“This Profession Is Overmystified”Szöveg: Ádám Draveczki-Ury / Renáta Révész | 2010. január 27. 13:46
The Military Security Office (MSO) has always kept its distance from party politics and this will not change in the future either – Lieutenant General Ferenc Kovácsics, who has been leading the organization since November 2009, made it clear in his interview with honvedelem.hu. We discussed the secret services and the tasks of the MSO with the director general of the bureau.
As of November 1, you have been leading the Military Security Office as director general, but before that you had been working for the service for 11 years. To what extent have the ordinary days changed?
They have changed a lot. The responsibilities and the system of duties are absolutely different. According to the Code of Conduct the commander is responsible for everything he does and fails to do… My predecessor, Géza Stefán was an excellent leader not only as regards his expertise but his human qualities were also an example for us. Every political power that was in office in the previous cycles accepted him as a partner and was interested in his opinion. This is a difficult legacy, one has to rise to the occasion and I have to make myself accepted. Of course, the Military Security Office has always kept its distance from the questions of party politics and concentrated on professional work – this will not change under my direction either.
Is it difficult to stay away from current political affairs?
In a certain sense it is easy, but from another aspect it is difficult. For us politics means national security policy in the first place, of which we are not only the participants but the makers as well. It is fundamental that in respect of a given country national security activities cannot be pursued against the will of the citizens. In this respect it is not only the secret services and their leaders who take the responsibility, but politicians and citizens as well. There may be party interests in politics, but these cannot be more important than the national security interests of the country. A country where all this works like that can have a high opinion of itself. I tell you a simple example: every Hungarian citizen, authority, organization is equally interested in the prevention of a terrorist attack in preparation. In other words, the common denominator we can agree in has to be found with the people. The first aim is prevention. If we often talk to the citizens about certain dangers and we do this honestly, sooner or later they will understand everything, they will identify with the considerations and be helpful. In addition to that, we have the legal means and possibilities to enforce our national security interests on the basis of professional principles.
The public has quite a few information about secret services such as the Military Security Office. How would you sum up the tasks of the organization for those who are not aware of your exact function?
In the Republic of Hungary there are five secret services the duty of which is to ensure the operation of the national security system of the country on the basis of legal possibilities, by using special – mostly classified – means and methods. The most important suggestion of the law is that acts that are dangerous from national security considerations have to be prevented. If there is not a way for that – it happens – they have to be limited, hindered, and in case the activity in question is prohibited, dangerous, or creates a situation that requires so, it has to be terminated, then sanctions have to be taken against it. So we are talking about a complex system where the responsibilities of the government, the secret services, and the citizens are all present. The Military Security Office is a service with national competence, working under the government, under the direction of the minister of defence; the personnel are selected from the professional troops of the Hungarian Defence Forces for the most part. The director general exercises the employer’s right over them. The fundamental activity of the office is the national security protection of the Ministry of Defence and the Hungarian Defence Forces, which has to facilitate the undisturbed operation of these organs. In line with that, our most important duty is to conduct reconnaissance in the case of every individual, organization, and event that endangers this. For example if someone as the member of the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan falls asleep in the watchtower, he risks his and his comrades’ safety as well, in other words, he acts against national interests. If a group of organized criminals sells drugs in a given military organization, the corps in question become unfit for service. Are we talking about an ordinary crime? Yes, we do. Can it escalate into a case of national security nature, in other words, does the personnel of our office have to pay attention to these? Yes. So the dividing line is thin, but clear: something is either to the benefit and at the service of combat readiness and keeps it at a high level, or violates it or makes it impossible.
Do national security checks also belong to the aforesaid scope of activities, don’t they, if for instance somebody is employed by a military organization?
Not fully, only if the person concerned fills an important and confidential position stipulated by law. The national security check is a guarantee that the employment of a given person in certain positions does not pose a risk to national security. In such cases the person himself/herself is the one to provide the data, we conduct the check with his/her consent: on the basis of the order of the minister of defence, we examine if what the person in question said corresponds to the facts. In the case of making reconnaissance in acts of spying, acts endangering the constitutional order, or terror threats the methods are different, obviously, because here the activities have to be pursued undercover, otherwise we would risk the completion of the task. In other words, in the latter cases the person under investigation does not get any information about the fact that he/she will be the subject of a security check.
To what extent does the efficient work require cooperation with the other services?
As regards the challenges at home and abroad, we work closely together day after day. To tell you a practical example: if we consider Afganistan for instance, in the case of the Hungarian contingent the protection of national security has to be established, and we can actually enforce this in the Afghanistan mission. Thus the national security services are present here, and they work as enacted by law, in cooperation with each other.
Does it also mean that your colleagues are serving in Afghanistan too?
Obviously. The Military Security Office is present in every area where the defence forces carry out priority mission tasks.
So you work with an extensive information network both at home and abroad.
The Military Security Office – just like every secret service – is entitled to make use of the assistance of natural persons in its work, in other words to operate an information network that serves the interests of the Republic of Hungary as laid down by law. We are talking about prepared, trained people who carry out concrete assignments in specific fields, for the sake of prevention.
Are their tasks similar to what we can see in spy movies for example?
Not exactly, but without them our work cannot be productive. These employees are involved in the cooperation after a long selection process. Here I have to mention another circle, those who report something to us, the occasional cooperating parties, and as regards the general staff, the category of official collaborators.
The public is somewhat prejudiced against this activity too…
Yes, although there is also some kind of a mutual interest here. I give you a simple example. If someone picks up the information that a group wants to rob the armory of a corps and reports this, then it does not necessarily make this person an MSO employee, since every normal Hungarian citizen would do the same. Those who think differently and do not report to an authority that they are aware of the preparations of a similar act cause damage to the country. So the unnatural behavior is exactly the latter. If a group wants to blow up a bomb at an event and somebody hears about it then reports what he heard to the authorities, he is not an informer, a traitor or an agent, but simply does his fundamental duty as a citizen: he undertakes a role and takes part in the protection of the national security interests of the Republic of Hungary. The only reason why certain people suggest to society via the media that such things are harmful are their own personal interests. Well, it is not harmful, but on the contrary: no country can operate without such activities.
It is already a cliché that the public feeling in Hungary is quite tense and mistrustful today. Does it make your work more difficult in everyday life?
In our case – and here I am talking about the MSO only – it usually does not make it more difficult. I think we have to talk honestly and openly about a number of questions, but this profession is overmystified… It is a shame because a lot could be discussed with the members of society who, in this case, would also feel the responsibility that they take for protecting the interests of the country. Because I emphasize it again: it is not just our duty. Naturally it would be impossible to organize the full national security protection of a military organization, and it should not even be allowed to organize it totally, because such things are typical only in dictatorships. Therefore we have to ask the individual to help us, and by making use of the interests of the individual and his/her willingness to cooperate we have to enforce what we want.
How does the MSO recruit its employees?
There are requirements in every profession, just like in our case: the personnel of the MSO have to meet these criteria spiritually, physically and psychologically as well. Compared to ’average citizens’ there are some extra prerequisites of course, for certain activities of ours require them so: here there is more stress, the pressure is bigger than in the case of many other professions. It is important to have an extremely good, logical way of thinking, to have special sensitivity, and so on. To put it very simply I can say that beyond this the fundamental requirements are a Hungarian citizenship, a clean record, an IQ above the average, and if we are talking about an officer, a degree, and fluency in at least one language. In recent years we have given preference to those who speak some other languages besides English, which is considered a basic requirement. From this aspect it is very good thing that in the previous year national security courses have been launched on university level as well, finally. It also indicates that society begins to realize: this profession is considered a profession not only in a specific closed environment, since the knowledge can be utilized extremely well in other fields too. For example in civilian life it is also in the strategic and business interests of a company to prevent its secrets from leaking to other companies, to the competition. As regards the courses themselves, we participate in the elaboration of topics and coursebooks, and the education of students.
In your opinion what is it today that poses the greatest danger to the national security interests of Hungary?
The negative effects of globalization, for beyond the positive economic and political processes these tendencies have also accelerated. The most evident risk factor is terrorism, although today the risk of this is moderate in Hungary, fortunately. But we must be aware that this may change any second, depending on certain factors. Any activity pursued by the country outside its borders, which may be dangerous for other, local groups, such as our role in Afghanistan we have mentioned before, can change this. Or to mention another specific example again, when Ajman al-Zawahiri stated in connection with the operations in Iraq that he would turn Europe into a sea of flames, every state took a series of defence measures because we knew how real the threat was. Similarly, migration is also a risk factor. For example during the war 1.7 million people left the former Yugoslavia, and there were also some members of organized criminal groups among them. But enhanced readiness can be maintained only for a definite period because after a while the attention of citizens begins to flag, they cannot differentiate between the events. This is why the role of the media is also important, they should be in contact with us and show the issues, problems that endanger the national defence system of the military of a given country. If these relations are productive, the joint work will make it clear for everyone that secret services do not work for their own sake, on their own initiative, in their own interest, but in the interest of the citizens and the homeland, as stipulated by the relevant law. In spite of the fact that we participate in the shaping of national security policy we are only executing these acts but we would like to work professionally and efficiently, and it cannot be done without the help of the people.
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