Simeon Nikolow
(Director of Centre for Strategic Research, Bulgaria)


“Intelligence is an art for sages, dedicated to it“
 Major John Felix Cowgill, British MI6 counterespionage bureau

The analysis of the transformation process of the intelligence services in the post-Communist European states indicates that there is no common model and also there are no simple and clear answers to the questions related to the process.

The reason is that the process is bound to the level of consolidation of the state and the democracy, the maturity of the civil society, and in our case to the difficulties in the establishment of the new intelligence community in Bulgaria, namely weaknesses of the governance, political rifts and incompetence which has led to unregulated and inadequately managed and developed intelligence services.

Reforms in the security sector in Bulgaria began as early as 1991 when the security services started introducing structural reforms as an answer to the new environment. The process of depoliticization de facto took place in early 1990. The period was characterized by the governing circles’ deep mistrust of the successors of the Communist services. That was completely unfounded, because the professionals had long been aware of the looming processes and some of them had even suggested models for development of the country and consolidation of the security on the basis of information and experience collected from other democratic states.

Sadly, that mistrust lasted for many years, even now many politicians experience the same feeling. Besides structure, reforms affected the lines of the intelligence tasks. But as regards the methods, most eloquent was the comment of the then Head of the Czech intelligence Boris Lazar who said: “ What does democratization of the service actually mean? How can you democratically recruit agents and spy with them?”

The dismissal for political reasons of thousands of security officials was inevitable but we should admit that many left voluntarily unwilling to accept the reforms or seeking better financial opportunities in the business sector.  

The first years of transition were definitely marked with certain mistrust between the Bulgarian and the Western Services which they quickly overcame. Official representatives were sent to the embassies in the partner countries. So, it was natural for Bulgaria to pull out all its field stations. That was not the case with our partners, however. The Turkish Services worked with such enthusiasm that they became unable anymore to contact their numerous assets on the territory of Bulgaria and were forced to take them to Turkey.

According to reports of the world-famous “Stratfor agency”, at the time of the 1997-2001 government at least 20 MPs in the Bulgarian National Assembly were agents of Western Intelligence Services, not to mention other structures.

The new 1991 Constitution of Bulgaria has assigned the services their main task of defending national security. It has also guaranteed that the Speaker of the National Assembly, the Prime Minister and the President are equally informed. The National Intelligence Service, the foreign political intelligence and the National Protection Service have become a responsibility of the President. The heads of the National Intelligence Service and the National Protection Service are appointed by the President on the proposal of the Council of Ministers, which has often led to disagreements and affected the quality of their work.

The irrational existence of a protection service under the President has also provoked numerous of comments. The military strategic intelligence has remained within the Ministry of Defence. The activities of these services are regulated by the Defence and Armed Forces Act.

The new Ministry of Interior Acted, issued in 1997, defines the status of and civil control over the National Security Service, or the counter-intelligence body, which has been removed from the structure of the armed forces. That, however, has brought about a lot of obstacles to its cooperation with the National Intelligence Service and other military structures. Besides the absence of separate laws on the various intelligence services, let’s point out that the newly established Service for Combatting Organized Crime has been constantly moved and re-subordinated, with its functions being taken or complemented. The State National Security Agency created in 2008, which formally united the National Security Service, the military counter-intelligence and the financial intelligence, has been a mistake that triggered a series of scandals.

Problems with the establishment of the new security services, especially those concerning the homeland security, stem from the fact that the governing circles view them as an instrument for political leverage. The distorted perception and underestimation of their role for the national security, coupled with immature civil control, have resulted in improper financing, considerably ruined system of assets, security breaches, information leaks and political scandals. All that inevitably suggests absence of a stable system of state governance, which de facto means the transition period, is not over.

Particularly detrimental was the so-called law regulating the access and disclosure of agents of the State Security Service and the Bulgarian Armed Forces Intelligence Services. Bulgaria has been unable to shake off its Communist past in a civilized way, because the politicians have created a law, which hid the actual originators of the repressive regime, the ideologists of the whole system, and placed the blame on the intelligence structures, and what is more, on structures that have never been subordinate to the State Security Service such as the Strategic Military Intelligence, or had repressive nature like the foreign political intelligence and the scientific research intelligence.

However, the parties exploited the sporadically revealed dossiers in their inter-party struggles. The result is that the society got a completely distorted notion of the place and role of today’s services. The removal of certain parts from the law such as Article 12 or the violation of others such as Article 32 allowed field agents in extremely risky regions around the world where spying is punished with death to be compromised.   

Now that the politicians have created all the mythology surrounding the services, the latter's inevitable opening up to the civil society would be a much slower and increasingly more difficult process.

Nevertheless, the homeland security services have a clear understanding that, under these new conditions, they can only be successful as long as they have the support of this very civil society. The use of the services for political purposes, violent attacks and racketeering was at its most blatant between 2009 and 2013, which inevitably affected public opinions.

Paradoxically enough, Bulgaria's services have received more praise and acknowledgement from their NATO counterparts than from the Bulgarian politicians. Undeniable are the accomplishments of the Military Intelligence in the provision of support for the operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. There has been mutual satisfaction with the information exchange. Cooperation in numerous operations has been very close and highly professional. It is a common problem for any small country that, when it comes to filling in the positions within the joint intelligence and analytical structures, bigger countries are much ahead along the way.

Yet, in contrast to bigger countries, smaller ones have the indisputable advantage of being able to develop specialised thematic and region-oriented expertise. It is sometimes the case that intelligence services with a more limited capacity have no insurance against political pressure coming from much stronger partners; a case in point - the declaration of Hezbollah as the organisation to have orchestrated and perpetrated the Sarafovo Airport terrorist attack before collecting enough evidence pointing to such a conclusion. Greater solidarity is needed not only in responding faster to requests for information when such terrorist attacks take place, but also when it comes to tackling other problems common to the entire European community, one being the refugee floods headed its way.

The Bulgarian government at the time was no less guilty. Intelligence services issued timely warnings about the growing refugee waves. But until users of such information actually learn how to read and work with it, solely reforming the intelligence sector would only be that much helpful.

Put on hold in parliament and waiting their turn ever since the previous government are several drafts, inter alia the National Security Protection System Management Act, the State Intelligence Agency Act, the Defence Intelligence Service Act, and the National Protection Service, which if adopted by the incumbent parliament, will be conducive to stabilizing the services, improving their effectiveness, and guaranteeing they have sufficient oversight.

Experts are very critical in their assessment of the Security Council with the Council of Ministers, which is presently a consultative body whose Secretary and composition get replaced any time a new government takes over, making it thus unable to be at the required professional level in sync with the intelligence services; hence the plans to create a body to govern the coordination and analysis coming from all the services, without depriving them of their operational autonomy. There are plans to set up a Centre for Coordination and Analysis and a Crisis Centre.

If the current government weathers the political crisis, the intention is to conduct a Strategic Defence Review of the entire security sector and update the National Security Concept.


1. „Der аllmächtige Geheimdienst- Ein Relikt der Vergangenheit?” Lit Verlag Dr Hopf Berlin 2012
2.  Димитър Иванов „Кратка история на Държавна сигурност 1907– 2013”, издателство Ciela 2013
3.  Адаптиране на разузнавателните служби към съвременните
предизвикателства, Лекция,адаптиране-на-разузнавателните-служби-към-съвременните-предизвикателства

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