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Romania

Capital Bucureşti
Time Zone EEST (GMT+2)
Country Code 40
Mobile Codes 71,72,73,74,75,76,77,78
ccTLD .ro
Currency Leu nou (1EUR = 4.1 RON)
Land Area 238,391 sq km
Population 22 million
Language Romanian
Major Religion Orthodox Christianity

The Romanian Secret Services, Politics and the Media: a Structural Overview

April 20, 2011

Balkanalysis.com Editor’s note: Although Communism is long gone in EU-member Romania, one particularly fascinating part of that lurid past – the role of the secret services in public life – still draws attention, as the following informative study reveals.

By Elena Dragomir in Targoviste, Romania

One of the most important problems that Romania had to address once communism collapsed in 1989 was how to deal with the legacy of its infamous Securitate- the all-pervasive Department of State Security. Although much of that legacy has been dealt with since then, the discussion and debate over security sector reform in general continues today. While numerous politicians, journalists, scholars, Romanian and non-Romanian alike, stress that Romania would need to confront many obstacles in order to bring the reform of the secret services to the desired end, relevant legislation remains under consideration and no final solutions have been reached.

A brief overview of the services, and the use or misuse of them by media and politics today, indicates the topic’s continuing significance in Romanian public discourse and public life, more than two decades after the toppling of the communist regime.

Structural and Organizational Background

The General Direction for People’s Security – in Romanian, the Departamentul Securităţii Statului or simply, the Securitate – was established by Decree no. 221 on 30 August 1948, as one of the directorates of the Ministry of Internal Affairs. Four years later, decree no 324 (on 18 September 1952) separated the Securitate from the Ministry of Interior, and created the Ministry of State Security. Then, on 7 September 1953, the Ministry of State Security merged with the Ministry of Internal Affairs. On 10 July 1956, the Ministry of Interior was reorganized into the Interior Department and the Security Department.

Almost a decade later, with Decree no 710/22 (on July 1967) the Securitate came to be called the ‘Council of State Security’ within the Ministry of Interior Affairs. In April 1968, this Council separated from the Ministry of Interior Affairs and functioned as a central body.

Branches of the Securitate

The Council of State Security and the Ministry of Interior Affairs would later be merged, forming the Ministry of Interior (Decree no 130 from 19 April 1972). As a result of this decision, the Council of State Security was organized in six directorates: domestic intelligence; economic counter-espionage; counterintelligence; military counter-espionage; security and protection for VIPs; and criminal penal investigation. The foreign intelligence service (with the directorate of espionage and the directorate of counter-espionage) functioned within this, as a separate entity though.

In March 1978, the then-chief of foreign intelligence Mihai Pacepa defected to the USA, an event which resulted in an urgent and comprehensive reform process, including the forced “retirement” of many covert operations.

Thereafter, the Securitate officially came to be called the Department of State Security, and it functioned within the Ministry of Interior until 1989. In 1989, at the time of the fall of Communism in Romania, the Securitate had in addition to its six directorates eight special units. These were: the special unit against terrorism; the special ‘F’ unit (the stakeout unit); the service for protecting state secrets; the independent service for foreign trade; the center for informatics and documentation; the ‘D’  service (disinformation service); the independent service of judicial secretariat, and the independent service of education and mobilization.

First among Agencies: the SRI

On 26 December 1989 the National Salvation Front decided on the termination of the Securitate, and subordination of the Department of State Security to the Ministry of National Defense, where it remained until the end of 1990. On March 26 1990, Decree no 181 had created the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI; in Romanian, Serviciul Român de Informaţii), the main secret service in Romania today. Many feared that the SRI inherited the personnel, the methods and the faults of the former Securitate. Today, it is unlikely that few, if any officers from the Communist period remain there, however. According to the law, the secret service is responsible to the Romanian Parliament.

The SRI’s mission is officially defined as follows: “the Romanian Intelligence Service is the official institution of Romania with competences in gathering and making effective use of national security-related intelligence. The activities are carried out mainly on the national territory but also outside [its] borders, in cooperation with other institutions with responsibilities in the field of monitoring and preventing cross-border threats. The Romanian Intelligence Service plans and carries out activities aimed at gathering, verifying and processing the information necessary for identifying, preventing and countering actions which may legally constitute threats to Romania’s national security. (…) The Romanian Intelligence Service carries out activities aimed at protecting the state secret[s] and preventing the leakage of intelligence that, according to the law, cannot be made public. By its specialized structures, the Romanian Intelligence Service is conducting intelligence and technical activities related to preventing and countering terrorism as well as counterterrorist operations against facilities attacked or occupied by terrorists, in order to capture or annihilate them and free the hostages.”

The communist Romanian Center of Foreign Intelligence (in Romanian, Centrul de Informaţii Externe, CIE) was reorganized in February 1990 and transformed into the Foreign Intelligence Service (in Romanian, Serviciul de Informaţii Externe, SIE). Law no. 1/1998 governs the organization and functioning of the Foreign Intelligence Service, and characterizes the SIE as ‘the state body specialized in foreign intelligence concerning the national security and the safeguarding of Romania and its interests.’ The Service ‘is part of the national defense system,’ and is under the control of the Parliament, ‘while observing confidentiality as to the means and sources of intelligence collection.’

On the Inside- the DGIPI

A third secret service in today’s Romania is the General Directorate for Intelligence and Internal Protection (in Romanian, Direcţia Generală de Informaţii şi Protecţie Internă, DGIPI), subordinated to the Ministry of Administration and Interior. Thus, it is the secret service of the Ministry of Interior. Created in 1990 from the branch of the Securitate covering the capital, Bucharest, it turned into the UM 0215 (“two and a quarter,” in the popular parlance of the 1990s), then transformed into the Special Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Interior. Then, in 1998, it was turned into the General Directorate for Intelligence and Internal Protection (DGIPI) subordinated to the Ministry of Administration and Interior.

The DGIPI’s website states its main tasks. It ‘performs intelligence activities with a view to obtaining, developing and providing the intelligence necessary for the prevention and countering of serious crime; identifies and provides information concerning threats and risks against public order as a component of national security, generated by persons or criminal groups involved in the organized crime; carries out internal protection activities in order to identify, prevent or counter any risks, threats and vulnerabilities concerning the personnel, missions, property, and classified information of the ministry; implements, within the responsibility area of the ministry, the legal standards regarding the protection of the national, EU and NATO classified information; ensures the coordination of the departments within the Ministry of Administration and Interior with responsibilities in terrorism prevention and countering; ensures the intelligence control over the observation of the legal framework regarding the dual-use products and technologies; enforces the authorizations issued by magistrates, in keeping with the provisions of the law and in the cases foreseen by it; participates in the implementation of the projects developed by the National Intelligence Community within the scope of its competence and responsibility area.’

Listening in- the STS

The Special Telecommunications Service (in Romanian, Serviciul de Telecomunicaţii Speciale, STS) is the fourth secret agency of Romania. The communist Special ‘R’ Transmission Unit, subordinated to the Ministry of Interior, was taken over by the Ministry of National Defense in 1990, and in 1992 received its current name.

The service organizes and coordinates the activities in the special telecommunications field for the Romanian public authorities, which include the Romanian Parliament, the Presidential Administration, the High Court of Cassation and Justice, the Romanian government, the central and local public administrations and so on. The institution has a military organization and is part of the national defense system.

Close Protection- the SPP

The Protection and Guard Service (in Romanian, Serviciul de Protecţie şi Pază, SPP) was created in 1989-1990 in the context of the collapse of the communist regime in Romania, to provide protection for Romanian officials. It is the fifth secret service in today’s Romania. Its communist-era precursor was the 5th Directorate of the Securitate, responsible with the protection of officials.

The DGIA- Military Intelligence

The General Directorate for Defense Intelligence (in Romanian, Direcţia Generală de Informaţii a Apărării, DGIA) is Romania’s military intelligence agency subordinated to the Ministry of National Defense. This is the sixth secret agency in Romania.

According to the official website, ‘the Directorate for Defense Intelligence is the specialized structure for gathering, processing, checking, storing and using intelligence and data related to internal and external military and non military risks and threats with possible consequences for national defense security. This structure coordinates the implementation of counter-intelligence measures and the cooperation with government and intelligence services/structures as well as with those in member states of alliances, coalitions and international organizations Romania is part of. It also ensures the security of the national, NATO and EU classified, defense-related information.’

The Recently Departed- SIPA

The Independent Service for Protection and Anticorruption (in Romanian, Serviciul Independent pentru Protecţie şi Anticorupţie, SIPA) was created in 1991 and was subordinated to the Ministry of Justice. In 2004 was reformed and became the General Directorate for Protection and Anticorruption (Directoratul General pentru Protecţie şi Anticorupţie).

The reorganizing was due to a huge scandal, the service being repeatedly accused of spying on judges and acting as a political police, but also of being led by former members of the communist Securitate. In 2006, for the same reasons, the Minister of Justice abolished this secret service. Some voices argue that SIPA was not really abolished, as it was replaced by the Directorate for Preventing Crime and Terrorism in Penitentiaries, subordinated to the same ministry.

An Unknown Quantity

Currently, many of these Romanian secret agencies have come under media scrutiny, and have been criticized for a number of reasons, though much remains unclear due to a lack of accurate information. References to alleged misuse of the agencies by rival politicians are also all too common.

One argument presented by many critics is that Romania has too many secret services- and too many secret agents. But the numbers are unclear, as there is no official data. Some individuals employed in this sector have made declarations in this sense, but these declarations are partial and contradictory.

According to Cătălin Harnagea, head of the Foreign Intelligence Service between 1997 and 2001, Romania had (between 1996 and 2000) 12,000 active officers in the SRI alone, without mentioning anything about the other agencies. Romanian officials often argue that clandestine personnel numbers is classified information valuable to national security. Drawing on testimony such as that of Harnagea, some critics have argued that the size of the intelligence service is disproportionate to Romania’s actual security needs.

Media and Political Rhetoric about the Romanian Agencies

Romanian secret services have also been criticized for allegedly being under the political control of one man or one group, rather than under the control of parliament or government. In any case, they have been continuously useful for political infighting.

Thus in December 2009, Mediafax reported that Vasile Blaga (then a candidate for the post of Interior Minister) stated in a hearing committee that the DGIPI should act according to its statute and not try to replace the SRI. In April 2010, after having become minister, Blaga denounced the previous Minister of Interior (nominated by the rival Social Democrat Party), alleging that the DGIPI had operated as a sort of political police under their mandate, reported Ziare.

The agency was also accused in the press of illegally investigating journalists, media agencies, and politicians. Often, the political struggle between parties or within parties to obtain the leadership of ministries (such as Interior and Defense) that control the spy agencies is acute. According to Ştefan Trandafir, a Romanian journalist, having the leadership of the Minister of Interior and of the DGIPI is a very important factor with regard to controlling the political arena and the business sector in Romania. There is no Parliamentary control over the DGIPI, Trandafir argues. Whoever has the leadership of the DGIPI has access to the archive and resources of the institution and consequently has information about politicians, adversaries, businessmen, information used to ‘negotiate’ different issues, he alleged.

Radu Tudor, another journalist, argues that the rivalry between DGIPI and the SRI is not ‘random,’ but ‘stimulated from the highest political level in Romania.’

In February 2011, Traian Igaş, the Minister of Interior, declared that the reorganization of the DGIPI has not been ‘efficient enough,’ Mediafax reported. In the same month, the central daily newspaper România Liberă claimed that ‘the secret service DGIPI is the main [actor] culpable for the proliferation of corruption in the Ministry of Interior.’ Traian Băsescu, Romania’s president, was cited as calling for the urgent reformation of the Ministry of Interior and of the DGIPI, through evaluating every single member of the staff. Anonymous sources from the Ministry of Interior stated for the newspaper that this reformation would mean changing the ‘inefficient’ and ‘corrupt’ leadership of the agency and dismissing 20,000 employees.

Similar allegations of the secret services’ presence in the political arena are frequent. In April 2010, for instance, Claudiu Săftoiu, former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, declared that the National Union for the Progress of Romania (Uniunea Naţională pentru Progresul României, UNPR) political party had been created by the secret services.

However, Săftoiu refused to mention which secret services were actually involved in this regard. The party was formed in March 2010 by politicians who had defected from other political parties hostile to President Băsescu. The new party became a supporter of Băsescu and, according to Săftoiu, was created through blackmailing different politicians with information from the archives of the secret services, Ziare reported.

The Curse of ‘Collaboration’

The accusations and issues involving the SRI are even more numerous and complex. One of the most common denunciations in post-Communist Romanian political life has been alleging that political rivals collaborated with the Securitate. In 1999, the National Council for Studying the Archives of the Securitate (CNSAS) was created. Its aim is to administrate the archives of the former communist secret services in Romania, and to develop educational programs and exhibitions for preserving the memories of the victims of the communist regime in Romania.

One of the most important missions of the Council was given as to expose the former collaborators and informers of the Securitate. In 2009, for instance, the Council identified 298 alleged former Securitate officers. Another mission of the Council is to verify if different persons holding or standing for different public offices had collaborated with the communist secret services. In 2009, the Council looked into the backgrounds of over 7,000 such persons, and identified 29 former Securitate officers as currently holding public officers.1

The CNSAS: A Questionable Institution?

However, the National Council for Studying the Archives of the Securitate is a very controversial institution and its decisions are often contested.[1] The Romanian-born German writer and Nobel Prize winner Herta Müller, for instance, noted that her Securitate file from the CNSAS is incomplete.[2] This raises a key issue regarding the CNSAS and its decision-making process: the SRI still has the archives of the former Securitate, and it decides which files and which parts of certain files go to the CNSAS for analysis. Some have thus suspected that personnel within the SRI can use the CNSAS to achieve their own goals, by eliminating political rivals from the electoral competition, to support others and so on.

The case of the Romanian senator Dan Voiculescu is an example in this regard. Initially, in 2000, the Council concluded that he was not guilty of any former collaboration, as the SRI had provided the Council with very little information from its archive about Voiculescu. However, in 2006 when Voiculescu decided to become candidate for the office of vice-prime minister, the Council received from the SRI a new file about Voiculescu. Based on this new file, the Council decided that Voiculescu had been a collaborator of the Securitate.[3]

On March 10, 2011, the High Court of Cassation and Justice ruled that Voiculescu had indeed collaborated with the communist-era secret service. Voiculescu declared that he was a victim of political pressure, and that he will contest the decision in the European Court of Human Rights. According to Voiculescu, in his case, the SRI acted according to orders given by his currently empowered political adversaries.[4]

Public Perception of Relations between Politics and the Agencies

The accusation of having collaborated with the Securitate is one of the most important political tools in electoral campaigns or within the political struggle for power in general. Even Romania’s President, Traian Băsescu, has come under the suspicion of having been a high-level Securitate officer during the communist regime, and of having maintained its mandate and political power with the direct support of the secret services. Many argue that having a good relation with the secret services is a sort of guarantee for being successful in electoral campaigns or in personal business, as well as a guarantee that one’s adversary will lose.

Likewise, if the secret services had helped such an individual to reach his or her goals, then the latter would be very attentive to accommodate the interests and needs of the former once in power- assuming that he or she was not the mere instrument of those secret services in the first place. This is the general public perception regarding the relation between the level of political power and the secret services.

In one relevant example from 2009, the Special Telecommunications Service was accused of having supported Traian Băsescu in the electoral campaign, for instance, by sending text messages on the mobile telephones of the people announcing the victory of Băsescu, before the final result was known, or by ‘helping’ Băsecu’s party to count the votes.

However, finding out the truth about such public accusations and speculations requires transparency with regard to the security sector from officials. Since the 1990s, the Romanian authorities have been announcing further reformation of the sector. In 2009, President Băsescu declared that the reformation of the SRI had been successfully concluded during the previous year.[5] However, despite this declaration, there is still a public sentiment that more reform is needed, and more legislation remains waiting to be decided in parliament.

Current State of Affairs: No Big Rush in Parliament

In an article of 8 March 2011, the journalist Vlad Mixich noted that both the Romanian Intelligence Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service function according to rather old laws, which had been created at a time when Romania was not a member of NATO or of the EU. Mixich also noted that the reformation of the secret services started some years ago under the pressures coming from NATO and the EU.[6]

There are currently five new legislative projects addressing the secret services: the law on national security, the laws regarding the Romanian Intelligence Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service, the statute of the intelligence officer and the law regarding the activity of intelligence and counter intelligence.

The new laws stipulate the merging of the Romanian Intelligence Service and the Foreign Intelligence Service, the multiplication of the powers of the intelligence officers, the inclusion of all the secret services into an Intelligence Community subordinated to the presidential councilor for defense problems, the right of the intelligence services to develop commercial activities, and the right of former intelligence officers to participate in politics.[7] Currently these laws seem to be on standby in the Parliament.

At the moment, there is no discussion going on regarding such pending legislation in the Romanian parliament, despite rumors circulated in the beginning of 2011 that action was imminent. It seems most likely that the parliamentary debate will be postponed at least until after the next parliamentary election in 2012.

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[1] Gândul, 5 September 2006

[2] Evenimentul Zilei, 13 octombrie 2009

[3] Evenimentul zilei, 3 March 2011

[4] Gândul, 10 March 2011

[5] România Liberă, 27 March 2009

[6] Curierul Naţional, 8 March 2011

[7] Cotidianul, 11 January 2011