Tag Archives: Russian disinformation

Russian-Hungarian exchange of top security information

After a lot of suspense, the fate of Paks II, to be built by Rosatom and financed by the Russian government, has been settled. The European Commission threw in the towel. Admittedly, there is still a possibility that the Austrian government will take the case to the European Court of Justice as it did with Great Britain’s Hinkley Point Nuclear Power Plant. The British case is still pending, and a verdict against Hinkley Point might have some bearing on Paks II. But that is a long shot.

Although the specific points of the final agreement on Paks II are of great interest, here I would rather look at another, possibly nefarious instance of Russian-Hungarian relations: an agreement between Russia and Hungary “on the mutual protection of classified information.” News that this agreement would come into force on April 1 was announced on March 3, 2017 on the last pages of the Official Gazette. It was discovered by the staff of Magyar Nemzet. Interestingly, with the exception of very few media outlets, this agreement has been ignored.

What is even more surprising is that the agreement itself was signed in September 2016 without anyone noticing it. Bernadett Szél (LMP), for example, who is a member of the parliamentary committee on national security, had no inkling of the document’s existence. This is what happens when the opposition parties lack the resources to hire a research staff.

Of course, the agreement is not especially significant by itself because it only defines rules and regulations governing the transfer of secret information between the two countries. What is of considerable interest, however, is the extent of the working relationship between the Russian and Hungarian national security forces or, as the agreement states, “the competent authorities responsible for the implementation of [the] Agreement.” These “competent authorities” are the National Security Authority in Hungary and, in Russia, the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB), the successor to the KGB of Soviet times.

The agreement reveals that top secret documents change hands between Hungary and Russia which cannot be shared by a third party. How many such documents are we talking about? The agreement at one point states that “for the transfer of classified information carriers of considerable volumes of classified information, the authorized bodies shall, in accordance with the laws and other regulatory legal acts of their States, agree on the modalities of their transportation, itinerary and escorting method.” There are also detailed instructions about the destruction of certain secret documents, including the proviso that “classified information carriers marked Szigorúan titkos!/Совершенно секретно (Top secret) shall not be destroyed and shall be returned to the authorized body of the originating Party, when they are no longer deemed necessary.” All this indicates to me a close working relationship between the Russian FSB and the Hungarian NSA.

We don’t know, of course, what kinds of top secret documents are being exchanged by the Russian and Hungarian national security agencies. It is certainly not immaterial what kind of information the Hungarian partner passes on to the Russians, especially in view of Hungary’s membership in NATO and the European Union. In fact, Magyar Nemzet specifically asked the Ministry of Foreign Relations and Trade whether the Hungarian authorities gave information about the details of cooperation between Russian and Hungarian national security forces to the European Union and NATO. No answer has yet been received. Bernadett Szél told the paper that she was certain the Hungarians don’t pass any sensitive information on to the Russians and that the European Union and NATO are fully aware of all such exchanges between the two countries. I wish I were that confident that the Orbán government is playing by the book.

Tamás Szele in Huppa.hu is convinced that such an exchange of secret documents greatly favors Russia “because considering the weight and strength of the two organizations, it is hard to imagine the arrangement as one of cooperation between equal partners.” For Szele this means that “we have become unreliable diplomatic partners, surrogates of Russia with whom one cannot candidly negotiate or conclude secret agreements because everything that has been said or written will be in the Kremlin within an hour.” Let’s hope that Szele exaggerates, but as far as I know western diplomats are already worried about the trustworthiness of the Hungarian diplomatic corps. And as Attila Juhász of Political Capital, a political science think tank, said the other day, “the government seemed to have forgotten that Hungary is a member of the European Union and NATO. It replaced a friend with a foe, contemplating idly the growing use of Russian propaganda.”

Hungarian state media spread fake Russian news / Source: Budapest Beacon

There is another danger in this cozy Russian-Hungarian exchange of top secret information, which is the possibility that the Russians disseminate disinformation that may lead the Hungarian agents astray. Given our knowledge of Russian disinformation efforts in the United States and the European Union, I don’t think it is too far-fetched to assume such a possibility. The use of disinformation via the internet is one of Russia’s weapons in the destabilization of Europe.

The far-right Hungarian-language internet sites under Russian tutelage work hard to turn Hungarians against Western Europe and the United States in favor of Russia. This is bad enough. But the real problem is that the Hungarian government media outlets consistently join the chorus of pro-Russian far-right groups, which only reinforces the worst instincts of a large segment of the population. According to a recent study on the attitude of the Visegrád 4 countries toward Russia, “the Hungarian government disguises its pro-Russian stance behind a mask of pragmatism,” but there is reason to believe that the government media’s love affair with Russia is not against the wishes of the Orbán government. The Orbán government’s long-range economic and financial dependence on Russia in connection with the Paks II project further ties Hungary to Putin’s Russia, whose plans for Europe don’t bode well for Hungary either.

March 6, 2017

Russian military intelligence and the Hungarian National Front

I’d wager to say that not too many people are familiar with a far-right paramilitary organization called Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal (Hungarian National Front or MNA), although it is perhaps the most important group of its kind today. It espouses the tenets of Hungarism, the brainchild of Ferenc Szálasi, leader of the Arrowcross party which, in the late 1930s, had, for a short while, one million followers. The current leader of MNA, István Györkös, who just killed a Hungarian policeman, is the anointed successor of Szálasi.

Szálasi was captured in Germany by the Americans and was sent back to Hungary, where he was executed in 1946. While still in Germany, he passed his mantle to Árpád Henney, a military officer who was a member of his cabinet. Henney served as head of the Hungarist movement abroad until his death in 1980, when he appointed Imre Tatár, a former member of the Koronatanács (Crown Council). Tatár was singularly unsuccessful in holding together the warring Hungarists. He went to Hungary in 1989, hoping to revive the movement on Hungarian soil. It was here that he found István Györkös.

Despite the fact that a whole institute was created to study extremist organizations in Hungary, we still know relatively little about the 76-year-old Györkös. It seems that he was arrested and jailed after the 1956 revolution. In jail he became acquainted with the Hungarist movement through former leaders of the Arrowcross party who were serving time. Until about ten years ago he lived in Győr. He then moved to Bőny, a small village about 20 km from the city. This is where he killed one of the two policemen who came looking for illegal weapons. In the shoot-out he was injured.

Györkös had to be well known to the Hungarian authorities. He was arrested several times in the last 25 years. At one point he even received a suspended jail sentence. The Hungarian police force and the national security establishment had to know that every year Györkös and his group hold a military camp for youngsters in a secluded area, apparently owned by Györkös himself. It is enough to look at a list of their activities between January 2012 and June 2014 compiled by the now defunct Athena Institute. They also had to know that the man might be dangerous. To send two lightly armed policemen against somebody who, as it turned out, was waiting for them with a machine gun shows recklessness on the part of the Hungarian national security forces.

István Györkös in his usual attire

István Györkös in his usual attire

Several small extremist groups are active in Hungary, but MNA is unique in that it has extensive ties with Russian military intelligence. I dealt with this extremist group only once, in September 2014. It was in connection with a lesser-known right-wing portal called Hídfő (Bridgehead), which broke the story that Hungary was secretly supplying tanks to the Ukrainian army. Soon enough the Russian foreign ministry published an official statement stating that “weapons supplied to Ukraine by the EU-member countries … violate legally binding obligations—the Arms Trade Treaty.” The Russian foreign ministry was well-informed on the details: “Hungary’s Defense Ministry is supplying Ukraine with armored vehicles, including T-72 tanks, through a ‘proxy agency.’” It turned out that Hídfő was the official website of Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal. For some time it has served as a vehicle of Russian disinformation, a growing concern in Europe and elsewhere. In fact, by now, at least according to national security officials, Hídfő is entirely under Russian direction, either directly or indirectly. The best summary of the history of MNA and its activities can be found in an investigative piece written by András Dezső and Veronika Munk of Index.

The news site also published an article by András Dezső and Szabolcs Panyi which claims that officials of the Russian military intelligence, Glavnoe Razvedivatelnoe Upravlenie or GRU, established contact with MNA and other right-wing groups in the last few years. Apparently Russian diplomats often come in contact with these extremists at shows of military relics. According to information received by Index, the youngsters recruited by Györkös often play airsoft, which is similar to paintball. The weapons they use look and feel real, so real that they are used for military training. Apparently Russian diplomats have been attending some of these games. As for Hídfő, by now it carries practically no news on MNA but only serves Russian political interests.

Index also reported back in February 2015 that the reason for a split between the Hungarist groups was Györkös’s overly friendly relations with Gyula Thürmer’s Munkáspárt (Labor party; actually the tiny Hungarian Communist party), something that Thürmer didn’t want to talk about. But at least one photo exists showing that already in 2012 the Communist party and Györkös were on a common platform. I may add here that Gyula Thürmer’s son, who calls himself Gyula T. Máthé, is one of the important columnists at Magyar Hírlap. Here is his latest. What grows together belongs together, as the Hungarian saying goes.

And let’s return to the village of Bőny. HVG’s reporter visited the village and asked inhabitants their opinion of Györkös and what was going on in their village. They didn’t know the head of MNA well because he wasn’t the outgoing type, they said, but he looked “normal and respectful.” The military camps he organized for youngsters didn’t bother them. Since it was forbidden to drink in the camp, there were no signs of drunken marching militarists. According to one woman, “they were 20-25 years old and behaved very well. They looked like young commandos.”

A reporter from the pro-government Magyar Idők also paid a visit to Bőny. He gained an entirely different impression of the mood of the inhabitants, who are “relieved” because they have been “living in dread.” His informants agreed that Györkös was unsociable, so “everybody thought he was strange and many were afraid of him.” Everybody knew that he had guns. Apparently one could occasionally hear gunshots coming from his place. Magyar Ik’s reporter learned from a woman living in the village that several times a year Györkös organized military camps, which on occasion several hundred extremists attended. Their presence raised fear in the locals. But if that was the case, how is it possible that no one went to the police to report that Györkös had illegal weapons and that the youngsters carried flags with forbidden symbols?

Origo, which in the last few months has become just another mouthpiece of the government, published an article about MNA with the title: “Magyar Nemzeti Arcvonal: Several ties to Jobbik.” The title is misleading. There is no question that Jobbik had connections to some of the extremist groups, but MNA was not among them. I guess Fidesz wants to drown out all the information that is coming from independent sources about the connection between Putin’s Russia and István Györkös’s MNA.

October 27, 2016