Czech counter-intelligence accuses Russia of infiltrating ministries

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The Czech Counter-intelligence service, the BIS, revealed in its annual report issued on Wednesday that Russian intelligence agents were building a network in the Czech Republic with the aim of influencing the decision-making of local authorities and spreading disinformation. The report also says that Russian agents have been attempting to infiltrate the ministries of transport and defence in an attempt to obtain confidential information. But the Russian embassy in Prague vigorously denies such allegations. The head of the embassy's press department, Gennadi Askaldovich, told journalists on Wednesday - "It's absolute nonsense, and you can quote me on that. No such Russian interests exist." Defence experts, though, seem to agree with the BIS's report, saying the campaign might be aimed at discrediting the Czech Republic's international image, spread doubts about Czech political institutions and the country's membership of international organisations such as NATO. Alena Skodova spoke to commentator Vaclav Zak and asked him if the reports had come as a surprise.

"I wouldn't say so. I think it's quite clear that the Russian intelligence service has good contacts with the Czech Republic and with all the states of the former Soviet block, so now when three of these countries are members of NATO , it's quite sure that they will attempt to use all those old contacts. But if they will succeed is another question."

How do you think classified information can be misused by the Russians against the Czech Republic?"

"You know it's very hard to estimate something in this area, because normal persons have no access to information that the secret services have at their disposal. I think that we just should take it as the fact that our intelligence service has some information, that something like that occurred, but that's all."

Do you think that classified information in the Czech Republic is well protected?

"In fact, certainly better than it used to be. But it's not normally known that we have a fight between our secret services, that they compete with each other. There is a service which is responsible for screening similar services, so there's a competition within intelligence services. Of course, these two organisations should collaborate very closely, but I really doubt that the screening is well done, so there might be a problem."

Is there any way how the Czech Republic, or any state, can defend itself from such a kind of espionage?

"Well, if you take into account what happened in the United States, where they found people that had worked in very sensitive places and for almost 20 years for the Soviet Union, so I think no state can be fully protected."