Reanimation package of reforms > News > TIPS ON REFORMING THE SSU – OLEKSANDR LIEMIENOV



Statesmen keep making the same mistakes – the reform of one of the public authorities is implemented by it itself.

Thus, the key regulations and approaches to reforming the Security Service of Ukraine were entrusted with the specialists from the SSU headquarters. Of course, the SSU, as well as the Presidential Administration can argue that the relevant work has been carried out since 2016, when international partners – the NATO office, the European Union Advisory Mission and the US Embassy – were involved in the development of the concept of change. But since then, much water has flown under the bridge, as did the key groundwork.

Let us remind you that in the summer 2018, the Law “On National Security of Ukraine” came into force, its transitional provisions referred to the duty of the Cabinet of Ministers to develop and submit to the Verkhovna Rada a draft law on a parliamentary committee whose powers would include ensuring the control functions of the Verkhovna Rada over the activities of the state special purpose agencies with law enforcement functions, law enforcement agencies, special law enforcement agencies and intelligence agencies. However, this was not the only draft law that the parliament had to develop in the context of a genuine SSU reform. In addition to the draft law on parliamentary control, the new editions of the Laws “On the Security Service of Ukraine” and “On State Secrets”, which have already lost their relevance, must also be adopted. The first one was developed by the SSU officials who later had to submit it to the President of Ukraine for submission to the Verkhovna Rada for review under the established procedure.

It should be noted that the aforementioned Law “On National Security of Ukraine” updated the SSU’s tasks resulting in the need for amendments to more than 20 legislative acts. First of all, as of July 2018, the activities of the Service should focus on countering reconnaissance and subversion activities against Ukraine, fight against terrorism, counter-intelligence protection of sovereignty, constitutional order and territorial integrity, defense and scientific and technical potential, cyber security, economic and information security of the state, critical infrastructure facilities, as well as protection of state secrets. The explanatory note states that the draft law aims to increase the institutional capacity of the SSU to ensure state security and bring the Ukrainian legislation governing the SSU in line with the provisions of the Law “On National Security of Ukraine”, strategic and conceptual documents on the security and defense sector development (in particular, the National Security Strategy of Ukraine, the Concept of Security and Defense Sector Development of Ukraine, the Military Doctrine of Ukraine), as well as recommendations of international and European partners of Ukraine on reforming special internal security services (including the PACE recommendations No. 1402 (1999), No. 1466 (2005) No. 1713 (2005).

According to our sources, a document with the proposed changes was submitted to the Presidential Administration by the SSU in late December. It is this version of the document that was concealed from the general public that we had a chance to review. However, in a month, the draft law was returned to the actual developers for revision. Having read the main novelties to a whole range of legislative acts (strangely enough, the above-mentioned proposals do not include any amendments to the Law “On the Security Service of Ukraine”), we can argue that the developer did not go far from the current state of affairs. Key proposals specified by the western partners back in 2016, by and large, have not been taken into account.

Meanwhile, while the law was being drafted, public activists also started working on the communicative component in the context of the need to reform the SSU. However, it is solely about the liquidation of the Main Directorate for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime (aka unit “K”) as one of the structural units which threatens the functioning of domestic businesses and is the center of corruption of the SSU itself. In addition, activists refer to NATO and the European community standards as benchmarks for the further reform. It is absolutely clear and correct attitude, if we take a wide range of proposals from the NATO office and the EUAM as a basis. Meanwhile, few people understand what lies behind these standards because nobody speaks about it in detail.

Therefore, we tried to gather all the views to describe the issues in detail and offer real reform. Especially since the western partners, as far as we know, do not know about the latest developments by the SSU employees.

At the moment, the Europeans standpoint is described below. The Mission has been working on the SSU reform for several years since it considers this a high priority for Ukraine. In view of the fact that the Service is not an effective body, the EUAM recommends focusing on three areas at once: reform of the Service itself, state secrets, and parliamentary control over the SSU. The key areas of the Service’s activities include anti-terrorist activities, state secrets and counter-intelligence. However, Europeans remind of the importance of functional orientation of the SSU in the context of Russian aggression.

After all, the standpoint of the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) experts is not very different from that of the EUAM. They see clear issues of strategic nature (SSU has never been really reformed), and tactical nature (the draft law is being developed secretly, without consultations with the stakeholders).

For them, the key point is parliamentary oversight over the special service, which should be carried out by a separate committee (commission) through the SSU control in all key areas. The NATO office staff confirmed the general approach to reducing the SSU staff since the number of SSU employees is five times higher than the staff of two British intelligence services, MI-5 and MI-6, together. In addition, they stressed demilitarization within which it is worth leaving only one or two units that have “people in uniform” – for example, a special unit “Alpha”. Another important point was the SSU depoliticization. When asked if they support the elimination of all functions of the pre-trial investigation body, they answered that the overwhelming majority of such “investigative powers” should be removed from the draft law. It may be worth keeping investigation into crimes such as reason, encroachment on the territorial integrity, etc.

At the same time, NATO experts clearly advocate the abolition of all functions of economic crime investigation. Meanwhile, effective parliamentary oversight should have eliminated this problem altogether. With regard to narrowing the functions of pre-trial investigation of corruption crimes – they are totally in favor of depriving SSU of these powers. According to the NATO office, the Service does not object to assigning military counter-intelligence function to the Ministry of Defense. However, the defense agency is not in favor of such developments.

The aforementioned summarized standpoints are confirmed by a document by which the EUAM and the NATO office agreed on their points of the SSU reform in the summer of 2016. Western experts have clearly formalized their expectations and assessed the concept of the Security Service of Ukraine reform.

Let’s start with the fact that western partners acclaimed the concept more than two years ago. First of all, its focus on human rights and democratic control over the SSU, which should have become a top priority of its activities. Another important innovation was the introduction of independent non-parliamentary control by the newly established committee overseeing the SSU’s activities. Europeans and Americans were ready to provide any necessary assistance to create a proper control body that was supposed to be provided with real tools to fulfill its control functions in relation to the Service. Third issue noted by western colleagues concerned the restriction of the SSU role as a law-enforcement agency, because it is these functions that are primarily entrusted with the national intelligence service. The fourth advice relates to a clear delimitation of functions with other authorities of the relevant profile throughout the security sector. Fifth issue – demilitarization of the Service, sixth issue – assignment of investigation of corruption and other economic crimes to the relevant law enforcement agencies. And the last, seventh issue concerned the increase of openness in the public communication strategy.

Commenting on the current state of affairs in 2016, western partners stressed the depoliticization and effective work of the special services for the prevention of criminal offenses. It was noted that the SSU should focus on gathering relevant information, analyzing it and preventing serious offenses, such as, for example, crimes against the state and international security, having eliminated the functions of pre-trial investigation from a number of non-typical crimes.

Western experts have clearly indicated that the investigation of individual offenses (corruption, smuggling, etc.) is currently creating corruption risks directly for the Security Service of Ukraine itself. After all, the SSU should be in line with the best practices of the EU and NATO member states and subsequently become a trusted partner in exchanging secret (intelligence) information between the EU and NATO member states.

Western partners have agreed on the recommendations that the overall SSU reform concept should meet.

  1. The first paragraph of the general provisions of the concept should give an official explanation of how to transform and reform the SSU. However, it should have been addressed not only to the general public, but also directly to the employees of the Service. This would have helped alleviate the legitimacy of changes by adopting a political reform decision. The Reform Action Plan was to become a key part of the concept covering clearly defined areas of responsibility, accountability of relevant officials during implementation, as well as providing clear goals and deadlines, including financial policies and requirements in the short and medium term. In turn, these actions should have been approved by the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine.
  2. Under no circumstances should the Security Service of Ukraine investigate smuggling crimes. This task, along with corrupt offenses, should have been assigned to other law enforcement agencies. Meanwhile, in the context of the fight against organized crime, the role of the SSU would be to “support” relevant investigations through the information exchange. Then, the concept did not make it clear what kind of criminal investigation jurisdiction was left to the Service, however the table addressed to international partners contained a detailed comparison of the most important changes in the SSU after the reform. Therefore, such a comparative table should have become a supplement to the concept to demonstrate the final result of the relevant changes.
  3. Reduction in the number of SSU employees should be in accordance with the priorities of work and changes provided for by the new law and the relevant functions, and also include improvement of operational procedures. If not the concept itself, the Action Plan should specify the transfer of functional units to the existing or newly established law enforcement agencies, thus minimizing the capabilities of the SSU in the relevant areas. Military counter-intelligence had to become an independent body with its own operational and analytical structure within the Ministry of Defense.
  4. The operational balance of the SSU should be based on the division into operational staff, analysts, and support staff. The focus of the Service is the collection of information, its processing and preliminary evaluation of the analyzed data. The SSU should have been guided by the best European practices, increasing its efficiency in line with budget expenditures for work with auxiliary personnel and outsourcing certain areas of activity.
  5. Classified document flow and electronic decision-making procedures should be introduced in the activities of the Service. As a result, the number of support staff will be optimized, which will reduce the budget expenditure for the special services.
  6. An approach based on a national threat should serve as the basis for the purposes of the SSU’s budget allocation. In its turn, the National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine will become a body that identifies threats to national security and determines the relevant tasks for the SSU.
  7. Internal anti-corruption procedures should be part of the future human resources management process.
  8. The recruitment procedures should be open and transparent (based on European experience), which is a key factor in combating nepotism and corruption in the SSU.
  9. The SSU reform concept should focus on future education and training approaches for the Service. These systems must balance the resources (financial, intellectual) spent and give the anticipated results. The educational system should reflect the needs of the SSU, as well as serve as a platform for further specialization of recruited personnel in line with specific vacancies and tasks (based on pre-acquired knowledge and skills).

In general, western partners summed up that the reform should adhere to the NATO and the European Union practices. The concept of change should ensure stability in the long run without negatively affecting the current geopolitical situation. In order to achieve the relevant goals, the NATO office and the EUAM have proposed creating an expert group composed of experts of the appropriate specialization of the highest level.

The position of specialized law enforcement agency reformers overlaps the absolute majority of issues noted by the representatives of the EUAM and the NATO office.

First of all, it is about assigning two functions to the SSU – counter-intelligence and counter-terrorism.

The second requirement is the complete abandonment of the functions of pre-trial investigation and the elimination of the relevant SSU units. It makes no sense to abolish only one or several units (Main Directorate for Combating Corruption and Organized Crime, Main Directorate of Counter-Intelligence Protection of the State’s Interests in the Field of Economic Security, etc.), because the pressure on businesses can be exerted through other directorates, as was the case, for example, during searches in the investment company Dragon Capital or the state company “Ukrhazvydobuvannia”, which were “visited” definitely not by the employees of the aforementioned “economic” units.

The third one concerns the significant reduction of the SSU personnel (from over 33 thousand people to the quantity that would cover the current functions, which, of course, will be decreased). The forth one — the employees should be recruited from among “civilian” civil servants on a competitive basis (but not public basis, since this body will perform rather “delicate” tasks). Remuneration of employees should be stipulated in the law at a decent level (for example, NABU detectives or SBI investigators).

The fifth one — the Service must finally abandon the function of counter-intelligence protection of the economy. The sixth one – SSU Academy should be reformatted into SSU School, because they teach practical skills rather than sciences. The seventh one — only those persons who have higher education, have undergone annual training at the SSU School and successfully passed exams should be employed. The eighth one — reports on the activities of the Service should be published annually, including reports on the number and place of counter-intelligence activities.

And the last one: one document should combine three areas at once – SSU activities, its structure and quantity of employees, as well as counter-intelligence activities.

The current version of the Law developed by the SSU headquarters does not share the positions of western partners and national experts. In the next article on “people out of civvies”, we will detail on how and what exactly the SSU employees are proposing to reform.

Oleksandr Liemienov for the Dzerkalo Tyzhnia Newspaper