“Both civil­ian so­ci­ety and our West­ern part­ners agree this func­tion is ir­rel­e­vant to the SBU,” Tregub says.

“How­ever, it is the eco­nomic cases from which cor­rupt SBU of­fi­cials make fraud­u­lent earn­ings,” Tregub added. “Nat­u­rally, there is no political will to re­form this direc­torate and thus lose those nu­mer­ous op­por­tu­ni­ties for cor­rup­tion,” said Tregub.

She also agreed that the pend­ing Na­tional Se­cu­rity Act, if passed prior to the NATO sum­mit held in Brus­sels on July 11-12, could im­prove the sit­u­a­tion by en­shrin­ing Western­sup­ported changes in the law.

“But the prob­lem here is that the law’s tran­si­tional pro­vi­sions will take ef­fect only in De­cem­ber, and the coun­try will plunge into a new elec­toral cam­paign for the next pres­i­den­tial elec­tions in May 2019,” Tregub said. “Who will take care of con­duct­ing the re­form then?”

Va­len­tyn Na­ly­vaichenko, who chaired the SBU in 2006-2010 and in 2014-2015, and who was even­tu­ally fired by Poroshenko, says the pres­i­dent was re­luc­tant to cur­tail the SBU’s power right from the start.

“The pres­i­dent lacks the political will to close Direc­torate K,” Na­ly­vaichenko told the Kyiv Post.

“Un­der new leg­is­la­tion, (the direc­torate’s) main func­tions – fight­ing cor­rup­tion and or­ga­nized crime - were handed over to the NABU and par­tially to the po­lice long ago. The direc­torate’s per­son­nel, data­bases and equip­ment could have gone to the NABU and the po­lice, af­ter proper vet­ting.”

Na­ly­vaichenko said that given the threats Ukraine faces, the SBU should be­come a purely counter-es­pi­onage agency, with an anti-ter­ror cen­ter that would be ex­clu­sively re­spon­si­ble for com­bat­ting hos­tile Rus­sian in­tel­li­gence forces and the ter­ror­ism threat within the coun­try.

Nev­er­the­less, he says, there was no political will to change the SBU in 2015, when he was in of­fice, or in 2016, when the Re­form Con­cept was pro­posed.

“And there is still no will to­day, in 2018,” he added.

SBU se­cu­rity ser­vice special troopers talk dur­ing a cer­e­mony ded­i­cated to the agency’s 26th an­niver­sary of in­cep­tion on March 24. (Wla­dys­law Musi­ienko)

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