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August 15, 2022

Meaning of a visit

While keeping its attention focussed on the door of the National Anti-Corruption Directorate (DNA) to see who goes in for questioning and who comes out (with or without handcuffs), the Romanian mass-media has expediently treated a recent event as well as its meaning.

It is the visit made last week to Romania by the Director of FBI, James Comey,  that, in my opinion, deserves to be treated with more attention and to be more deeply deciphered. With a view to both its meaning and messages expressed behind closed doors and publicly. At the same time, it should also be corroborated with a broader complex of circumstances relative to local and foreign developments.

We should not forget that Eduard Hellvig took over the helm of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) after the former Service Director, George Maior, had resigned amidst differences with the Constitutional Court on the Big Brother laws. The new SRI chief was also appointed after the scandal the institution had been concerned in a few weeks back because of Elena Udrea’s allegations against the deputy chief of the institution, Gen Florian Coldea, about a claimed trespassing of legal competence.

First of all, Mr. Comey’s visit to Bucharest did not happen on just any day, but actually on the very day the new SRI Director was officially installed to office. That, too, speaks volumes.

What bigger endorsement of US trust could the in-coming SRI head obtain than a personal visit on the day of his appointment to office by the director of the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) who congratulated him and told him how proud he was that ‘FBI’s partnership with Romanian Intelligence Service, is among the best worldwide’?

Hence the first and most important message of the visit – one of support, telling us that the appointment of the new SRI chief had been agreed to by the American and Euro-Atlantic partners.

The second message brought by the director of FBI to Bucharest became apparent from his statements made after seeing Hellvig, where he stressed that, to the agency he headed, not only the new SRI chief was trustworthy for having convergent priorities with the interests of American partners and NATO in the region, but he also insisted on thanking and appreciating the military side of SRI leadership. Meaning exactly General Coldea whose name had been so extensively ‘chopped’ and invoked by Elena Udrea who accused him of grievous offences and participation in improper activities for the Service. In other words, the fact that the head of FBI praised Gen. Florian Coldea the very day the new civil chief of the institution was being invested with office can only be interpreted that the Americans want continuity of dialogue and cooperation with the military side of SRI where Coldea is a major and appreciated professional, as well as a primary pawn.

The third very important message stemming from Mr. Comey’s visit to Bucharest and statements made while over here regards the cooperation of the two intelligence agencies in fighting cybercrime, a growingly serious threat to global security.

Although the two FBI and SRI heads referred to tightening up cooperation of the two agencies on counteracting all types of threats to regional and global security (terrorism, organised crime, corruption, tax evasion etc.), a special emphasis in the statements made after the meeting was placed on strengthening cooperation in fighting the threats posed by cybercrime. “Cybercrime is among FBI’s key priorities, and SRI’s, too, Comey declared in Bucharest. “Criminals acting over the Internet can cause damage all over the world, as our lives are completely connected to the Internet”, the director added. “Collaboration was very important, compressing the world, just as the criminals do, in order to protect our citizens, and we are making efforts alongside our Romanian colleagues to identify and indict the known cyber criminals, guilty of hoaxing thousands of people all around the world”, Comey went on.

“The Internet has changed the world more than famous bank robber John Dillinger did”, said  Comey. “ Cybercrime makes us all neighbours, as threat moves at the speed of light. To respond to it, we must compress the world and truly become a global law enforcement community”, he concluded.

Could these notes made by the FBI head be a call on Romania to find solutions for the adoption of the Big Brother laws? What will Mr. Hellvig do in that respect? Will there be further developments in the area? Neither the former SRI head, George Maior, had been idle. Lately, prior to resigning office, he had been advocating the legislation to the point of being accused of putting pressure on the Constitutional Court. We shall see how things develop, but I trust some interesting changes will follow down that road.

Another noteworthy fact is that, the same day the FBI chief was in Bucharest, 3 March, the Supreme Defence Council (CSAT) met for the first time presided over by President Klaus Iohannis. Was it by chance that the first CSAT meeting chaired by Iohannis happened on the same day of the visit of the FBI head to Romania? From the Presidential Administration communiqué we learnt that the agenda included the adoption of major decisions on the security of our country that has a pivotal role as a NATO and EU member in the region.

Two points in the release of the Presidential Administration in the CSAT meeting on the day the FBI head was in Romania especially come into notice: (…)”The Supreme Defence Council approved the Prime Minister’s proposals concerning the deployment in Romania, in May-June 2015, of Portuguese armed forces and equipment – approximately 150 soldiers and civilians and 4 F-16 multi-role fighters – that would prepare and handle NATO air-policing missions. Next, the members of the Council analyzed and approved the report on the 2014 activity of the National Response Centre for Cyber Security Incidents (CERT-RO), an institution whose general goal consists of developing response capabilities to cyber security incidents and cooperating with national or international entities with prerogatives and responsibilities in the cyber security domain.”(…)

It was also not coincidentally that, still the day the FBI director was eulogizing in Bucharest the excellent operation of the partnership of US and Romanian intelligence agencies, the director of the other fundamental intelligence structure of the US, CIA, John Brennan, had a telephone conversation with ex-SRI Director George Maior. Brennan  also thanked  Maior for the good cooperation and voiced  appreciation for his contribution to the consolidation of Romania’s partnership with the United States in the strategic field of intelligence, to the interest of the national security of both countries, of the region and of the world.

The same thanks and appreciation for the partnership with Romania in the strategic intelligence area had been expressed by Mr. Brennan just two weeks before during his meeting with Romanian Prime Minister Victor Ponta in Washington.

Summarising, in less than a month, from 12 February, when the PM met up with the CIA head in Washington, to 3 March, when the FBI chief was in Bucharest, Romania received from the most influential FBI and CIA voices the conformation of the importance given to it by the USA, its strategic ally, but also of the appreciation its intelligence services enjoy among counterpart agencies from across the Ocean.

Of course that this support and appreciation regarding Romania and its intelligence services- SRI and SIE -, voiced by the FBI and CIA chiefs are not coincidental.

At the Eastern border of Romania, and by that of NATO’s, there is a major war threat and everybody is alert to the growling of the Russian bear. The missile defence system at Deveselu is expected to be operational this year. US and NATO troops and logistics are transiting Romania or are stationed in the national territory on their way to theatres of operations or to joint military exercises.

It is clear that, to the US, FBI and CIA, Romania is a crucial pawn in the region and this is why local developments, the appointments of secret service heads, the manner in which SRI, SIE, the judiciary, DNA and the rule of law institutions function is looked at with much care and interest by Washington officials.

After six months of operation with just an interim director, a high calibre professional, General Silviu Predoiu, it will soon be the turn of the Foreign Intelligence Service (SIE) to receive a new director. The appointment of the new SIE head will be another crucial challenge to President Klaus Iohannis, after the one represented by the appointment of the director of SRI. An appointment that will nonetheless be also very carefully watched by the US partners and by those from the NATO members states, from the FBI to CIA and by all intelligence agencies of the countries in the North-Atlantic Alliance.

On Friday, three days after James Comey’s visit to Romania, George Scutaru was released from his office as presidential advisor on national security matters, although he was one of the key-people in the president’s entourage and also one of the favourites for the leadership of SIE. His hasty and unexplained departure has fuelled speculations suggesting that something compromising in Scutaru’s past caused the head of FBI to suggest that he should be removed from the vicinity of the president and all the more so from the race for SIE leadership.

No one insinuates that the FBI chief left the name of the new SIE head in an envelope during his visit to Bucharest, but, given the circumstances, this appointment is expected with all the more interest.




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