Tag Archives: counterintelligence

Hungarian secret agent on the Russian threat

A real bombshell exploded yesterday when Index published both in English and in Hungarian a lengthy interview with Ferenc Katrein, who worked in the civilian counter-intelligence agency for 13 years. His highest position at the agency was “executive head of operations.” He dealt with such sensitive issues as the country’s defense against the Russian secret service. In 2013 he left the agency because he “no longer could identify with the leadership,” which was following the decidedly pro-Russian policies of the Orbán government.

Katrein considers the Russian threat in Europe very serious, “the highest level” in recent years. The Russians are putting a great deal of work into “aggravating the migration crisis and especially in using it for propaganda and gaining influence.” A few months ago Ferenc Gyurcsány estimated the number of Russian agents in Hungary to be somewhere between 600 and 800, which, according to Katrein, might not be an exaggeration. If one includes “the complete web of connections employed by Russian intelligence to serve Russian interests, including dark intelligence, this number looks … realistic.”

In general, Katrein complains about the passivity of the agency. He realized at the time of the 2006 disturbances that “we are a sleeping agency,” that the agency was overlooking threats from extremist elements. It took some time to become more or less proactive.

We know that Fidesz, while in opposition, had close relations with former agents who had been booted out of the service but who still had friends in the agency who were passing information about government members and others to Fidesz. It is quite possible that some of these agents were sympathetic to extremist groups that could serve the interests of Viktor Orbán.

Ferenc Katrein / Index / Photo: István Huszti

After the 2010 change of government, when the agency became subordinated to the ministry of interior headed by Sándor Pintér, a former police chief, “the philosophy of the police” triumphed over “the philosophy of the secret service. …Something has to happen, a crime, a murder for the mechanism to start.” A good example of this mindset was the agency’s unwillingness to interfere in the activities of the Hungarian National Front (Magyar Nemzet Arcvonal/MNA) and GRU, the Russian military secret service. You may recall that István Győrkös’s group was playing war games with officers attached to the Russian Embassy in Budapest. By the time officers of the agency were sent out to confront the head of MNA, it was too late. One of them was killed by Győrkös.

In Katrein’s opinion, cooperation between an extremist group and the Russian military secret service is something that must be reported to the government by the head of the agency. Moreover, such a piece of vital information must be sent to partner agencies in NATO because “everybody’s fighting its own far-right organizations in Europe.” Katrein expressed his hope that the information was sent to Hungary’s partners. I wouldn’t be at all certain about that.

In the interview Katrein said that Russia placed a large number of agents in the former Soviet satellites in the late 1980s because it was becoming clear that the socialist order’s days were numbered. But this generation of “deep cover agents is close to retirement, which means that the Russians are looking for opportunities to refresh the personnel.” Apparently the Hungarian residency bond program is such an opportunity. Thousands of Russians can be placed in Hungary this way.

Moreover, if one looks at the media or among the so-called advisers and national security experts, it is apparent that the Russians have already deeply penetrated that vital sector for propaganda purposes. The personnel of the Hungarian state television and radio wittingly or unwittingly work as Russian agents. The same is true of government mouthpieces like Magyar Idők, Pesti Srácok, and 888.hu. National security experts talk about the failure of the West, the uselessness of the European Union, and the sins of the United States. They portray the refugees marching toward Europe as a controlled invasion. Lately, these “experts” have begun attacking NATO while remaining silent about Russia. In fact, some of them even deny Russian interference in the U.S. election on the side of Donald Trump. These “experts” surely couldn’t spread their falsified information without the authorization and support of the Hungarian government. Katrein’s opinion of these people “who consider themselves experts while they panic and talk about war and invasion are not experts but something else.” He didn’t spell it out, but I will. They are likely Russian agents.

When the conversation turned to the relations of NATO’s partner agencies with their Hungarian counterparts, Katrein described the situation this way: “You are in the international bloodstream if you have joint issues with other agencies, not only in counter-espionage but in counter-terrorism as well. If these are there, you are in the club. If these are not there, you are on the periphery.”

Although Magyar Idők, at least in one of the editorials published after the interview, tried to portray the conversation with the former counter-intelligence officer as a condemnation of the national security services before 2010, Katrein’s main critique was reserved for the situation created as a result of the Orbán government’s so-called “Eastern Opening” and the pro-Russian course that followed. Prior to the merging of the military intelligence services into the Military National Security Service, Hungarian military intelligence was completely pro-NATO. Now, it is very heavily pro-Russian. This was the reason for Katrein’s resignation.

It seems that the Orbán government was unprepared for Katrein’s revelations. Although Viktor Orbán felt he had to say something, his comments were inadequate given the harsh criticism of his pro-Russian policies. The only thing he managed to mutter was that although Hungary is not the largest country on earth, it is situated in an important part of it. Both to the East and to the West there are countries for which Hungary is important. Hungary cannot be isolated. It can only be defended. And, Orbán continued, the country has been well defended ever since 2010.

Orbán left the job of discrediting Katrein to the hacks of his media empire, but the result was confusion. Since the appearance of the interview Magyar Idők has published four articles on the subject, the first of which, as I said, tried to portray the interview as a condemnation of the agency during the socialist-liberal governments before 2010. This feat was accomplished by leaving out all references to the current government’s pro-Russian policies, which agents slavishly follow. In this first article Katrein was portrayed as a hero. But then Magyar Idők realized that the damning interview can’t be handled this way, so it moved into attack mode. It claimed that Katrein didn’t leave the agency on his own volition but was fired. Moreover, “secret service experts” now claim that “well-known foreign groups want to influence the foreign policy of the government, its consistent policy toward migration, and its cooperation with the president of the United States.” Yes, those foreigners are trying to ruin the Hungarian government.

International relations, due mostly to the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States, are in flux. We have no idea about the nature of U.S. foreign policy toward Russia in the coming months and years. As things stand now, it would be exceedingly risky for Trump to conduct the kind of pro-Russian policy he most likely originally envisaged. In any case, the Hungarian government is trying to get close to the top echelon of the Trump administration. Foreign Minister Péter Szijjártó already got as far as Sebastian Gorka, the pride of the Hungarian right.

March 22, 2017

Sebastian L. von Gorka’s encounter with the Hungarian National Security Office

I’m sure that many of Hungarian Spectrum’s readers were expecting me to write about the Putin visit to Budapest, but only a few hours after Putin’s airplanes, all three of them, landed at the Ferenc Liszt International Airport I cannot say anything meaningful about the much heralded visit except that it cost the Hungarian taxpayers an immense amount of money. The cost of official visits must be borne by the host country.

It is hard to know precisely what benefits Vladimir Putin expects to reap from his Hungarian visits. As far as Viktor Orbán is concerned, however, they must boost his ego. It doesn’t happen too often that the Russian president pays an official visit to a member state of the European Union. In fact, it is extremely rare. In the last two years there were only two such visits: in February 2015 to Hungary and in May 2016 to Greece. The Greek visit, just like, I believe, Putin’s trip to Hungary today, had something to do with Putin’s eagerness to have the crippling economic sanctions against his country lifted. Perhaps he was hoping for a Greek veto as now he is hoping for Orbán’s assistance. Whether he succeeded this time around in convincing the Hungarian prime minister to veto the renewal of sanctions against Russia is not at all sure. Orbán usually talks a lot about the sanctions’ harmful effects on Hungary, but when the chips are down he votes with the rest of his colleagues in the European Council.

So, instead of the Putin visit, I am returning to the Sebastian Gorka story. There are details about Gorka’s life in Hungary that might shed additional light on the qualifications and trustworthiness of Donald Trump’s new deputy assistant.

Gorka himself has revealed very little about his life in Hungary, although he spent 16 years in the country, arriving in 1992 and leaving in 2008. In 2002, however, his name was all over the Hungarian media. There were strong suspicions that Gorka was a spy working for British counterintelligence. How did such rumors emerge?

It was in June 2002 that Magyar Nemzet, then affiliated with Fidesz, which had just lost the election, revealed that Péter Medgyessy, the new prime minister of the country, was a counterespionage officer in the 1980s during the Kádár regime. Fidesz naturally insisted on setting up a special parliamentary committee to investigate Medgyessy’s role as a counterintelligence officer. Fidesz recommended Sebastian Gorka as one of its experts on such matters. The other recommendation was Gábor Kiszely, a right-wing historian whose favorite subject was the history of freemasonry. For the job the participants needed security clearance. The National Security Office (Nemzetbiztonsági Hivatal/NH), however, was suspicious of both Gorka and Kiszely. It eventually refused to green light the two experts.

Gorka naturally denied the truthfulness of the media reports. The undersecretary in charge of national security, however, assured the public that, as a precaution, Gorka hadn’t had any opportunity to get to top secret documents in the absence of such clearance. The expert delegated by the government party sailed through the vetting process, but the clearance of Gorka and Kiszely was nowhere. Gorka suspected that the security officials were simply dragging their heels in order to delay matters until the competence of the committee expired in August. To Origo he explained that he had never had anything to do with counterintelligence because he was only “a uniformed member of the British army’s anti-terrorist unit.” As we know from his Wikipedia entry, this was not the case because there we can learn that “at university, he joined the British Territorial Army reserves serving in the Intelligence Corps.” His only duty, he told Origo, was “to measure the possible dangers posed by terrorists,” such as members of the Irish Republican Army. Moreover, Gorka misleadingly renamed his unit “Territorial Army 22 Company” instead of “UK Territorial Army, Intelligence Corps (22),” the correct name, given by Népszabadság at the time and also given in Wikipedia, at least for today.

Now let’s see how László Bartus, currently editor-in-chief of Népszava, the oldest Hungarian-language paper in the United States, remembers Gorka from those days. Bartus was working as a journalist in Hungary at the time. He claims that it was discovered that Gorka had never attended any institution of higher education. This may have been the case in 2002, but it certainly wasn’t true in 2008 when he received his Ph.D. for a dissertation titled “Content and end-state-based alteration in the practice of political violence since the end of the cold war: The difference between the terrorism of the cold war and the terrorism of Al-Quaeda: The rise of the ‘transcendental terrorist.’” His dissertation adviser was András Lánczi, Viktor Orbán’s favorite political scientist, who became notorious after announcing that “What [the critics of the Orbán regime] call corruption in practical terms is the most important policy goal of Fidesz.” More about Lánczi can be found in my post “András Lánczi: What others call corruption is the raison d’être of Fidesz.” I may add that on the dissertation Gorka’s full name is given as Sebastian L. v. Gorka. So, the brief appearance of his name in Wikipedia as Sebastian Lukács von Gorka was not a mistake.

Kiszely and Gorka were barred from displaying their expertise in counterintelligence because, as some right-winger readers claimed in their comments, they were dual citizens. As for his citizenship, Hungarian newspapers claimed at the time that in addition to his British citizenship, he was also a citizen of the United States. Considering that he got married to an American woman in 1996, he could certainly have held U.S. citizenship by then. However, he hotly denied being a citizen of the country that he now wants to help make great.

Bartus sums up the Hungarian opinion of Gorka: “Then the unanimous opinion was that this man is a fortune hunter and a conman, who wriggles his way in everywhere, where he convinces everybody of his extraordinary expertise, when actually the only thing he is an expert on is extremist incitement. This picture of him among those who knew him in Budapest has not changed since.” Bartus is not surprised that Trump and Gorka found each other since “birds of a feather flock together.”

February 2, 2017

Even a former communist security agent can become a member of the Orbán government

It was on June 12 that President János Áder appointed the third Orbán government’s undersecretaries. There are so many of them that the ceremony had to be held in one of the bigger rooms of the Hungarian Parliament. Among the appointees was László Tasnádi, one of the four undersecretaries in the Ministry of the Interior. He will be responsible for the civilian supervision of the Hungarian police force. Tasnádi is a trusted associate of the minister of the interior, Sándor Pintér. In the last four years Tasnádi was the Pintér’s chief-of-staff.

Tasnádi is actually a high-ranking police officer who, according to his official biography, began his career in the Budapest police force in 1978 and remained an active officer until 1990 with the rank of captain (százados). By now he is a brigadier-general, a rank he received last year. According to the same official bio, he held high positions in the Ministry of the Interior and in APEH, the equivalent of the US Internal Revenue Service, between 1998 and 2002. After Fidesz lost the election, he joined Sándor Pintér’s business venture, a security firm. As soon as Viktor Orbán won the election in 2010, Pintér returned to the Ministry of the Interior with Tasnádi in tow. In  June 2014 Pintér became minister of the interior for the third time and Tasnádi got promoted to be one of his undersecretaries.

President János Áder shaking hands with László Tasnádi, the new undersecretary / Photo MTI

President János Áder shaking hands with László Tasnádi, the new undersecretary Photo MTI

A week after Tasnádi’s appointment became official, Index unearthed a few details about his past. It turned out that on June 16, 1989, when Viktor Orbán was sending the Russians packing, Tasnádi was waiting for the reports of two of his agents, Amur and Vera. By now we know quite a bit about Amur. He was born in 1930, was a tailor’s apprentice who got involved with the illegal communist party, and in 1952 became an officer of the infamous ÁVH (Államvédelmi Hivatal = State Defense Office). By the 60s and 70s he served at the Hungarian embassies in Paris and Geneva. He retired with the rank of colonel a few months before the reburial of Imre Nagy, but because a large crowd was expected retired personnel were also called up for the occasion. Details about Vera are not known.

Tasnádi in his very brief official bio on the website of the Ministry of the Interior simply reports that he left the Budapest police force in 1990 where he was the director of one of the “sub-departments” (alosztály). Indeed he was, but what kind of a sub-department are we talking about? It was the “D sub-department” of the III/II department (counter-intelligence) that was involved with “domestic enemies,” people who were suspected of hostile activities in the churches and in cultural fields. The department also reported on diplomats.

Interestingly, one of the first outcries after the publication of the Index article came from the right. Zsolt Bayer, the foul-mouthed anti-Semitic journalist of Magyar Hírlap, announced on his program Korrektúra on EchoTV that if  Prime Minister Péter Medgyessy (2002-2004) was unacceptable to Fidesz because he was a counter-intelligence officer of  the III/II Department, László Tasnádi should be as well. Tasnádi, however, announced a few hours after the Index article appeared that he has no intention of resigning. He was an honest counter-intelligence officer and what he did is “a profession” like any other. He is proud of his service to Hungary. The members of the opposition were not impressed: they demanded his resignation.

On June 24 even the Civil Összefogás Fórum (CÖF), the phony NGO that organized the pro-government peace marches, demanded Tasnádi’s resignation. The leaders of the group indicated that if Tasnádi is not ready to retire quietly they will exert more pressure “for the sake of strengthening the moral foundations of democracy.” They did not spell out what kind of pressure they had in mind. In addition, other pro-government journalists raised their voices against the Tasnádi appointment. Perhaps the most vitriolic was a spoof by András Stumpf in Válasz (aka Heti Válasz) in which he makes fun of certain right-wing journalists who try to defend Tasnádi.  Stumpf also calls attention to a Heti Válasz article from 2009 in which Tasnádi, along with 49 other officers, was mentioned.

Naturally, liberal journalists were appalled. Sándor Révész of Népszabadság pointed out with bitter irony that, after all, Tasnádi is in the right place. In the service of dictatorship he harassed Hungarians involved in the cultural field or connected to the churches while he kept an eye on diplomats who were helping the members of the human rights movement.  Now he can do the same thing again.

CÖF only yesterday made public another declaration about the Tasnádi affair. This time they ask the Ministry of Justice to prepare a bill that would make appointments of earlier “functionaries” impossible. This is, of course, far too sweeping. Who is considered to be a functionary? I hope that no such bill will be presented before the voting machine of the Orbán parliament. But members of the security forces of the dictatorship have no place in the government of an alleged democratic state.

It was the Demokratikus Koalíció who asked the most important question in connection with the Tasnádi case. Tasnádi is today an undersecretary because he has been favored by the minister of the interior who was himself a high-ranking police officer during the Kádár regime and as such was a party member. DK is wondering, and with good reason, about the connection between Sándor Pintér and Viktor Orbán. Why is it that Sándor Pintér seems to be the everlasting minister of the interior? This is now the third Orbán government in which Pintér serves as minister of interior. As the DK communiqué pointed out, Pintér is the only man who has been a minister for every minute of the Orbán governments. What is so special about this man? And DK pointedly asks: what does Pintér know about Viktor Orbán that he can allow himself to appoint a  man like Tasnádi to be his deputy?

I wrote about Pintér several times before and in one post I outlined the many rumors swirling around him. One of these rumors is that Pintér had a hand in or had knowledge of a series of suspicious bombings at the houses of Fidesz politicians just before the election in 1998. They were suspicious because as soon the election was over and Fidesz won, these terrorist activities abruptly ceased. As if they were ordered by someone or someones to create chaos and give the impression that the MSZP-SZDSZ administration was unable to handle the situation. At the same time they created sympathy for Fidesz and Smallholder politicians against whom these attacks were directed. This might be one possibility, but given the less than savory activities of Fidesz politicians in the past, it can be many other things that would be deadly if revealed.

We will see whether this case will also be ignored by the administration or perhaps, given the outcry on the right, Pintér will have to retreat and let his friend the security agent go.