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September 18, 2020
POLITICS

Interview with Eduard Hellvig, director of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) (I): An intelligence service in a consolidated democracy has no business in the political competition

Eduard Hellvig, director of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), stated, in an interview granted to Agerpres, that in order to fulfill its purpose of protecting national security, the SRI must remain outside any political games.

“There were situations in the recent past in which it was attempted to draw the Service into political games and credit is due to the team of SRI professionals for maintaining the political neutrality of the institution. As such, we can notice that the professional reform conducted over the past years has proven its value. I believe that this reform must be deepened in the coming period, so that the political equidistance of the SRI cannot ever come under fire”, said the SRI head.

He also speaks in the interview of the risk of Romania being used as a transit territory for European citizen combatants to and from the Islamic State bases, but also of the crisis in Ukraine, which, in his opinion, does not represent, at this time, “a direct and imminent military threat for Romania, its impact being rather indirect, through the viewpoint of the risk of tensions upon our country’s borders”.

Furthermore, Eduard Hellvig shows that terrorism, that has now reached the dimensions of a global threat, can only be fought through a unitary reply, based on existing political and military alliances.

 

How do you evaluate the service one month since taking over the SRI leadership? What problems did you identify at the level of the institution?

 

I found a performing and dynamic service, with an important operational capacity, with successful actions against threats to security and in what regards protecting national interests. SRI is a modernized institution, which has understood the need to adapt to the developments of a world that is constantly changing. I am glad to note, for example, that SRI has transformed cooperation into a significant resource – both internal [cooperation] and international, in the interdependent world which we live in, for the promotion of joint security objectives with Romania’s allies. The SRI contributes to a significant extend to substantiating the strategic decisions, to fighting against grave risks and threats, such as large-scale tax evasion, corruption or organized crime and to a better positioning of Romania in the regional security architecture. They are elements that determine me to start off with more confidence in the potential of this professional team.

 

What did you set out to accomplish during your mandate at the SRI?

 

I believe that it is essential to consolidate the performance of the Service and the values that made SRI enjoy the trust of the public opinion and be perceived as an institution connected to the challenges of the present. I am referring to, mainly, political neutrality, discretion and institutional efficiency. In what regards the public dimension, I wish to mention that I have in mind a tighter cooperation with civil society and the academic environment. (…) Furthermore, I believe that the need to inform citizens forces us to a maximum of transparency, in relation to the role and activity of the SRI, within, of course, the limits allowed by the specific activity of an intelligence service. Last but not least, I want to draw attention to the fact that the SRI performance must be supported by a necessary normative evolution. Given that the legislation for the domain of national security dates back to the early 90’s, there is need for a proper framework for the challenges we face. A priority is constituted by redefining the legislative framework necessary for the SRI in operational work, in agreement with the arguments of the Constitutional Court and on the basis of a dialogue with the civil society, political parties and at an inter-institutional level. I am convinced that through dialogue we will find the most appropriate solution, that should allow the SRI to fulfill its mission and, at the same time, respect the citizens’ right to private life.

 

What are your first impressions regarding collaboration with your deputies?

 

I found at the SRI a solid management and operational team, that is acting within the performance parameters necessary to fulfill institutional objectives. That is why I want a cooperation that is as successful as possible and I am confident in this sense, because a common objective unites us: defending national security, in a context that is not favorable at all.

 

In the short period since taking over the SRI leadership important events occurred, did you encounter unforeseen situations?

 

Of the important events for the activity of the Service, I wish to emphasize the visit to Bucharest of the FBI director, Mr James Comey, whom I had the honor of welcoming on the first day of my mandate. I had the opportunity to directly evaluate the relations between the SRI and one of our main external partners and we also discussed the future common lines of action to deepen cooperation with the American colleagues, within the bilateral Strategic Partnership. And a few days ago we had the events on the occasion of the SRI activity report presentation for 2014 and the anniversary of 25 years since the establishment of the Service. As such, we have detailed the activity of 2014, analyzing the necessary measures for raising performance. In what regards events that would have a major impact on national security, we have not faced such situations, fortunately, given that we are in a period marked by regional tensions and terrorist and cybernetic threats of ever-greater breadth.

 

The Operative Council for Cyber Security (COSC), coordinated by SRI, has set forth, at the proposal of President Iohannis, a process to reanalyze the legislative provisions in the realm of access to informational traffic data and information security – the so-called Big Brother laws, declared unconstitutional by the CCR. You have issued a target time frame of 3-6 months. Is that a plausible time interval?

 

I am starting off from the premise that the Constitutional Court decisions represent the foundation to start a necessary and urgent effort to adapt the specific legislation to the risk dynamic. The SRI does not have a right to initiate legislation, so it cannot assume substituting the lawmaking competencies of other authorities. But our institution is part of the consultation process for normative acts that impact national security. As such, the Service has noted the necessity for a framework in the domain and has formulated proposals meant to ensure balance between ensuring public interest necessities and protecting individual liberties.

At the moment, the legislative vacuum affects the operational potential of the Service, with consequences on national security that are hard to anticipate. Practically, the SRI is facing restrictions regarding the use of certain technical capabilities, with negative effects in handling some relevant cases in which national security is affected. And, unfortunately, in most situations, these capabilities cannot be replaced by other means of investigation. I am not hiding the fact that within this sphere are also threats that are terrorist in nature.

 

Over time, there were statements that there are political pressures made on the services. Did you feel any pressure?

 

There were situations in the recent past in which it was attempted to draw the Service into political games and credit is due to the team of SRI professionals for maintaining the political neutrality of the institution. As such, we can notice that the professional reform conducted over the past years has proven its value. I believe that this reform must be deepened in the coming period, so that the political equidistance of the SRI cannot ever come under fire. One of the principles that guides me is that an intelligence service in a consolidated democracy has no business in the political competition. In order to fulfill its purpose of protecting national security, the SRI must remain outside any political games and I assure you that I will do whatever is in my means in this sense.

 

 

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