The espionage case: The state secret is no longer a secret

It took only a little over two weeks for the great state secret to be out in the open. It seems that the correct information reached the public early enough. Hírszerző, an on-line newspaper, first reported on the case a couple of days after the arrest of Lajos Galambos, chief of the National Security Office (NBH) until 2007, György Szilvássy, minister in charge of security matters, and Sándor Laborc, Galambos's successor. The paper said that at least three members of the parliamentary committee on national security chaired by Ágnes Vadai (MSZP) had talked to its reporter and that one of them talked about a "Russian connection." I wrote about the case on July 5. In that article I also mentioned something that was a real headache for the directors of NBH. Top secret information concerning national security matters was leaked right and left, and it ended up in the hands of the top Fidesz leaders. From there the information was passed on to Magyar Nemzet and HírTV.

It was this illegal flow of information that bothered the directors of NBH as well as György Szilvássy, the minister. I recall a television interview with Szilvássy in which he stated that either Laborc or Galambos, by now I don't remember which one, asked him whether he could suggest a firm familiar with filtering out informers. Szilvássy apparently didn't know one but promised to inquire. And this is where our story begins–with the hiring of Zömök Kft.

In the last two weeks all sorts of stories have circulated, but the most likely candidate for a charge of espionage is the one that is focused on the firm that was hired to find Fidesz informers within NBH. This supposition of mine is supported by Ágnes Vadai who asked the chief prosecutor, Péter Polt, to investigate whether anyone violated the law on state secrets after the arrest of the three men. After she announced her decision to act on the matter, she couldn't talk about the case openly but hinted that she had become suspicious on the basis of articles written in right-wing publications.

The best candidate for the article that aroused Vadai's suspicion is the one that appeared in Heti Válasz, a weekly with an on-line edition, on July 13. The title is telling: "Szilvássy and his friends wanted to prevent 'Fidesz danger' at NBH." According to Heti Válasz the company that was suggested to Szilvássy "has Russian and Ukrainian connections." HírTV "learned" that  Zömök Kft. is a family business run by the elder and younger László Püski. Püski senior, as so many others of his generation, studied in the Soviet Union and married a Russian girl, the younger László's mother. In addition, there is a co-owner of the firm, Mrs. Rezső Varga, "who is also Russian speaking."

Heti Válasz's informers seemed to know that the older Püski was a close friend of Lajos Galambos. Heti Válasz checked out this information by visiting iWiW, a kind of Hungarian Facebook, where they found that the members of the two families indicated that they knew and liked each other.

That is bad enough–says the paper–but what is "a real scandal" is that Galambos asked Zömök Kft. to find those people within NBH who were responsible for leaking information to Fidesz. The job was to conduct polygraph tests among the employees. Heti Válasz naturally is convinced that no one was passing out information to Fidesz. It was no more than paranoia on the part of the socialists who were certain that the opposition was better informed on security matters than the government itself. According to the paper, Szilvássy was pushing for a thorough investigation of the staff.

Thus, the whole espionage affair is based on the assumption that Zömök Kft., after conducting polygraph tests, passed "the profiles" on to the Russians because of the family connection. Although one might question the decision to hire an outside firm for the job, people who are familiar with the workings of national security proceedings claim that most likely Zömök Kft. had national security clearance. 

If Heti Válasz's information is corrrect, it's no wonder that Ágnes Vadai, after her committee was informed of the details, called the whole thing "ridiculous." First of all, giving a polygraph test is not espionage. It might be illegal without the consent of the subject, but we don't know anything about such details.

To make such a serious charge as espionage, which might have international consequences, one must have hard evidence. A Russian mother and a father who studied in Kiev to become an aviation engineer is simply not enough.

However, László Kövér, second only to Viktor Orbán, has already rendered his verdict. On Sunday in a HírTV program called Kontraszt he announced that the decision to hire an outside firm at NBH by itself constituted "in the moral sense high treason." Of course, there is no such thing as high treason in a moral sense, and therefore the best thing is to treat this statement as a typical irresponsible political declaration that has nothing to do with the law.

I'm almost certain that the information Heti Válasz and HírTV received is more or less accurate. Whether the charge of the two Püskis passing on information to the Russians and the Ukranians will hold up, we will see. At the moment the prosecutors don't seem to have any hard evidence. And if this case turns out to be a fabrication of the government the consequences might be very serious.

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Minusio
Guest

“And if this case turns out to be a fabrication of the government the consequences might be very serious.”
Serious consequences for whom? Remember: This government can do no wrong. If it does or did, the laws will be changed.

Paul
Guest

Minusio is right. Serious consequences for Hungary in the long-term, maybe, but it won’t trouble Fidesz one bit.
Nothing can trouble them, they have total control over everything within Hungary’s borders, and will do for some time – perhaps longer than even many of us fear. And no one outside Hungary is interested enough or has the power to do anything about it.

Kirsten
Guest

For me the story does not “improve” much with this new information. Hopefully it was Mr Laborc who asked Mr Szilvassy to suggest a firm with the filtering out of informers, and not his predecessor. But what I did not understand is was the investigation of the firm made before or after the arrest of Mr. Galambos?

rab-magyar
Guest

it is obvious that hungary under fidesz and jobbik has got a bad lawless government.
what intellectual exercise can eject these clownish dictators?
who will lead the next velvet revolution in place of the failed pink revolution?

Paul
Guest
“who will lead the next velvet revolution in place of the failed pink revolution?” I very much fear Fidesz have altered the rules so much that a ‘velvet’ revolution is no longer possible. But, for argument’s sake, let’s think it through. By the time of the next election, there will be half the current number of MPs, a much more difficult process for putting up candidates, and (if I understand it correctly) a sort of first-past-the-post voting system, designed to give one party a large majority of seats, even if they only have a small majority of the votes. This will almost certainly mean that small parties will find it more difficult to put up candidates and even harder to get them elected. There’s a very good chance LMP will fail to win any seats and even Jobbik could find its representation in parliament drastically reduced. Most people seem to be assuming that Fidesz will do well out of this, but no one really knows what the result of these huge changes will be – too many parameters have been changed at once. And, with Fidesz’s record of jumping in with un-thought-through legislation, I’d be very surprised if they have… Read more »
Katalin Balog
Guest

Kedves Balogh Éva,
I have been reading your blog for a while and I really enjoy it – though I speak Hungarian I have taken to going to this blog before I comb the Hungarian media. I am a New Yorker from Hungary and an ex-colleague of yours from Yale currently teaching philosophy at Rutgers/Newark. At the moment I am in Budapest. I have been a fellow at the Collegium Budapest some years ago and now sadly witnessing its demise…
It would be nice to connect sometime in person…
With my best,
Kati

Joe Simon
Guest

Paul – your previous comments accepted. Eva has a pathological hatred of Orbán. Yet, he is doing reasonable well, while Gyurcsány, ‘az ország megmentője’, as she once wrote me, is becoming a joke in Hungary. Re the media law. Don’t you think England or the US would need one. Only the Public TV reported reported on the impending financial catastrophe. US mainstream media was too busy with celebrity gossip. So I hope you will all join me when I say to Eva: ‘Ne foglalkozz politikával’.

Kirsten
Guest

Joe: So I hope you will all join me when I say to Eva: ‘Ne foglalkozz politikával’.
I will disappoint you. But I wonder why in turn you do not stop reading this blog. Apparently you find it quite interesting what Eva has to say about Hungarian politics.

Kirsten
Guest

Finally I got the point that Mr Szilvassy was minister in the Gyurcsany government (I am sorry for that). Still, for me this affair shows how inadequately the institutions cooperate and how little loyalty to the “state” seems to play a role. I also think that it need not a private firm to investigate whether a ministry (or sort of that) employs people who cannot keep secret information within the walls of the institution. In other countries certainly this could be delivered by other people in the public services. So both that Fidesz had “informers” in a ministry (most probably not without reason), and that there was no other solution to it than to hire “independent” “private” firms, is dubious. And it does not even qualify for “checks and balances”.

Eva S. Balogh
Guest

Kirsten: “I also think that it need not a private firm to investigate whether a ministry”
I guess, they didn’t trust anyone. Nice situation!

Member

Joe Simon: ” Eva has a pathological hatred of Orbán. Yet, he is doing reasonable well,” Versus your views of Gyurcsany or for that matter anyone else with a democratic platform? Also, I asked you before to read the comments and facts that are posted by others. There were several posts pointing readers to factual information about how fast Orban’s popularity is on a decline.
As far as Eva’s political commentary goes.. she is way better qualified to comment as you for example. We are big boys and girls and can decide for ourselves if we want to read what Eva has to say. Why don’t you start your own blog and see how well that goes, instead of telling Eva not to mind politics.

Member

@Joe “Only the Public TV reported reported on the impending financial catastrophe”
Whre do you live? Are you high or just plain stupid?

Odin's lost eye
Guest

Professor you comment ** “. At the moment the prosecutors don’t seem to have any hard evidence. And if this case turns out to be a fabrication of the government the consequences might be very serious.” **
I am afraid I doubt this.
If there is no hard evidence no one will ever be told. The charges will just ‘lie on the table’ as an ongoing case and the accused will stay in limbo. Remember in Hungary an accusation is far more important than any evidence!

NWO
Guest

I do not know if it amounts to Treason. In fact, I doubt it. More like extreme negligence. Nevertheless, I admit to having some sympathy for Köver’s view that the national security services needed to outsource to an ostensibly private firm a counter espionage job is pretty damn pathetic, and speaks very poorly for the leadership and the whole security apparatus (not that i am surprised).

Sackhoes Contributor
Guest

Joe: there is some truth in saying that Eva scans mostly the port side of the horizon. But what she reports is thoroughly researched and well reasoned.

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