Balkanalysis.com

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

In Romania, Connections Clouded between Intelligence, Business and Politics

By Elena Dragomir and Chris Deliso

Since February, Romania political observers have been intrigued to see what implications key leadership changes at the top of the country’s political-security establishment might have for other eventualities. What these shifts can tell us about the evolving Romanian power structure today thus remains a subject of interest for analysts local and foreign alike. Looked at in a certain context, these events may allow the opportunity for judgments about certain intelligence structural tendencies that can have real-world application.

Most such attention has centered on the Foreign Intelligence Service (in Romanian, Serviciul de Informaţii Externe, or SIE): its director since 2007, Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu, was replaced on 8 February. However, rather than simply exit the political scene, the outgoing intelligence chief was promoted to the post of prime minister by President Traian Băsescu. Three weeks later, the president appointed a replacement at the SIE- the more low-profile, but much older Teodor Viorel Meleşcanu.

Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu: a Political Insider

Ungureanu, a former State Secretary and Foreign Minister, had most famously served as the head of the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service from November 27, 2007 until February 8, 2012. (The structure and activities of this and the other Romanian security services were discussed in a Balkanalysis.com report of April 2011).

During his SIE tenure, Ungureanu was ostensibly non-partisan and still claims to be an independent. Yet earlier this month, he told Romanian media that he was open to joining a political party in future and would like to continue in government to contest November 2012 elections.

Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu is a man of broad academic and political experience. According to his official Curriculum Vitae, posted on the government’s website, the new prime minister was born on 22 September 1968 in Iaşi, and is married with one child. He developed certain international connections early on, receiving in 1993 a Master’s Degree from the Centre for Jewish and Hebrew Studies at St. Cross College, University of Oxford. Later, in 2004, he received a PhD from the Faculty of History at Alexandru Ioan Cuza University in Iaşi. Between 1992 and 1998, he was a teaching assistant at the Faculty of History, at the same university in Iaşi, and since 2007 has served as a professor there. Ungureanu has also published a number of history books.

Based on this background and relative youth, it would seem unusual that such a figure would advance so rapidly into the highest levels of political and security administration in a fairly large country like Romania. Yet in the interim, Ungureanu has been active in politics and diplomacy, primarily involved with the National Liberal Party (PNL) and often mentioned in Romanian media as a close supporter of President Băsescu, who again had appointed Ungureanu to the SIE post in November 2007 (this appointment was confirmed by the Parliament in the following month).

Ungureanu began his diplomatic career in 1998, between December 2004 and March 2007 serving as Romania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs. During this period, he was a member of the National Liberal Party but after leaving the MFA in 2007 claimed to have ‘suspended’ his membership in the party. More recently, Crin Antonescu, the president of the PNL declared that Ungureanu does not represent it in the new government.

Another professional experience which was used to defend Ungureanu’s fitness for the SIE job was his brief position as deputy coordinator of the Southeast European Cooperative Initiative (SECI), a Vienna-based multinational entity formed by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe and the OSCE. On its website, SECI acknowledges that “it relies on a dense network of affiliations and collaborators through which it further contributes to the regional efforts for sustainable development and integration and the bridging of remaining obstacles to cooperation and development in South East Europe.”

The SECI Center (now dubbed SELEC) is based in Bucharest, however, and is charged primarily with fighting organized crime and illegal trafficking. SECI/SELEC is well known as the prime venue in Romania where foreign law enforcement and intelligence specialists from a variety of countries can compare notes. In an important interview with Ungureanu that will be discussed below, he stated that while at SECI – that is, well before becoming SIE chief – he did “have access to confidential information through the representatives of the states involved,” but however “was not involved operationally.” He rather characterized his experience and SIE tenure as “managerial” in nature.

Unclear Events Pointed Out in the Media

A number of hazy events in recent years have led rival politicians and anti-Băsescu media to allege Ungureanu of having operated on the president’s behalf from 2007-2012, leading some critics to argue for a misuse of the SIE for political reasons. This has had to do both with controlling access to information and allegations of election influencing.

First, for readers who may not be aware of the media-political relationships in Romania, some context here will be useful as it may have implications for critical evaluation of the sources. Although the following study draws quite considerably on the direct commentary of the main persons discussed, a number of important secondary sources come from media such as the newspaper Jurnalul National, which is very anti-Băsescu/PNL and anti-PDL (Democratic Liberal Party). However, this newspaper, a holding of Intact Media Group (founded by wealthy businessman and Conservative Party senator Dan Voiculescu), also publishes articles critical to the opposition.

For years now, the PDL and PNL/Băsescu have accused Jurnalul National and Antena 3 TV (another Intact Media Group holding) of following the directives of Voiculescu, which they deny. Băsescu is in a continuous war with these media companies and with the journalists in general.

Generally, Romanian media does not discuss these problems much, with very few exceptions. There have been cases of journalists dismissed for their anti-Băsescu or anti-PDL/anti-government attitude. The most notorious examples were Oana Stancu, Adrian Ursu and Ravan Dumitrescu, who were dismissed from Realitatea TV– and later hired by Antena 3. This is probably the only domestic television channel critical of the people in power right now. For her part, Oana Stancu writes now in Jurnalul National. A very limited discussion about the freedom of media can be found in a January 2012 report from the European Journalism Centre. In the big picture, the freedom of media and alliance of media discussion is very complicated and confusing, with accusations and counter-accusations from each part, all of which are very hard to prove.

The first case relevant to the present study (which occurred in 2007, but even before Ungureanu was promoted to the SIE) in which he was allegedly involved, reported Ziare, was the ‘scandal’ of two Romanian workers accused of espionage and arrested in Iraq. On February 2, 2007, then-Prime Minister Călin Popescu Tăriceanu (also of the National Liberal Party) asked Ungureanu to resign from the MFA; Tăriceanu was angry that he had only found out about the arrests through the media (not to mention three months after the fact), whereas President Băsescu had been informed immediately and in private. Many in the media have thus considered that Ungureanu was the ‘man of Băsescu’, as Revista 22 put it recently.

Some Romanian media have followed the same line of reasoning to argue that ‘Traian Băsescu is leading Romania through the secret services,’ as Gandul.info put it on 6 February, when Ungureanu was given the nod by President Băsescu to form the new government. Over the next few days Ungureanu negotiated the future composition of the cabinet with the political parties- only officially resigning his SIE post on 8 February. Many critical politicians and journalists argued that it was actually against the law for a secret service director to simultaneously become politically active in forming a government.

Obviously, the new prime minister does not share these negative opinions about himself- in a television interview of 2010 that will be discussed below, he vehemently denied politicization of the SIE by the president as common conspiracy theorizing. Still, in the important HotNews interview discussed in the following section, he does make a comment that is quite interesting on this point. “When I took over the foreign affairs portfolio I already had experience as state secretary and had already been involved in a political and diplomatic activity that had sometimes and somehow got connections with the activity of the special services,” he said in 2009. “Taking this into account as well as my management role at the helm of this institution, the question of [gaining leaders’] trust has never been raised.”

There were a couple of other SIE-related ‘scandals’ from the time of Ungureanu’s directorship. One involved the results of the last presidential elections (2009). Critical media have since voiced suspicions of illegal SIE involvement in the campaign of Traian Băsescu, interestingly, within the Romanian communities abroad). However, the alleged use and misuse of these diaspora groups was not sufficiently clarified and remains a subject of unresolved interest.

The Syrian Affair

A second affair that predates Ungureanu’s SIE career – but that reportedly had an espionage element – was the Omar Hayssam scandal, which was widely discussed in the Romanian and even international media.  This Syrian-born financier active in Romania since having been a student in the Communist days was sentenced by a Romanian court (in absentia) to 20 years’ jail time for allegedly plotting the 2005 kidnapping of three Romanian journalists in Iraq. According to a website covering Romanian special forces, the journalists were liberated by the SIE’s elite, ultra-secret counter-terrorism group. According to the website, the group was created in 1998 and trained by the US Delta Force and consists of 12-15 men.

The journalists were held as prisoners for almost two months, with their Iraqi captors unsuccessfully demanding that Romania withdraw its troops from the country. When Hayssam was soon arrested in Bucharest, the truth of the matter came out: rather than being a kidnapping with political or religious motivations, it was uncovered as having actually been an opportunistic stunt.

According to later reports, the Syrian had hoped to shield himself against looming criminal charges, by surreptitiously kidnapping the journalists and then interceding to win their release, presumably thus becoming a public hero. However, after this plot was discovered, the Syrian nonetheless escaped the country following temporary home leave in July 2006- an embarrassment which forced the resignation of Gheorghe Fulga, the SIE chief at the time, reported Reuters.

On July 21, 2006, Jurnalul National disclosed the details of the internal political deliberating that in an instant transformed the security leadership in the country, due to the Hayssam scandal. After a three-hour meeting with President Băsescu, Gheorghe Fulga (who had directed the SIE since February 2001), Radu Timofte, director of the SRI domestic intelligence service (also since February 2001) and Virgil Ardelean, director of the DGIPI criminal intelligence service since 1998 all resigned. However, Prime Minister Tăriceanu did not accept the resignation of Ardelean, who remained in office until 2007.

On the surface, it was this tumultuous case that paved the way for Ungureanu, at that time minister of foreign affairs, to take over at the SIE- though there was an eight–month period of indecision in which General Silviu Predoiu, Claudiu Saftoiu, and then Predoiu again served as interim directors. (At the moment, Predoiu has returned as deputy director). However, Ungureanu may have already had an intelligence-related role in the Hayssam affair. In fact, Ziua recently reported that in 2006 Ungureanu intervened on behalf of a lawyer who was himself representing ‘an Israeli lobby group,’ to be allowed to talk several times with Hayssam in his jail cell, “without even obtaining the approval of the case prosecutor.”

The article draws on the testimony of Lieutenant Colonel Nicolae Ulieru, “one of the closest persons to Virgil Măgureanu and the longest serving Spokesman for the SRI.” (Măgureanu himself had been SRI chief from 1990-1997 and was before that on the military tribunal that sentenced the Ceaușescus to death). In the article, Ulieru contended that he had two years earlier “exposed” the plan of President Băsescu to eventually form a PNL-PDL government under Ungureanu, and that “this is the reason why Mihai Razvan Ungureanu accepted the position of Head of SIE in 2007, moving from PNL to the party once run by Traian Băsescu.”

Ulieru comments in the article on a very murky incident that allegedly took place in Iasi, and involved the interference of a foreign intelligence service in the dismissal of an SRI officer. The Ziua article concludes by noting that “the episode mentioned above confirms that Mr. Ungureanu belongs to a foreign intelligence service. Mr. Ulieru also offered to give all the information items he holds in front of a Parliament Commission.” In the article, the SRI colonel implied that it was strange for such a relatively young politician to serve in turns as foreign minister, SIE chief, and prime minister. Whatever the truth of the matter may be, the feud may be indicative of competition (as will be noted in another case below) between the SIE and SRI, as well as between different generations of SIE leadership and staff, something that is endemic and not unnatural in most countries with similarly structured security bodies.

Oil, the Austrians, Close Connections and ‘National Security’ in the Black Sea

The new Romanian prime minister has not had a very easy time of it lately, with hostile media also accusing him of conflict of interests due to his wife’s relations with OMV Petrom, the biggest oil company in Romania, and a subsidiary of the OMV Group which, like the SECI entity he used to head, is based in Austria. The business strategies of the parent company are far more significant for regional business and political interests than simple nepotism allegations, however.

In December 2007, a few days after Ungureanu became director of the SIE, his wife, Daniela (an anesthesiologist by training) became a member of the Board of Directors of Petromed Solutions, a firm belonging to OMV Petrom. According to Jurnalul National, Daniela Ungureanu received 225,000 euros (about 7,000 euros per month) between 2009 and 2011 from Petromed.

The apparent issue with this was that Mr Ungureanu made no specification regarding this affair in his declarations of interests during his tenure as intelligence chief. In February-March 2012, however, Ungureanu declared that his wife was a ‘medical consultant’ for Petromed, involved in a ‘social project’ of the company. At the same time, however, OMV Petrom representatives, responding to a clarification request from Jurnalul National said that she is a member of the board of directors of Petromed.

In March 2012 testimony reported by Jurnalul National, Ungureanu still claimed that there is no conflict of interests between his former position as SIE director, or his current position as prime minister and his wife’s position at Petromed. Critics from media, politics or the civic society like Grupul de Investigativi Politice have argued otherwise, though. Daniela Ungureanu is still under contract with the oil company, while the Romanian government is running negotiations with Petrom on a broad range of issues, reported Jurnalul National on 13 March.

Romanian journalists Oana Stancu and Daniel Ionascu have argued that this is a matter of ‘national security’ as OMV and Exxon are prospecting in the Black Sea, in the search for natural gas. Their representatives declared that deposits of 42 to 84 bn cubic meters of natural gas have already been identified; this equals three to six times the annual consumption of Romania. Such an energy related issue naturally comes within the purview of the SIE, the two journalists write.

Moreover, OMV Petrom has been trying for years now to export the gas extracted from Romania, which would make Romania 80% dependent on the very expensive Russian gas. This problem (among others related to OMV Petrom) has again to be addressed by the Romanian government – this time lead by Ungureanu. This is more than conflict of interests, it is a matter of national security, the two journalists claim.

New SIE Structures and Priorities Developed During the Ungureanu Period

While the new prime minister’s official CV (as of March 2012) does not mention anything about his mandate as head of the Foreign Intelligence Service, insights into his priorities, mindset, and perceptions and goals of intelligence work can be gleaned from other official sources. These include press communications from the SIE and, most helpfully, a March 2009 interview with the former director himself for HotNews – an interview which is preserved on the SIE website – and a transcript of a three-way 2010 interview for B1 TV, also carried on the SIE website. (One can say what one wants about the particularities, but at very least when it comes to providing such access to testimony from intelligence chiefs, Romania seems to be far ahead of all its Balkan neighbors).

The composite picture that emerges from these interviews is of an individual who is supremely confident, well-spoken if sometimes evasive, but who can be tempted to refer to the possession of privileged knowledge as a sort of qualitative personal advantage over other human beings.

In the first interview from 2009, journalist Vlad Mixich pressed the then-SIE director on a range of issues, resulting in one of the fuller pictures we have of contemporary Romanian intelligence from one of its chief practitioners. Averring that with recent reforms the SIE has “turned from a Dacia into a Rolls-Royce,” Ungureanu takes pains to point out that despite Romanian popular imagination, the service today is not comparable to the sinister Securitate of the old Communist regime, as the trajectory of NATO and EU reform processes has generally increased transparency, democratization and parliamentary oversight.

In the interview, Ungureanu discussed the SIE’s “clearly outlined competence in foreign intelligence-gathering” which do not involve political decision-making. At the same time, however, “the outcome of SIE’s work should be traceable in political strategies,” the director stated.

In his conception, his own SIE leadership does not necessitate “in-depth knowledge of all the intricacies of an operation,” though proper management  does require an increase in professional performance, “best use of available human, logistical, financial, credibility and PR resources and, last but not least, correctly [conveying of] information to the relevant decision-makers that are allowed by law to receive it and make best use of it.”

Aside from expressing the expected talking points about transparency, reform, and no domestic spying, Ungureanu added several comments that are quite intriguing. First was his rather optimistic and confident view of the SIE’s capacities – stating that intelligence is being collected “anyhow, anytime [and] anywhere,” while agreeing with the interviewer that a good motto for the service would be that “the end justifies the means.” In this robust worldview, SIE work is one of the “most vivid” ways a Romanian can express his or her patriotism- “to help your country irrespective of the context and risks.”

Ungureanu also characterized the SIE’s reform path since 1990 as having been characterized by both small steps, and occasionally “spectacular leaps,” largely depending on human resources and the orientation of political decision-makers during that period. One key moment was 2002, when Romania’s NATO application was approved, something that “changed Romania’s security paradigm in all its implications: ranging from the structure of the Ministry of Defense to the structure of the special services.”

Orientation Shifts to a Network Approach, and Acknowledgement of Powerful Allies and Interests

This had far-reaching implications, stated Ungureanu: “this turn in paradigm triggered a radical structural overhaul of the SIE in its entirety, and I do not mean the personnel alone, but also the structure, the scope, and the development strategies – i.e. everything an institution is supposed to mean.” The main goal of the reforms was to make Romanian intelligence services compatible to those of NATO partner countries; this apparently involved changes in structure, reflexes and mentality. Making the SIE NATO-compatible meant “deconstructing and reconstructing the service… along the lines of a mixed Western pattern,” and with significant staff turnover.

One of the interesting themes Ungureanu singled out was the change from a past known for its “autarchic regime” (e.g., the Securitate) towards one that is a “family” or “network-based” structure characterized by partnerships and mutual allied support. Romania thus became “part of a network where each component has a specificity and obvious geographically-based competences, and uses resources depending on national and allied policies.”

This is amplified in the second, 2010 television interview in which Ungureanu expanded upon his view of Romania’s strategic value and of its newfound ‘interest’ among outside players. In the interview, he makes a point of noting the excellent relations with NATO-states, complements from the US ambassador, and his own meeting in Romania with then-CIA chief Leon Panetta.

In the interview, Ungureanu also maintains that “Romania, by virtue of her current geopolitical status, is interesting to any spy institution from states that have an undisguised, strategic interest in the EU, the North Atlantic Alliance, Southeast Europe or the Black Sea area. In other words, small histories that no longer stir the interest of the media in other states because they have repeated on and on… as Romania acquires more geopolitical weight, she obviously attracts more attention of spy services. In some cases, these things are also covered by the media. In most cases, the fight is waged in the unseen areas of society.”

It is perhaps interesting that this tangent in the discussion was prompted by comments from the journalists about the now infamous case of Russian spies like Anna Chapman expelled from the US and, something that is now even more striking due to recent embarrassing events- comments made by George Friedman, the head of Stratfor. The leader of the self-proclaimed global intelligence provider (amusingly described by Ungureanu as being a “geopolitical traveller”) had apparently called on Romania in a local media interview to “become dangerous.” In the interview, the SIE chief related that he understood this friendly advice more in the sense of building a strong military than a strong intelligence service. In any case, the passage does indicate that the country’s admirers and would-be intelligence advisors are not limited to governmental officials.

He also warns of the deleterious effects budget cuts would have on the SIE’s abilities, and perhaps for this reason plays up the agency’s alleged overall importance. As such, when asked about the expanding interests of the SIE internationally, Ungureanu adds that “there are some states that have become interesting to the SIE because of their own policies, their own lists of national priority interests, their own affinities or partnerships, depending on what everyone builds – closer or farther to home.”

“However,” he adds, “there is a level of cooperation between services, even though in some cases the dialogue is harsher. But there are some fields where our interests are necessarily common”- these include organized crime, terrorism and human trafficking. When asked whether Romania cooperates with Russia too in these areas, Ungureanu confirms this but does not state, when prodded whether he has ever met his Russian counterpart. This is interesting in that it implies in Romania there might still be something taboo or untowards about any such relationship, owing to the Communist past.

Changes in Recruitment and Training Practices, Restrictions and Dangers

The recruitment trends and restrictions witnessed by Ungureanu prior to and during his tenure are also of interest for the casual observer. In the first interview from 2009, he notes that “there are no prodigies in espionage, ones that would pop up straight from universities,” and reiterates that risk is emphasized over reward to potential recruits, before getting down to a number: the goal of the SIE being “to choose eight people out of one thousand; and in the end to have only five left, after these eight have gone through the rigours of specialized training.”

Regarding recruitment, the former director went on to enumerate the qualities the SIE is apparently looking for, qualities “that develop rather with adult age than in restless youth,” and which include intelligence, adaptability to any context and “a quite different mindset, particular brains and particular strength necessary for one to work abroad under several aliases.” Further, he cautioned that there is an “ethical benchmark” candidates should keep in mind, and that is “a significant curb [on] individual liberties: ranging from the freedom of circulation to the free choice of feelings, free dialogue and free will. It is a quasi military discipline where the rules are non-negotiable.” All of these are subservient, he maintains, to “national interest.”

Ungureanu added another comment that offers further intriguing insight into the SIE’s particular worldview. He noted that the job “sorts out values very well, exactly because the professionalism indicator – i.e.the quality of the information – is measurable. You do not measure information; you measure the quality of information and its real effect, its ability to predict and understandability. When you follow such precise criteria you can almost surgically cut between the very best, the average and the improvable [candidates]. With the specification that the improvable have got a chance because you never know what or whom you may run into.”

In the 2009 interview, Ungureanu also states his confidence in an “intelligence elite” carrying out training and that the existence of this is in some way impervious to politicization.  As of 2009, he states that “we have a lot of young people in the apparatus” of collecting information from abroad and turning “quantitative information into quality intelligence.” With “a lot” of young Romanians apparently having received “extensive and serious experience abroad” as of 2009, “we are the ones providing recruitment and foreign operational expertise to other partners in NATO.” Ungureanu finally characterized the SIE as a ‘powerful’ intelligence service.

In the 2010 television interview, he adds more details about the professional restrictions of SIE agents during and after their career. This commentary develops from questions about economics and budget cuts- the implied question being how they could affect morale and integrity.

Ungureanu notes that SIE employees’ status as state workers means their wages depend on levels of professionalism and competence, but differs from other civil servants in that they are “special”- and “not only because they conduct a totally different activity that no one else in the Romanian state does, i.e. espionage, but also because, at the beginning of his or her contract and until his or her contract terminates, each employee is subject to a whole series of restrictions that no other employee of the Romanian state must endure.”

These restrictions include having no other jobs or engagements and that “absolutely everything related to his or her private life is subject to the corporate regulations,” including any association with foreign and sometimes even Romanian citizens. After retirement, these people “have to make a pledge that everything they know can never and shall never be disclosed… they have no chance of having a business telephone, a business car, a holiday bonus, Easter holiday, a place to live provided by the Service – no chance at all.”

Ungureanu appears to have been emphasizing this Spartan existence in reference to rationalizing against budget cuts; that they “should be adjusted to the restrictions that special categories of employees of the Romanian state must endure on a voluntary basis once they signed a contract with the state.” The other argument for this (not specifically expressed) is that underpaid employees represent a serious potential liability as they become prey to better-funded foreign competitors and thus drive up the costs of internal counterintelligence.

Indeed, when asked whether budget cuts have led to “HR problems,” Ungureanu replied that the “corporate culture” of the SIE is somehow unique among other Romanian services, providing its own morale. As in the 2009 interview, he reiterates that only about eight of 1,000 candidates are accepted, and that the SIE receives “about 2,000 applications a year.” The perceived motivating factor of these young recruits is said to be “patriotism” with other “professional incentives” being that the work is “extremely risky, full of danger for one’s own life, but it is very interesting, very, very interesting.” Finally, he maintains that the professional skills learned by SIE men and women make them employable in other capacities after retirement.

There is a dark side, however. Ungureanu amplifies this by attesting that during his tenure an undisclosed number of Romanian spies were assassinated- contrasting the average MFA employee’s involvement with “abstract things” to the SIE officer’s engagement with “people.” When the SIE agent is active abroad, “he is a criminal outside the Romanian borders. That’s the risk.”

The broad sweep of the former director’s rhetoric in the two interviews thus indicates that the Romanian agency has indeed taken a new higher profile, with the repeated “but few are chosen” type quips meant to resonate romantically in the broader social discourse, as well as to serve as a sort of fundraising tool, perhaps.

New SIE Outreach- with Academia

New approaches to recruitment with foreign influence have been indicated in other official documentation. Towards the end of Ungureanu ‘s mandate, a February 2011 press release from the SIE seemed to indicate again the new experience of a network-oriented approach drawing on allied practices, as had been voiced by the director two years earlier.

The press release chronicled the signing of a protocol of cooperation between the SIE and the University of Bucharest, granting MA students from the university the chance to undertake an “OSINT internship programme” which apparently would provide te chance “to acquire practical experience – which supplements the experience of university studies – in a field of activity reserved for elite professionals.”

Billed as a first for Romania, this seems most closely to be a domestic adaptation of certain post-9/11 ‘synergies’ formed typically in the US and Great Britain in the suddenly lucrative field of ‘intelligence studies.’ The new cooperation of state security and academia may develop in both more formal ways, but also for patronage, entitlement and as part of a relatively new business model in the Western world. It is a low-risk, high-reward model, with ‘OSINT’ practice being safe, straightforward and perhaps informative to higher-ups seeking to observe cognitive skills of young potential recruits (before they know that they might be recruits).

According to the press release, the SIE’s two annual internship programmes would take place in the periods of June-July and July-August, and be limited to four students who have finished “the first year of their MA programme in law, philosophy, history, journalism, foreign languages and literatures, political sciences, communication sciences, and who are Romanian citizens and residents having no criminal record, and having received BA graduation exam marks of over 8.50, and MA entrance exam marks of over 8.50. Preference would be given to “those MA students who are interested in the fields of geo-politics and international relations [and who] have strategic thinking skills and speak foreign languages.”

Beginning of a New Era: The SIE’s New Director, Teodor Viorel Meleşcanu

On 28 February 2012, Teodor Viorel Meleşcanu took over as director of the SIE.  His official, and brief CV (see page 6) is provided by the webpage of the Chamber of Deputies of the Romanian Parliament, though the SIE website now also has one for him and his deputies as well here (under ‘Leadership’). The new director is decidedly more ‘old-school’ than his predecessor. Born in 1941, Meleşcanu graduated in 1964 from the Faculty of Law of the University of Bucharest, in 1973 obtaining a PhD in political science and international law from the University of Geneva. He is also a professor at the University of Bucharest and published many books dealing with topics concerning international law and diplomacy.

In 1966 he started his diplomatic career at the ministry of foreign affairs. Between1992-1996 Meleşcanu was minister of foreign affairs, while between 2007 and 2008 he served as minister of defense. He was also three times elected as senator, as a candidate of the National Liberal Party.

Teodor Meleşcanu was an important member of the PNL until President Băsescu designated him director of the SIE in February 2012. Accepting Băsescu’s proposal, Meleşcanu declared his suspension from the PNL and its activities. Yet while the SIE has a new director, the retention or reactivation of certain ‘old hands’ indicates that there will be no major policy changes or reorientations from the top.

Still, Meleşcanu’s designation for SIE generated a small political crisis, as Gandul.info reported on February 28th. Critical politicians and journalists alike argued that through this move, Băsescu was seeking to strike once more against the political opposition. In his first speech given as head of the SIE, Meleşcanu declared that “the main objective [of Romania] is the correct organization of the local and parliamentary elections” and that “I hope that there are the necessary means to prepare the elections.” In light of the many national and international security issues going on all the time, the preoccupation of the new director of the SIE with elections was considered by many in Romania at very least to be not a mix-up of priorities, or even suspicious.

Meleşcanu was often accused (without presenting any proof, though) of having been an officer of the communist secret service, Securitate. Hotnews.ro recalls that Mihai Răceanu, a former diplomat in Ceauşecu’s time, argued in his book Infern, 1989 that Meleşcanu was an undercover officer of the Securitate: oddly enough, President Băsescu himself formulated such an accusation against Meleşcanu 12 years ago.

On 28 February, Meleşcanu again rejected the accusations that he had worked for the secret services before or after 1989. On the same day, he declared that the SIE’s other priority now is to attract EU money for Romania- another interesting goal for an intelligence service, but one not entirely dissimilar from the objectives hinted at by his predecessor.

While no proof has ever been forwarded about Communist collaborations, and while it may no longer even be relevant, the Romanian parliament is apparently still taking a keen interest in housekeeping matters relating to it. On 28 February 2012, the parliament adopted – without the participation of the opposition – a law on lustration. The timing of the bill and its special provisions have correlations with the recent game of musical chairs at the SIE, it turns out.

According to the initial text of the law the former leaders of the Union of the Communist Youth and the former diplomats of the communist regime could not be appointed in public positions for five years from the adoption of the law. On 28 February, though, Mircea Toader (Liberal Democratic Party) asked his fellow deputies to amend the text of the lustration law.

According to the accepted amendments Mihai Răzvan Ungureanu (former alternate member of the Central Committee of the Union of the Communist Youth) and Meleşcanu (former diplomat of the communist regime) no longer come under the law and its restrictions. For his part, Ungureanu has declared it ridiculous that his nominal relationship with the Communist youth could have any significance, considering his young age at the time.

Analysis: Reforms, Reorientation, a Regional Role

It is abundantly clear from the above study that since 1990 the Romanian Foreign Intelligence Service has made real reforms and steered a new course, tempered by the new political system realities in the country and in the world.

It is also clear that it continues to aspire, along with other Romanian security agencies, to more prestigious positions in the region and wider world. In the recent past, this has involved priority placement of representatives at international, NATO-related intelligence events, particularly when it is known in advance that representatives of ‘rival’ domestic agencies will also be present, even when their presence has made no difference whatsoever in terms of contributing to discussions, and even despite occasional violations of the non-disclosure of SIE employment clause to foreigners. And this is not merely an observation on the part of the authors, but based on the filtered testimony of Western intelligence officials who have watched the dynamic play out closely over time.

Speaking of the Balkan region in particular, it is clear that Romania sees itself as being one of the more important and engaged countries for the future of the region, particularly with the imminent draw-down in size of Western aid missions and even the closure or reduction of Western diplomatic missions in the region- the curse of too much peace, apparently.

Yet significantly, this is part of the reason why Romania has tried so hard to build trust among NATO allies- a more active role in its greater backyard can also mean millions of euros in executable project funds and related consulting work through its ministries and allied NGOs and ethnic groups. Within the next decade this new interest, should it continue, may bring Romania into competition with Turkey. Although this is a competition Romania cannot win, serving the function of just “being there” as a Western surrogate might well be used by Bucharest to try and curry favor in the never-ending game of Balkan patronage and prestige.

Current Business/Political Events: Copper, Gold and Natural Gas

There are currently several large projects or planned projects in the commodities and energy fields (in addition to the above-mentioned OMV dealings) which might be discussed, as they are interesting in themselves and since they might bear some sort of relevance in the context of intelligence activities from both the SIE and foreign countries in or relating to Romania.

The first, brought up by Ziua on February 11, 2012, discusses the very controversial Rosia Montana gold mining project in Transylvania on the Hungarian border, which has been put off due to environmental concerns about cyanide drilling, raised by a wide variety of environmental and citizen groups determined not to see a repeat of the massive cyanide spill that occurred on a similar project in Baia Mare in 2000, affecting three countries. Not only big money but EU politics and international relations are at stake, as well.

The newspaper claims that the current project is strongly supported by President Băsescu, “who developed a true obsession for it, [and] is supposed now to be started again by Mihai Razvan Ungureanu, following a lack of courage of the former PM to do it.”

Further, reads Ziua, the president has told Ungureanu that this project of the Rosia Montana Gold Corporation Company in the Apuseni Mountains “should become a Government priority.” In fact, the paper notes, President Băsescu specifically invoked the need to start mining at Ungureanu’s invocation ceremony, stating that it would add jobs and wealth for the country in general. A Canada-based mining company, Gabriel Resources, owns Rosia Montana.

This company had previously been united with another, now sister company, London-based European Goldfields, which invests in gold mines in Greece, Romania and Turkey. The company characterizes its Certej mine (owned through subsidiary Deva Gold since 2006, after privatization at the time of EU membership) as “located in the ‘Golden Quadrilateral’ area of the Apuseni Mountains of Transylvania in Western Romania.” The perception of such a promised land of mineral wealth running across a wide swathe of western Romania is what makes environmentalists nervous about the greater ambitions international conglomerates have for exploiting their country. (It is also a bit ironic since Romania is currently advertising its tourism offerings on international television under the slogan of ‘explore the Carpathian garden’).

Ungureanu and his government are now also taking heat over the planned sale of a copper mining company, CupruMin Abrud. The state had taken over the company in 2009 from over the EnergoMineral group, but soon terminated the privatization plans, “due to the sudden decline in the price of copper on international markets,” reported Jurnalul National on 28 March. The company’s assets reportedly represent “60% of Romania’s reserves of copper, a deposit evaluated at 20 billion dollars.” According to Jurnalul National, the Romanian government sold CupruMin Abrud to another Canada-based company, Roman Copper Corporation for 200 million euros.

In a press release of 30 March, this company and its ultimate owner, BayFront Capital Partners, announced that it was “excited” to be involved with the Rosia Poieni copper mine. BayFront partner Mike Curtis stated that “we are delighted with our acquisition of Cupru Min through an open, transparent auction process,” characterizing it as “one of Romania’s most prestigious mining projects… [we] will bring top level expertise and resources to realize Cupru Min’s full potential.”

The unlisted and little-known Canadian company, which seems to have been created specifically for the Romanian operation by BayFront, beat out three competitors, including a major player from Australia, OZ Minerals. However, Andrew Topf of Mining.Com relates the Australian view that OZ “may have bigger fish to fry” than the Romanian company, which does not approach the importance of its major holdings worldwide.

According to both foreign and Romanian media, the privatization of the mining company was part of the conditions of Romania’s EU membership in 2006. “Roman Copper has a letter of guarantee acceptable to Eximbank, and the contract will be signed Cuprumin takeover within ten days,” reported Jurnalul National, contrasting this 200.77-million-euro privatization – an amount “nearly four times more than originally requested” – to the continued failure to privatize Electrica bănet South, despite that “Italy’s Enel have raised over 800 million.” The newspaper quotes sources who say that “the Romanian state authorities were forced [to privatize] by the International Monetary Fund.” (The IMF representative in Bucharest denied this on a television program). For his part, Ungureanu has stated that the sale of a bankrupt state company for four times its asking price indicates a financial coup and positive sign for the country.

As with the gold mine, the Rosia Poieni copper mine (which geologists also believe to contain gold) has also been criticized by environmentalists for its harmful effects on the natural world.  This has included recent protests in front of the Ministry of Economy. Vladan Florin, the head of the Office of State Ownership and Privatization in Industry (OPSPI), said recently in answer to these concerns that Roman Copper will need to invest 92 million euros, and to solve environmental problems because its waters, rich in heavy metals from the tailings pond, represent “a natural sulfuric acid factory,” said the Jurnalul National report. Nevertheless, Iulian Iancu, Chairman of the Industries of the Chamber of Deputies, characterized the tender as illegal because the necessary environmental permits had expired on December 31, 2011, “and have not been renewed because the company did not comply.”

Finally, another foreign investment project now causing protest from government opponents is the Romanian government’s decision on 29 March to allow Chevron to search for shale gas near Constanta; the Bulgarian government had previously refused the same request and plans to prevent all such projects over environmental objections. However, the Romanian government played the argument that if Romanian gas runs out (after 10 years), the country would become more dependent on Russian gas. This opens a wider geopolitical discussion with more actors and can be used to strengthen Bucharest’s hand- even though the government-supported plan of OMV’s increased exports would result in the same dependency, ironically.

Yet even here, fast-paced developments on the political scene seem to have foiled the Ungureanu government’s plans, and rattled the American investor. In response to a series of broadcasts of Antena 3 TV, Chevron Romania announced on the evening of 1 April that it is suspending exploitation of shale gas in Romania for the rest of 2012. According to the station, the Chevron representatives also stated that their company has ‘nothing against’ the declassification of the contract made between itself and the Romanian government in this respect. Therefore, it was implied that not Chevron, but the Romanian government, seeks to hide the stipulations of the contract from the public.

The political opposition, through the voice of Victor Ponta, one of the leaders of the Social Liberal Union (USL), in a press conference on April 1st accused Prime Minister Ungureanu of “giving away the resources of the national patrimony,” adding that “the mandate of the Ungureanu government has nothing to do with the interests of Romania nor, it seems, with the party interests of PDL, UNPR or UDMR either, but with interests that are foreign from Romania.” By acting ‘conspiratorially,’ Ponta declared, the prime minister “is giving away the natural and energetic resources” of the state, reported Adevarul.ro.

Intrigue Continues on the Security Leadership Front

A final interesting development involves more apparent consolidation of control atop other branches of the Romanian security apparatus. On 29 March, Romania’s MediaFax “quoted official sources” as saying the DGIPI Criminal Intelligence Director, Cristian Gheorghe Latcau, is being replaced. (Latcau had served as DGIPI head since Dec 22, 2010, appointed by former interior minister Traian Igas).

 

“According to Democrat-Liberal sources quoted by HotNews.ro, Premier Mihai Razvan Unugureanu is going to appoint Chief Commissary Mihai Pintilei in Latcau’s place. Pintilei is the head of the Traffic Police Department of the Police Inspectorate in Iasi, the native city of Premier Ungureanu.” However, this move could backfire, the report continues, as Ungureanu’s decision “reportedly sparked discontent in Democrat-Liberal quarters given Pintilei’s lack of experience in the intelligence field.”

Hypothetical Approaches for the Study of Intelligence Activity

The foregoing breakdown of priorities and SIE philosophy does lend itself to a favorable view of the agency and its reforms, but the facts of an alienated parliament and apparently custom-tailored laws indicate that politicization at least at upper levels is still a factor and that volatility will remain during periodic swings in power.

Still, the whole discussion of issues like lustration, and the constant framing of intelligence issues against the abuses of the Securitate, may in fact be a smokescreen, obscuring more relevant and significant dynamics. While the media sees symmetries in things like lustration law exclusions, the realities of day-to-day politics and big business – often depicted as ‘national interests’ – may have more relevance. As such, it may be more profitable therefore to ask: if the intelligence service were to indeed relapse into political, non-transparent and profiteering practices, where would the signs of such activity be?

In his 2009 interview, the current prime minister and former SIE chief noted how clearly quality intelligence could be measured; the same may be true for the professionalism and apolitical nature of an intelligence agency. An interesting litmus test for the current example could theoretically involve a contentious issue

That said, any assessment of present or future abuse of SIE mandate for a specific politico-economic purpose, such as this one is purported to be, would have to consider means, reach and use value. But also, if as Ungureanu stated, ‘patriotism’ and protecting ‘national interests’ should be key motivators for their officers, other practices as related below could be looked out for.

An auditor would firstly seek to learn whether any senior intelligence officials carried over from the different mandates have any particular expertise or interest in geology or rock science. An analysis would also seek to confirm whether SIE-related assets are in a position to either learn about or influence environmental rulings on cyanide drilling being deliberated by the EU and possibly other law-issuing entities, and relationships with public relations groups trying to make the project acceptable to the public on the local and international levels.

An investigation would also try to pinpoint and plot out the entire SIE network in London and Toronto, which are home base for the majority owner of the gold and copper companies, and perhaps in other places in Europe where the SIE is now known to have been given cover within the diaspora through NGO, academic or other positions. Assessing the activity and interest of the counterintelligence services of those countries vis-à-vis Romanians would also be a useful barometer.

Finally, it would seek to verify whether any prominent commodity traders active (or, who would be active) in the gold business in Romania have SIE ties, or whether the SIE (or the internal SRI) is keeping a close eye on such traders from abroad. It would be expected that any sudden moves or the introduction of supposed new ‘players’ on the commodities markets relative to these big investments would attract attention. If the 2006 failure to sell the copper company was due in fact to a sudden decline in copper prices on world markets, it would be natural for the SIE to seek out professionals who have a good understanding of the expected fluctuation of such prices.

Such a study might not bear fruit, not least of all because there may in fact not be any wrong-doing. But if for the sake of the example, these tactics would seem appropriate for anyone with such an interest in following the practices and identifying the role of an intelligence service in politico-economic affairs. In the end, the specific country or personalities involved are not as important as the structural dynamics and what they can teach us.

Looking for More Balkanalysis.com Publications?

Find Balkanalysis.com articles in the Central And Eastern European Online Library (CEEOL)

Buy Balkanalysis.com articles and e-books for Amazon Kindle