Musliu: All the secrets about the events in Kumanovo did not disappear with the murder of Rizaj and Ndrecaj
Radio Free Europe: Mr. Musliu, you have been in charge of the Intelligence Agency for a year now, an institution that is run by an Albanian for the first time, exactly in the period when the reforms remain a challenge, being noted by the decision- making centres as Brussels and Washington as extremely necessary in the security sector. Which of these obligations in the Intelligence Agency were changed or realised with your arrival?
Erolld Musliu: I am especially honoured by the fact that for the first time in the history of our country, an Albanian professional has been appointed to lead this institution which is of essential interest for the security of the state. Surely it must be related with the election of Mr. Stevo Pendarovski, a cosmopolitan person with an outstanding democratic capacity as the President of the country. We have been working a lot and we have done a lot, but there are still things that should be done in the Agency. One of the strengths of the Intelligence Agency was the image built internationally during the implementation of the successful operations in the field of intelligence. Unfortunately, this recognition for which we have put huge effort several years ago, lost its value due to some certain individuals who, using their privileged status and the connections with the political structures in the country, interfered in the professional work of the Agency. In the field of intelligence the lost confidence amid the partners is hard to be restored. Therefore, since May 2019, we at the Intelligence Agency have been working to restore the confidence at strategic, regional and inter – institutional level. We managed to make the Intelligence Agency independent, which is important as well as to have an autonomous role in performing its tasks, free from political and party influence. Today the Agency is more mobile and fits the circumstances to act in the field. The important thing is that we have gained new quality and now we are more objective. With the changes in the organization of the work and the internal systematization, we improved the organizational structure and the work process, we improved the mode of action in the field, the way of processing the collected information up to the way of informing the related parties.
Radio Free Europe: You are talking about reforms, while the Intelligence Agency is operating under a law that is more than two decades old ... is this paradoxical?
Erolld Musliu: The new Draft Law on the Intelligence Agency was one of the biggest projects we have worked on since my appointment as a Director which was essential because the current law from 1995 (under which the Intelligence Agency operates) does not correspond with the real needs of functioning of this institution. The new draft law is expected to define the place and the role of the Intelligence Agency as an institution with competences in the field of external intelligence, having as its task the collection of data and information for asymmetric, hybrid and cyber threats coming from abroad. Among other things, this law regulates the social status and the rights of the employees which has been a demand and need of the employees of the Agency for several years. Unfortunately the law does not pass the procedure in the relevant Committee of the Assembly due to over 1000 absurd amendments submitted by the opposition during the parliamentary procedure. Time will tell, what the background to such an action by the Macedonian opposition was, to block the adoption of the law in question which defines the Intelligence Agency as a professional service according to NATO standards. We are not discouraged, but we continue with our work towards the completion of the reform process. I am convinced that soon, we will have a new law on the Intelligence Agency because this is what NATO and EU are asking for.
Radio Free Europe: What are the expectations of NATO member states from the Intelligence Agency with the membership of the Republic of North Macedonia to NATO? To be precise, has your cooperation with the major agencies of the Alliance countries been intensified?
Erolld Musliu: Yes, I have to emphasize that now we have regained our credibility and cooperation with the most powerful partners. NATO membership of the Republic of North Macedonia means a broader geostrategic approach and focus on dealing with challenges and threats. North Macedonia is not alone, it is a part of the most powerful military and political Alliance where the threats to our national security are threats to the Alliance as well and vice –verse. As a country, we benefit a lot in terms of security. We benefit in terms of accessing the information available for the Alliance, we have faster and more open exchange of data and interaction in terms of dealing with the challenges and threats. This means that we exchange knowledges, analysis, attitudes and thoughts for all security issues. Now as part of the Alliance, the Intelligence Agency of the Republic of North Macedonia also focuses on the requests and priorities coming from Brussels, we build our capacity in that direction, we adapt to the procedures and standards and to be honest now we have more work in the administrative aspect. At bilateral level, our allies know and recognize the operational capacity of the Agency because for a long period of time we have been cooperating with their security and intelligence services at the operational level. However, it should be noted that the geographical position of our country is of special importance, than the multi – ethnic composition, multi –religious and cultural composition of the people as one of important qualities in the Agency’s experience in the field of intelligence, which is a special quality for NATO.
Radio Free Europe: What are the challenges the Republic of North Macedonia is facing now in terms of security, what the Agency is focusing on, here I would also note the cooperation with relevant world services in the fight against terrorism.
Erolld Musliu: As I said, the Republic of North Macedonia as a NATO member works together on the same priorities as the geopolitical rivalry, here we are dealing with countries that develop strategies and hybrid threats, internal and international conflicts that may affect the national security, weapons for mass destruction, the violent terrorism and extremism of all aspects (political, ethnic, religious etc.), Illegal migration as phenomenon but also as an element of the hybrid strategy of regional actors, cyberthreats, and the current risk with COVID – 19 that the whole world is facing with, a new reality to which we as Intelligence services will have to focus in the future. It should be noted that the Intelligence Agency has a preventive role, i.e. the identification of risks, but has no executive police powers. Of course, together with our partners we have participated in various operations in the Balkans as well as in other non –stable areas and war – torn areas, I mean the Middle East, North Africa, Ukraine etc.
Radio Free Europe: Your arrival at the head of the Intelligence Agency has been followed by many objections, both from the ruling Albanian party, the Democratic Union for Integration, but also VMRO-DPMNE in opposition, parties which have co-governed at the time when representatives of the Intelligence Agency had indicated for involvement in the developments in Divo Naselje….. in Kumanovo, as well as in the events of 27th April in the Assembly. What has been revealed so far about these two cases?
Erolld Musliu: Yes, there were reactions at that time. As far as the Democratic Union for Integration is concerned, I think that their reactions were due to the distorted information about my professional profile in the field of intelligence but this has been already overcome. As you know, members of the Parliament from the Democratic Union for Integration supported the draft Law on the Intelligence Agency, as well as Ministers of this political party supported the systematization of the Intelligence Agency of the Republic of North Macedonia. Regarding VMRO’s reactions, they organized several press conferences and I am sorry that they chose this form of communication with the Agency, a sensitive institution that deals with essential issues, the security of citizens and the country. I think that in this case we are dealing with misinformation by individuals who are not part of the Agency any more. Regarding the two events you mentioned, it should be noted that the Intelligence Agency, respectively members of the Intelligence Agency were involved in both events, that of Kumanovo and the violent interference in the Assembly. These are two events that in fact are two black spots in the newest history of our country and are two fairly negative examples for the composition and the leadership of the Agency. For both events, in the Intelligence Agency we have formed relevant commissions with a task of verifying the factual situation from the aspect of the role of the Agency in these events. The Commissions ascertained not compliance with the procedures by previous directors. Imagine, they have only acted through persons close to them without informing and bypassing the executives and certain sectors based on the internal hierarchy. In the case of Kumanovo there has been a lack of sincerity towards the public prosecutor’s office, which is nonsense. As for the motives of the Kumanovo group it is already clear that the political motive has prevailed for the engagement of the members of the armed group, although the financial moment is also mentioned. It is unclear the reason of the operative’s contacts (of the Intelligence Agency) with the leaders of the armed group and the lack of information regarding the actions in Goshince and their infiltration in the urban area of the city of Kumanovo. I must emphasize that the public has understood the new reality in the Agency, autonomy and objectivity at work, so we started to accept data that were previously unknown to the Agency. I think that a considerable data needed to complete this complicated case is still found at some members of the group who are in prison. -I don’t think that all the secrets disappeared with the murder of Beg Rizaj and Mirsad Ndrecaj. Regarding the “Violent intrusion in the Assembly on 27th April 2017”, a number of mistakes were made in the managing process and the selection of the engaged operatives. In this case, it is unclear why the Agency and its members are involved (included) in these events (the events of 27th April in the Assembly) which is a competence of the public order bodies, because we are an Intelligence Agency and we operate outside the borders of the country. Members with minimal work experience or employees who have just passed the professional exam have been sent to the field of action. These members of the Agency have been sent to the field of action without a clear purpose, without operational preparation for “Identification of foreign presence”, for whom the identity, description or photography was unknown. It is important for the opinion and for you as media to know that for these events the Commissions of the Intelligence Agency conducted their work and we have already sent two voluminous analysis to the Public prosecutor’s office.
Radio Free Europe: What is your cooperation with your colleagues from the intelligence services (Kosovo Intelligence Agency) in Kosovo regarding this event?
Erolld Musliu: Since the establishment of Kosovo Intelligence Agency we have had excellent cooperation which has also resulted in conducting joint operations. Unfortunately, the cooperation was stopped due to the incident of the intervention of the armed group in Kumanovo. Last year, on our initiative, meetings at the highest level of both Agencies were held, after which the cooperation continued in positive direction for what we at the Intelligence Agency are very pleased. It should be noted that Kosovo Intelligence Agency has expressed readiness to cooperate in terms of exchanging information in order to clarify the event in Kumanovo.
Radio Free Europe: Do these structures (which were involved in the event of Divo Naselje in Kumanovo and the violent events of 27th April in the Assembly) still remain in the Intelligence Agency? Has the agency started its cleansing in accordance with the standards required by NATO?
Erolld Musliu: From all those who have been involved in the management process, giving instructions and acting in the field regarding the case of Kumanovo, I can say that now some of the members are no longer an integral part of the Agency and the director of that time is the current Minister of interior in the Republic of North Macedonia. Regarding the case of violent intrusion in the Assembly, the public knows very well that one member of the Agency is in prison today, another member who was engaged, is no longer part of the Agency and the director of that time is also no longer part of the security and army structures. With the new systematization the highest level of certification, i.e. “top secret” for all positions is foreseen. It should be noted that in this process we have permanent assistance from the adequate security offices in NATO, while at the national level we cooperate with the competent institutions for the verification and issuance of security certificates. I refer to the Directorate for Security of Classified Information and the Agency for National Security.
Radio Free Europe: Your mandate is five years. Where do you see the Intelligence Agency for this period, … what will remain in the focus of this institution?
Erolld Musliu:The first one contains the internal aspect for which I spoke just before and has to do with the completion of the legal framework of the Agency, building and improving human and technical capacities. Working in teams is the formula for success. The second one has to do with the institutional positioning of the Intelligence Agency and the perception of the related parties, our partners and citizens. The related parties will know what exactly to expect from the Agency and will understand its essential role in the state security. The partners will be able to make the right selection in the decision making process during the exchange of information and the development of joint operations. Citizens will be able to get acquainted with the Agency and have confidence in the work we do regarding the protection and security of the state.