Speaking of the recent martial law, he is ironic: “The threat of invasion did exist. But you will not believe, will you? “To begin with, let’s try to answer the question: why did the Russians post on the Internet a video with the attack on the tugboat “Yani Kapu”? They were expecting a return fire. And then the one hundred percent repetition of the Georgian scenario of 2008 should have followed”, explains Bozhok.
The chief intelligence officer of the country is 38 years old, of which the last one and a half year he has been in his current position. A career diplomat, until September 2017, Yehor Bozhok had been the Acting Head of Ukraine’s Mission to NATO, but had never been appointed to the full-fledged embassy post. Instead, the President recalled him to Kyiv, to the SZRU, thereby triggering a powerful surge within the intelligence community. The outburst of emotions was predominantly negative: “old hands” called Bozhok behind his back “an outside man”, “a parachutist who does not know a thing about operational work” and nearly an “upstart dilettanti”. Especially when he (shortly after the appointment) dismissed four deputies in one stroke.
By its nature, the SZR really is a non-public structure. From the word at all.
However, “thanks” to the odious figure of Bozhok's First Deputy, Serhiy Semochko, lately it has been drawing the society's special attention. The SBU counterintelligence's check on Mr. Semochko’s persona continues, so Bozhok — which is understandable — is not eager to talk about the “efficient operative officer” (as he characterizes him), but Lb.ua did manage to “extract” some interesting things. For example, about depriving the First Deputy Chairman of the SZRU of access to state secrets.
It is worth noting that Yehor Bozhok initiated our conversation himself — in the context of the approaching centenary of the Ukrainian Intelligence Service (celebrated on 24th January). Given the amount of questions to him and his agency, we did not refuse. Using the chance, LB.ua found out what the Ukrainian Intelligence is about in the fifth year of the war (from the salary of ordinary employees to how many of them know at least one foreign language); about Russian spies and “agents of influence” in the Ukrainian government (yes, Viktor Medvedchuk and Vadim Novinsky were also mentioned); “About all these rubans and savchenkos”; about the SZRU's ability to “look after” the elections in favor of this or that candidate (from using the capabilities of radio intelligence to “tracking” a person's activities abroad) and many other things. We met last Friday at the SZRU's base near Kyiv, in Bilohorodka, where they are now building the “Ukrainian Langley”.
“The intelligence services were deprived of the brain: they were not allowed to think”
Sonya Koshkina: Before the war, the Foreign Intelligence Service was a sort of a quiet backwater, where, as a rule, they sat back before retirement: there was nothing special to do, length of service grew, salary was paid. What has fundamentally changed in the SZRU with the outbreak of hostilities? And what has changed since the autumn of 2017, when you came here?
In the times of the Soviet Union, this service — as a unit of the KGB of the USSR (and all other special services) were deprived of the brain: they were not allowed to think, they could only collect information and pass it over to Moscow. Everything was processed, conclusions were drawn and tasks were set — there, while in Kyiv only orders and instructions were fulfilled. Then came the Main Directorate of Intelligence (GUR) of the SBU. At that stage, our “Forest” (base of the SZR near Kyiv, — LB.ua) came to a halt.
Remember when Turchynov said: as a result of all the “reforms”, in 2014 we did not have an army? We understood the same thing here: some were talking a big game, but in reality there was nothing. Until 2014, a very “talented and strong professional” Hryhoriy Illyashov (Chairman of the SZR under Yanukovych, — LB.ua) had been using the classical method of activity: sabotage and destroying the structure.
SK: So what has changed with your coming to the SZRU?
An ordinary employee can come to the office of the Chairman of the Service, discuss issues, and even debate about something. I’m used to working with people in real mode — operative officers working on concrete issues gather in my office, and we discuss, argue, verify the information. That is why I moved to the “Forest” from the building in Tatarka.
Oleh Bazar: In late 2017, the President ordered to create a concept to enhance the reform of the Foreign Intelligence Service in accordance with NATO standards. Has the concept been created?
The concept is a completely secret document, it has been created and is being implemented.
Its task is to turn this quiet backwater into a body that: a) works off taxpayers' money and b) is understandable to our partners from NATO member countries in order to create the necessary atmosphere of trust and gradually integrate into the NATO intelligence community.
I have worked for Ukraine for more than a year at NATO headquarters, so I always said and continue to say: without establishing cooperation with intelligence services and special agencies, without joining the NATO Intelligence Committee, there will be no real integration into the Alliance.
Ihor Solovey: One of the important elements of NATO standards is civilian oversight over the activities of special services.
We translate the word “oversight” as control. But this is not “control”, but “supervision”. You can ask any MP — from the coalition or from the opposition — I “gave them all a pain in the neck” with the need to create an intelligence committee.
SK: Are the necessary amendments to the relevant legislation already prepared?
There is a draft law on intelligence, which we wrote together with the Military and Border Guards Intelligences and members of the Parliament. We also invited the NATO Office in Ukraine, asked Americans, British, Poles, Lithuanians and Germans to help. Now the document is in the National Security and Defense Council, the President is going to send it to the Parliament.
In the text, among other things, it is noted: “civil democratic control over the activities of the intelligence community of Ukraine is exercised by the parliamentary committee…” — further we wanted to write by which — however, the MPs are discussing to which committee to transfer such powers.
OB: So, at what stage is the draft law?
The draft law is endorsed by the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Finance, without this it cannot be presented for consideration.
The law on intelligence agencies is defined by NATO as one of the 4, which they recommend to Ukraine to adopt in the context of continuing the reform of the security and defense sector in accordance with NATO standards. And it is the only one of these four laws that is ready.
IS: A joint team of officers from the SZRU, GUR, SBU and Border Guard Intelligence is currently working in the Donbas. Is it possible to say that over the five years a kind of “intelligence community” has been formed in Ukraine?
It is no secret that in Russia the FSB, the GRU and the SVR are not just competitors, but the worst enemies. This is not the RF's know-how, it is such a remnant of the Soviet Union — divide et impera. We had the same thing — intelligence agencies were played one off against another. But now, together with my colleagues, we approached this issue in a slightly different way. We realized that we were partially doing the same work, but behind the back of each other. Therefore, we came to the President with the idea to formalize the division of spheres of responsibility: who is responsible for the war, who — for the neighbours, who — for the far horizons. And if someone gets the information needed by the other, we exchange it.
SK: Is this community joined by other structures — the SBU or financial intelligence?
We interact with the SBU on a daily basis. I am in touch with Hrytsak (the Chief of the SBU), Burba (the Chief of the Defense Ministry’s GUR) and Yevdokimov (the Chief of the Information Department of the State Border Service) 15 times a day. I give them what concerns them, they pass over to me what concerns me. That’s how the intelligence community should work.
OB: Actually, the function of data collection from different intelligence agencies should be carried out by the Intelligence Committee under the President.
The committee exists de-facto. We interact.
“The risk of military invasion was 30%. It is very much”
SK: Introducing martial law, the President referred to intelligence data. Was it your intelligence?
Ours, and Border Guards', summarized by the GUR.
OB: How serious was the threat, speaking within the limits of permissible? When so easily — within a day — they reduced the proposed time limits of the ML and the territory of its coverage, it caused a certain skepticism.
I can say that the threat was real, but you will not believe it, will you?
To begin with, let us try to answer the question: why did the Russians post on the Internet the video with the attack on the tugboat “Yani Kapu”?
SK: There is no doubt that it is they who posted the video.
My guess: they were expecting our return fire. And then the one hundred percent repetition of the Georgian scenario of 2008 should have followed.
SK: What were two SBU officers doing on board the ships?
Representatives of counterintelligence are present on warships and not only. This is a normal practice. Especially as our ships were attacked by the ships of the FSB of the RF — their Border Guard Service.
IS: Is all the information on this incident published?
We gave away all our data. Even to our foreign partners, who at first were not sure that this was a hundred percent provocation of the Russians. Judging by the reaction, our data convinced them.
SK: Why, in your opinion, did the situation happen now of all times? After all, the RF's aggression has been on for more than a year.
The Russians knew about the plan for the passage of ships through the Kerch Strait, because it was not a secret. So, they must have decided to use…
SK: But why now? Not later or earlier…
Putin is losing rating, that is one. Two — they need a land corridor (to the Crimea, — LB.ua). They need it like air.
OB: Explaining the need for martial law, President Poroshenko appealed, among other things, to the sharply increased number of Russian military forces deployed along our borders. What was that — qualitative or quantitative redeployment? After all, again, concentration of their forces at our borders was not happening for the first time.
Listen, we had been ringing all the bells for a year — that they were reinforcing the groups of troops along our borders. And here the incident happens in the Kerch Strait. If we assume that this is a repetition of the “Georgian scenario” of 2008, how should we behave? Forty-eight thousand troops near the borders — trouble on the threshold.
IS: What did you manage to change — “give a boost to”, “optimize” within a month of martial law?
You know that the President has the constitutional right to impose martial law and mobilization for 3 days (72 hours), that is, until it is approved by the Parliament. This is done to ensure that all the mobilized take the necessary actions to prevent the threat. Ideally, all power structures, armed forces, and reservists of the first wave should “enter the fray” within these three days.
I myself am a reservist. I report: only three weeks after the introduction of martial law I managed to prepare for mobilization.
OB: Why did it take you so long?
I will explain. There are plans, procedures, rally points, everyone should know where his unit is, where his weapons are and how to get them… But this is all on paper! It took me, as a person liable for military service, three weeks to put it all together.
And this is in the center, where there is at least some organization system. And what about the regions? But now, after martial law, everything has already been worked out. It was introduced precisely for this — in order to put right the state machine. Now understanding a lot of things from the inside, I can say: we are much better prepared for a possible Russia's invasion.
SK: Did you participate in the meeting of the War Cabinet?
Yes, I did. And when the President asked what the risk of a military invasion was, I was one of those who said — 30%.
SK: Is it much or little?
It is very much.
“THE TASK OF THE RUSSIAN FEDERATION IS TO COMPLETELY RETURN UKRAINE TO THE ORBIT OF ITS INFLUENCE”
IS: The RF's interfering in the electoral process in Ukraine is not just a potential risk, but a given. What does the Intelligence know about this?
Will there be an interference? Yes, there will be. Are there any attempts right now? Yes, there are. We know that in Russia there is a decision to finally “close the Ukrainian issue” in 2019.
SK: To close in what sense?
The task is to return Ukraine completely to the Russian orbit of influence. But so that there are no more “color revolutions”. For this end, in addition to the budget of the SVR, the FSB and the GRU, 350 million US dollars were allocated specifically for our elections in 2019.
OB: What exactly does this Russian plan suggest for the +350 million?
There are three scenarios by which the Russians are ready to throw all the forces and means of the RF Armed Forces and special services in order to achieve the final result. The final result — anyone, but Poroshenko. Why? Not only because there are questions about the loyalty of other politicians. The matter is that any reset of power paralyzes the state apparatus for at least three months. And do not forget about the 48 thousand army at our borders. And then three months of freedom of actions…
The first scenario is a revenge of forces that do not cause such heartburn as Petro Poroshenko.
The second scenario — the pro-Russian forces making it to the Parliament. The minimum task — to bring Medvedchuk there.
And the third — if the above does not work, they still have Shoigu with his army.
…The problem is that no one knows what Putin has on his mind. He has these three options on the desk, but only he makes the decision.
IS: What are the main tools to implement each of these scenarios?
The mechanisms are known. The first one is propaganda. The anti-fake initiative “EU vs Disinformation” has calculated that in 2018, nearly 50% of the fakes they identified, was directed against Ukraine.
Position number two — “to hack” the server of the CEC. There are several centres prepared for this, from which, as we understand, they are going “to strike”. But this is a drop in the ocean.
Next — “opinion makers”, interpreting the elections in the way Russia needs.
Plus exit polls that will shout about allegedly false official results.
There are also radicals who always want money. Especially — in regions and in border areas. If Russians buy radical parties in Hungary, then, for example, it is much easier to buy such groups in Kharkiv.
The situation around the church is difficult. The Russians are already “swinging”, trying to speculate on theses like “Banderites are capturing the Lavra” or arrange other outrages. The coordinator of the “church” direction on their part, as far as we understand, is Novinsky (MP from the “Opposition Bloc”, — LB.ua).
The Foreign Intelligence Service and the Foreign Ministry of Ukraine collaborate by the model of the British diplomatic service and MI6, — Secretary of State
Russians need to create chaos in Ukraine and maintain an atmosphere of tension in the society — people cannot stand permanent tension for long.
An example — the other day the pro-Russian propagandist Elena Boyko was deported from Russia. It was a pure provocation. Do you think she was returned here to no purpose? People like her help create and maintain tension — all these rubans, savchenkos…
SK: By the way, speaking about Nadia Savchenko. Tell me, at the time of her return, did the Ukrainian Intelligence have any doubts about her? Was there at least a minimum check?
I do have something to say about this. But, unfortunately, I cannot — procedural actions are underway.
OB: How high is the risk that the RF's attempts to influence our elections will manifest themselves in the form of an escalation in the Donbas?
This is one of the elements of the third scenario. In the Russian President's environment, mainly Surkov and Chesnakov's group is promoting the idea that the tension in the Donbas needs to be increased. In their opinion, such a development would play against the current government in Ukraine.
“I HAVE WHOM TO TRACK”
IS: Do we take it correctly that this money — 350 million US dollars — goes mainly to finance pro-Russian media, non-governmental and political organizations here in Ukraine?
SK: Meanwhile, Viktor Volodymyrovych (Medvedchuk, — LB.ua) with Petro Oleksiyovych continue to drink tea at night. Allegedly talking about prisoners of war…
We need to rescue our people, don't we?
OB: Remind us, how many Ukrainians were released last year with the help of Viktor Medvedchuk?
Even if we understand that the only person who makes decisions about prisoners in Russia (Vladimir Putin, — LB.ua) has decided not to give them away, we cannot give up and give in, right?
SK: That is not the point. We acknowledge the RF's plans for large-scale interference in our elections, and here — literally under our nose — the President of the country maintains warm relations with Putin's kum (Putin is Medvedchuk's daughter's godfather — transl.) and the actual attorney of Putin.
I can tell you one thing — for example, I do not know that Medvedchuk is in excellent relations with Petro Oleksiyovych.
Day of Foreign Intelligence of Ukraine has been established
OB: The President has confirmed their repeated meetings and communication.
I do not know about this.
SK: You mean, you inattentively follow the guarantor's important statements?
I have whom to track (word play — in Russian there is the same word for “to follow” and “to track” — transl.).
SK: I will clarify the question: why do Medvedchuk, Novinsky and the like continue to quietly carry on active work in Ukraine?
Because we are a rule-of-law state. First you need to prove in court that this is the “fifth column” and that this particular person works for the enemy. Court decisions are needed. Or do you want us to look like Russia?
OB: When it was necessary to quickly remove from Ukraine Mikheil Saakashvili, whose activity obviously irritated Petro Poroshenko, the reasons for depriving him of his Ukrainian citizenship were found very quickly. In the case of the same Vadim Novinsky, for some reason, such grounds have not been found.
“The issue of Novinsky’s Russian passport is being worked on. But taking into consideration the forces, money and resources behind this person… Before going to court, the Ukrainian side should be 200% sure that there are rock-solid grounds”.
SK: Surely he has at least two passports.
In Ukraine, there is a flaw in the law: we have dual citizenship prohibited, but there is no penalty for this. By the way, I think that this was a “tab”, which was introduced into Ukrainian legislation a long time ago, and now makes itself felt.
But as a person who has been in the civil service for quite a long time, I can responsibly say: there has never been a greater political will to weed, as Andriy Parubiy said, “evil spirits”. I mean it, believe it or not. History will judge.
IS: Do you record those Ukrainian politicians who travel to Moscow?
I cannot record the border crossing.
SK: Opponents of the current government fear that special services, and in particular the SZRU, may interfere in the electoral process in favor of one of the candidates.
How can I be of help to any candidate?
OB: You have the most advanced technical capabilities in Ukraine for interception… At least.
We do not have wiretapping.
OB: You do have electronic intelligence…
This is different. SIGINT does not mean we are sitting with headphones on, listening to what Sonya Koshkina and her reporters are talking about. Electronic intelligence — we are listening to what the commander of a rascal's contingent is speaking about, in Syria, for example. Yes, we do manage to hear.
IS: Do you work in Ukraine?
Only on objects for which we received a court decision. This is very carefully monitored by the Public Prosecution Office. When I was just appointed, there was a prosecution office's checking on this issue. So I can work on the territory of Ukraine solely under a court decision — I must explain why I have to do it. And only on those issues that are related to foreigners.
OB: Do you monitor the political activity of Petro Oleksiyovych's opponents abroad?
No. I have enough other objects. Moreover, you may not believe it — but I have a task not to touch upon this theme at all.
SK: The task from whom? Did Petro Oleksiyovych formulate it when he was appointing you?
The task can be formulated only by the President, since I submit only to him.
“THE PROBLEM OF THE RUSSIAN AGENTS' PENETRATION INTO OUR STATE MECHANISM IS MOST SERIOUS”
IS: You have recently initiated a withdrawal from the agreement on cooperation with intelligence services of the CIS countries…
Yes, I received the President's permission to take this step. At a recent meeting of the Cabinet of Ministers, the government also agreed on this decision, and now I am launching a diplomatic procedure through the Foreign Ministry.
But do you think anybody besides me and him has signed it?
SK: Does this mean that until now such cooperation took place, despite the state of war?
With Russia? Oh, dear! Of course, not.
I, frankly, was shocked when I learned that this agreement is valid. That is, in fact, I am a partner of those who daily work against me. Therefore, such a decision was made — after all, I can be formally accused of failing to fulfill my international obligations.
OB: Until 2014, Ukrainian special services were simply overcrowded with people oriented to Russia — some ideologically, some were direct agents. Did you manage to sweep them out?
We are actively working on this. Top-class intelligence agents work in such a way that they are hard to be detected. How many years did it take to track down Kim Philby? But then our internal security is quite focused on this. There are already concrete cases.
OB: How many?
More than a dozen of cases. But it’s not me who investigates, it is counterintelligence.
In fact, the problem of Russian agents' penetration into our state mechanism is a most serious problem. Especially dangerous are those who spy for the sake of the idea. It is very difficult to accuse them — we need evidence of their work for special services, otherwise it is perceived as a statement of personal opinion, a sort of “freedom of speech” on their part.
Therefore, by law, I am hog-tied. Although we have borrowed the American experience (the British were solid against it, there were discussions inside NATO) and added to the draft law a provision that the reason for suspending or dismissing any intelligence officer in the intelligence community is “loss of trust”. At this, the concept is balanced — I can’t say “if I don’t like you, then you have lost my trust and are dismissed”. No — a disciplinary commission has to be created, and it decides. This provision in the law will help everyone.
SK: But at least the information on the former Chairman of the SZRU Illyashov, who, as you yourself said, was destroying the Intelligence, you did manage to collect and hand to law enforcement agencies?
And you think we did not? We did. And not on Illyashov alone, believe me.
“BELIEVE ME OR NOT, BUT SEMOCHKO IS AN EFFICIENT OPERATIVE OFFICER”
SK: Let's talk about your deputy Serhiy Semochko. How did it happen that he still works in the SZR?
What, there is a court decision on him? Let the counterintelligence finish its investigation, and then I’m ready to answer for everything that I’ve overlooked.
SK: How and where did this story begin for you personally?
Spontaneously — from the Internet.
OB: Did you call Semochko?
Of course. He said it was all wrong. He told his version. But I will not comment on it, I have no right to do this.
SK: Did he give you any arguments that convinced you that that was not true?
Yes, he did.
SK: Did you know that he would give a television interview in response?
Traditionally, we ask for a permission to meet with media. And I gave a sanction, I allowed Semochko Serhiy Oleksiyovych to defend his honor and dignity. But I do not dictate to a person how he can do it.
Although I know that he even brought the action before the court. Everyone has the right to this.
OB: Didn't his interview make you feel mean?
It caused a number of questions, but I will leave them to myself, with your permission. I would not like to comment on what, after all, concerns not only me.
IS: Who was the initiator of the appointment of Semochko to the post of the Deputy Chairman of the SZRU?
This issue had been discussed in the intelligence community.
SK: Did you yourself choose your First Deputy, or was he chosen for you?
There is the intelligence community. There are tasks that we resolve…
SK: I ask again: did you yourself choose your First Deputy or was your First Deputy chosen for you? Did the President participate in the appointment of Semochko?
OB: It's not about the formal signing of the decree by the President. Did he lobby his candidacy through?
He did not.
SK: There is an opinion that you simply cannot do anything about it. That you, to put it bluntly, were told not to meddle.
I was not told anything like this.
IS: Did you discuss Semochko's issue with the President after the scandal?
SK: Did he call you? Or did you yourself ask for a meeting?
Serhiy Oleksiyovych initiated this question, and together we asked for an appointment.
IS: Do you see any risks to the work of the SZRU due to the Russian aspects of the biography of your First Deputy?
When I came to the SZRU, there was a complete imbalance: whatever one had “got on”, he administered it. For example, one of my deputies could work with accounting, foreign intelligence, technical intelligence, and even special forces at the same time. Now the work is organized in such a way as to maximally secure the forces, means and capabilities of the Foreign Intelligence Service, to prevent even the minimal possibility of leaks. For example, five clusters are organized that operate completely autonomously from each other. And they converge only at my level when we need to coordinate something. Semochko has only one of these five clusters, leaks are excluded.
So let's still wait for the end of the investigation.
OB: Semochko's public defenders speak about his high professionalism. Could you tell about his achievements?
Believe me or not, but Serhiy Oleksiyovych really is an efficient operative officer. He works hard, fulfilling some tasks that are really useful from the point of view of national interests. I can't say what exactly — because that would be breaking a law. I will just point out that thanks to my First Deputy, we managed to neutralize a number of the RF's actions to legalize the occupied territories.
SK: What do you mean by to legalize?
Hmm… You probably know about all sorts of “representations of the “DPR” abroad, about alternative “Majlises” of the Crimean Tatars. But do you know, for example, that not long ago Days of the Crimean Tatar Culture in Turkey, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia, were very unsuccessfully held in Ankara…
OB: So he continues to work?
Yes, while the counterintelligence's check is under way.
The way my First Deputy commented on the situation, encourages me to wait for the results of the investigation.
SK: Can you suspend him from duty at least for the period of the investigation?
I act according to the law. And according to the law, I can suspend him from duty in two cases. The first is the announcement of suspicion for criminal misconduct. As soon as there is a suspicion, I will not act in a different way.
The second case is if a report has been completed against him over his violation of anti-corruption legislation.
IS: Let me repeat my question: do you consider your officers' or their family members' Russian citizenship to be a threat to performing their duties?
Firstly, there is no official established fact of Semochko's or his family members' Russian citizenship. This has not been proven.
Secondly, the problem is that such cases are not unique. This is not the first time this kind of questions have been raised with respect to other officials, other agencies.
SK: Wait a moment, as for the citizenship, the SBU has stated that it confirms…
The SBU has stated that it has information about Russian citizenship. Once again — there is information, but it is not confirmed.
The court approval for access to mobile phones has been received in order to confirm or deny suspicions.
OB: Does Semochko have an access to state secrets?
He has not got an access to state secrets.
SK: Since when?
Since I made my decision. And Semochko reacted with understanding and absolutely supported it — to avoid slightest insinuations.
SK: But at the meeting of the Verkhovna Rada's Committee, to the question whether Semochko still had admission to state secrets, you said that he did, because only a court can prohibit it.
Admission to state secrets, and access to state secrets are different things. There is a procedure for granting and denying admission. And there is a procedure for granting and denying access. Here the access to state secrets — is mine, since access is provided by the chief the agency on the basis of admission. And admission to state secrets is the competence of the Department of State Secret Protection and Licensing of the SBU.
OB: On what ground did you then deprive him of access?
Based on information from the media. From a procedural point of view, it is not a ground, but from the point of view, as you say, of something to think about — it is a ground for sure. The legislator gave me powers in the matter of access to state secrets and I used them. While in the matter of suspension or non-suspension — the legislator did not give me such powers.
IS: For how long will the counterintelligence's check continue?
I am absolutely not allowed to this information at all. For — by procedural principles — I am an interested person. Therefore, I do not know about the timing. I only know that the investigation is underway.
SK: Does it not seem strange to you that Semochko’s lifestyle does not correspond with his official income?
I currently have no legal grounds for commenting on the NABU's investigation.
SK: Could you kindly make Semochko himself tell us all about this? It would be nice to try to prove his innocence in the public plane, not only in the mode of an orchestrated interview.
I promise that I will tell him about your proposal, but let's leave the decision to him.
I can say one thing: if the investigation of the counterintelligence of the SBU proves that this is true, I will be ready to take personal responsibility for my subordinates and will report to the President accordingly.
“I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN A CONSUMER OF INTELLIGENCE AND KNOW EXACTLY WHAT INFORMATION A “CONSUMER” NEEDS”
OB: After your appointment, four Deputy Chairmen of the SZRU were immediately dismissed — it looked like a mass personnel purge.
In some cases, colleagues themselves asked me for it. And I had no reason to refuse. In other cases, I believed and continue to believe that much of the negative in this organization is the result of the inactivity of previous managers.
And — at different levels. And believe me — if I could, if there were more legal grounds, staff rotations in structural divisions would have been more numerous.
IS: What kind of legislation is missing?
Legislative norms that allow to make a decision about the dismissal of people from the service on the ground of their inaction, loss of trust, etc. — all that is enshrined in the new law.
Although now there is also a procedure — an official investigation and two “service incompetence notes”, but there are questions how to state this service incompetence of an official on a number of issues.
SK: On what does the former high-ranking foreign intelligence officers' criticism of you bottom?
Everyone has the right to one's opinion and position. I also have it about all this. But I will not publicly express it at this point.
OB: You are not a person from the system…
Personally, I think that herein lies the greatness of the President’s idea.
OB: On the other hand, they quite rightly point out: you do not have an understanding of operational or field work — which is the specifics of this service.
Whether I myself can do operational work or not — now it is absolutely unimportant. As the Chairman of the Service, I do not have to do it. The important thing is that I have always been a consumer of intelligence and I know exactly what information the “consumer” needs. We have been working for a year to give the consumer the information that he needs. In this case, I am working as a sort of editor: we are preparing information together with operational and technical departments. They certainly have that experience, which perhaps I do not have.
IS: You came to the Intelligence from the Foreign Ministry's system. Recently, in an interview with our publication, the Secretary of State of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that now the SZRU and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are cooperating on the British model of MI6 and the Foreign Office.
De facto we work closely. Although this is not enshrined in the law, there is still a lot of bureaucratic hard work that has just begun. And then we will implement it as we test in practice the effectiveness of this pilot project.
IS: According to the British model, the MI6 is a structural unit of the Foreign Ministry…
No, here it is different. Now we are at the stage of collecting information: how to avoid duplication and to understand who is working on what and who complements whom.
After all, how did my critics — predecessors in office work? Their main task was to be the first to give the intelligence collected by the diplomats to the top leadership of the country.
OB: Has the quality of operational work changed in the light of the development of modern technology and the structure of the civil society, with emergence of private information-analytical structures. How do you cooperate, do you use these data?
I believe that 70% of the information today can be found if you know how to work properly with the Internet.
But all the same, we cannot replace the human intelligence. In some cases, it has no alternative. But this must be a truly high-quality human intelligence.
SK: Do you use the data and capabilities of private information-analytical centers, private intelligences?
This is the practice of many NATO member countries. They outsource a lot of things to the private sector. They say it is cheaper.
One of the directions of my main lines that the President agreed with me is that we must stop being overclassified. Because in many respects we have classified our impotence — it is always easier to make a terrible facial expression and mysterious eyes.
And our law is written in such a way that we are obliged to classify all this.
IS: Everyone has heard the information that this or that country helps the Armed Forces of Ukraine — giving or selling us equipment and weapons. As for the SZRU — do you, as the chief of the organization, ask NATO countries for technical, human or informational assistance?
I would distinguish two things here. The first is operational interaction. And I am proud that with some leading NATO member countries we have now reached a serious level. We are developing and preparing joint practical operations that will soon begin to be implemented. And I would not call this assistance — this is a joined business, a common threat, a single goal. And our unique geographical, mental and historical situation is the emerald thanks to which NATO needs us.
OB: Do they perceive you as a partner or as a tool?
As a partner. Because there is trust — after all, operational interaction, one way or another, provides for a certain disclosure of secrets. Not to the end, of course, because there is a certain risk for the forces and means of our own intelligence.
And if we are talking now about preparation of joint operations, this means that this trust has appeared.
The second question is material and technical assistance from NATO. Although I would call it not assistance, but investment into the Foreign Intelligence of Ukraine. But will a normal owner invest in what he is not interested in, which is not useful or not needed? This is another indicator that makes me proud. A number of leading NATO countries began to help build up capabilities of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence. And this, I think, is very important.
SK: We already see the headlines of the Russian media about how Ukraine sold itself to NATO…
But there are such headlines already. Long ago I was accused that I “sold the Ukrainian intelligence to Americans”.
OB: Do these investments reach ordinary operative officers?
Just think for a second: foreign intelligence officers of Ukraine receiving money from American intelligence… That would be strange.
OB: You have a budget of about 2 billion UAH for this year. Is it enough or not enough?
At this stage — it is enough. Moreover, I saved this year and returned to the budget 77 million UAH.
IS: What is the average salary of an operative officer of the SZRU?
The same as the average salary of a soldier, but not on the front line.
OB: How should an intelligence officer be efficient and honest with a salary of 5–10 thousand hryvnias?
No, it's a little more. But that is not the question. We managed to get a small additional resource, the Supreme Commander gave us funds for bonuses.
Although, again, we have a problem with budgeting: the Prime Minister is trying to sort out the tariff grids and decrees of the Cabinet of Ministers existing since times immemorial. Although it is not so easy and fast.
And therefore, even an employee who is absolutely productive for the year, cannot be given more than 20 thousand hryvnias, because there is a maximum ceiling. Even if he has brought 850 million to the State — for this we can give him an order. And that is the gratitude.
Therefore, we offer the following: into the Law on Intelligence to introduce a provision that the salary of an intelligence officer should be paid on the same principle as for NABU: at least 10 minimum salaries.
The President, the NSDC and MPs support the idea. We just need to persuade the Ministry of Finance. And this is the most difficult thing ever — because in any country the task of this structure is not to give, but to save. Even despite the fact that I have wonderful relations with Oksana Markarova and I consider her a great professional in her field.
To be honest, now we don’t even have the moral right to demand very much from the employees of the SZRU — we get what we pay for.
At this, in parallel, we have strongly tightened the qualifications of the intelligence officer. For example, we have introduced a professional requirement to know a foreign language. We have a Foreign (Sic!) Intelligence here — and at the same time in the professional qualification requirements, knowledge of a foreign language is not mentioned! Isn't it surprising? How can one spy this way, I do not understand.
OB: If it is not a secret, what percentage of employees of the SZRU know a foreign language?
According to statistics — they all do. But in reality… The SZRU has a Language Training Center, to which I gave some material for translation. So on the first page alone I later found 20 mistakes. And returned the text.
“IT WILL BE CHEAPER FOR THE SZRU TO MAINTAIN ITS STRUCTURE IF IT ALL IS IN ONE PLACE”
IS: What directions, besides the Russian, are the priority now in the SZRU's work?
The level and volume of threats from the RF is such that we still need to build up our capacity by times.
But I was also somewhat surprised that at some point the Service lost its economic intelligence.
SK: Do you continue to assist the foreign arms trade?
I will say even more — this year a Ukrainian company signed a contract worth 850 million US dollars, and another great contract with Western Europe is on the way.
OB: With the assistance of the SZRU?
This year was signed…
IS: Well. Your current premises “in the Forest” were built at the expense of the Pakistani contract. And at what money is being built the new building of the “Ukrainian Langley”, as it has already been dubbed?
I can say that de facto it is technical assistance. And de jure — the budget savings. Because, having received the equipment as technical assistance, I save the budget line allocated for its purchase, and I can redirect this money to construction.
SK: What is the need for such a complex?
Firstly, the dispersion of units in the city completely disorganizes the work of the SZRU — well, indeed the commander cannot be separated from his garrison.
Secondly, all this excess infrastructure costs money: taxes, security, electricity, sewage, etc.
Thirdly, it is the matter of security. For example, to ensure proper closed confidential communication between me and one of the units, you need to lay 24 km of fiber-optic line! Not to mention the fact that it is expensive — how many dead drops and tabs can be put on these 24 km? And most importantly — what for, if you can lay just 100 metres.
Thus, it will be cheaper for the SZRU to maintain its structure if it is all in one place.
OB: Is the relocation of units from the city center connected with the business interests of certain developers in the Rybalsky Peninsula: they say that when Nahirna moves here, GUR will move into this building of yours?
Since some talent published all this, I don’t know how many complaints I have received from other state bodies: the DBR, the Ministry of Veterans, etc. Although the building in Tatarka is insignificant from the point of view of security — there is a TV channel in front of it, just put cameras and record the faces of all the intelligence officers.
At this, Mr. Illyashov made such decorations there, that when I entered the office, I felt like putting overboots on.
SK: For a long time you represented the interests of Ukraine in NATO, but you never became a full-fledged ambassador; the President has transferred you to this front. Isn't it annoying?
Diplomacy is my love; I did not work at the Foreign Ministry — I lived there. Therefore, I do not think that I got lost in the “Forest” for life.
OB: What country will then want to accept the chief spy as an ambassador?
From the point of view of the same MI6, this is normal. For example, they have a British Ambassador to NATO — a well-known MI6 employee — she was the Director General, Defence and Intelligence of the Foreign Office, which specifically coordinates MI6. No one is hiding the fact, this is normal.
Moreover, I also do not hide anything: I am a political figure, not an intelligence officer.
IS: In one of the photos you are in military uniform. What is your military rank?
Senior Lieutenant. And this raises the question of the need for reform, which will eliminate the need for the SZRU to be a militarized organization. I am sure that shoulder bars in many cases harm the intelligence.