Lithuanian security chief: We must avoid hysteria when discussing threats

Darius Jauniškis
DELFI / Karolina Pansevič

“It’s a big challenge for intelligence agencies to remain in the shadow. I don’t think we can afford this,” he said in an interview with BNS.

According to Jauniškis, intelligence seeks to find a balance to ensure that the public is adequately informed about threats and to avoid overestimating dangers and encouraging hysteria.

The director says that the department, which wants to vet deals by strategic enterprises, seeks to prevent companies from falling into Russia‘s hands, adding that potential Chinese investments may be at the center of attention in the future as well.

In his words, intelligence plans to give a high priority to beefing up cyber capacities in the future.

The deparment’s director answered 25 questions in a 50-minute interview he gave to BNS on the occasion of the Day of Intelligence Officers.

BNS: You have said that modern threats are longer clearly recognisable. Thus, a threat can be overlooked or seen where it does not exist. Do you think there is a proper balance in the public sphere between naivety and hysteria, between vigilance and paranoia?

Jauniškis: That’s a very good question. At the department, we often discuss about where the balance between hysteria and real facts is.

Lithuania is cited as an example in NATO and the EU as a country where manifestations of hybrid war are recognized very clearly, especially in the information space. One would have difficulty selling fake news to our citizen. It’s most welcome that journalists and the public don’t accept the news that our eastern neighbors are trying to put into our brains.

Given our resilience and understanding, a good question is whether we have talk so much about this. I sometimes doubt it. We already have enough shocks, so maybe we shouldn’t overestimate… Giving a clear-headed assessment is one thing and raising hysteria is another. Therefore, we need to be very careful about what we say and what we communicate to society and the whole world.

As a result of what we have been saying, we have drawn the attention of the world and a lot of people are not speaking about Russia’s threat. Both our statements and Russian actions have shown the world how much Russian game is dangerous. So we should keep a balance between hysteria and silence.

BNS: You have been heading the State Security Department for two and a half years. How have the threats change over the period?

Jauniškis: Threats from the East have been very clear ever since I came. They remain.

A threat of terrorism emerged in the southern and western part of Europe, although we do not feel it so much in Lithuania. There it comes with immigration, with certain ideologies, radicalization and neofascism. The reasons may be different – let’s take the shooting during a concert in the United States. The person was a US citizen. We have to seriously analyze to tell the difference between true terrorism and madness of a modern world.

Increasing threats are reported in the cyber space – both from our Eastern neighbors and in Eastern Asia, North Korea and China. Cyber attacks have almost become a routine.

BNS: What is your vision? What role could VSD assume – be an invisible service with results only known to the decision-makers or an institution actively providing information to the public?

Jauniškis: Seeing the pace of global development when information enters human heads in terabytes, it is a challenge for security services to stay in the shadow. I do not think we can afford this, as democratic societies want transparency and reports of what intelligence and the state do to ensure their safety. I do not think intelligence institutions should close up and refuse sharing information on threats with the public, refuse talking to journalists and cover under a veil of secrecy. This is simply impossible. Lithuania is no exception. After my accession, we have been much more open, we talk to journalists, public organizations and businesses to include the whole society in the security of our state. It should not only be a concern for VSD and the army, it should be concern of every citizen. A state can only evolve, if we feel safe.

We see that (Israel’s intelligence) Mossad, (Britain’s intelligence) Mi-5 and (the United States’) Central Intelligence Agency do more promotion, their top executives make public statements. Mi-5 chief Andrew Parker recently made an appearance on a live debate broadcast for the first time in the history of British intelligence. It is a major challenge and a major risk for an intelligence chief.

Yes, intelligence should involve a reasonable degree of secrecy, as hostile intelligence agencies need us to reveal our secrets and methods of work, to show our money, which allows them to draw conclusions about our capacity.

BNS: You mentioned cooperation with businesses. Why does VSD want to check transactions of strategic companies, including Telia Lietuva, Orlen Lietuva and Achema, which are not operated by the state?

Jauniškis: It was not us who assumed the responsibility for national security – this is stipulated by law. We do not want to pressure businesses. Of course, any interference by security institutions is viewed with sensitivity. Some may think we are pushing the laws to know everything about businesses and disclose their secrets of something – this is not the case. We are looking at them through the security prism.

We have a number of examples when Eastern neighbors attempt to make influence in Lithuania via off-shore companies by buying companies here. Let’s say there is a company that we don’t see has Russian money, however, it has been purchased, for instance, via a Danish off-shore company – how can we be sure that it is not a spy nest or an attempt to influence businesses or politicians? Our objective is to know about the realities businesses live in. Can businesses be sure they are doing business with a right country? We can come and help here, as we care capable of checking this. We must protect against bad investments, information operations and protect our politicians from influence from the East, bribery and corruption exported from Russia.

When we start talking about the relationship with business and national security, they are starting to accuse us of interfering with the business environment. However, there are cases when we are accused of not looking close enough, as the case was with the last instance of (Russian businessman Anton) Treushnikov. We are accused of not seeing, not informing, not telling. Of course, businesses will never be happy with repressive measures. However, sometimes we need to look at the time we live in. The time is not safe, and we need protection.

BNS: What are the criteria for the deals you would check? Would your, for instance, monitor Achema’s deals to buy gas from Russia’s Gazprom?

Jauniškis: It is not our objective to tell businesses what to buy and from who. It is a matter of business, they look for cheaper places to buy and more expensive places to sell. It is our objective to make sure that our strategic companies do not end up in the hands of hostile countries.

We all agree that Gazprom (Russian gas concern) and Rosatom (Russian nuclear energy corporation) are the Russian administration’s tools of doing politics abroad, including Lithuania. We need to know about the deals to be able to advise whether we really need this or maybe there are other options. It is our duty to warn both businesses and politicians about the threat and the specific deal’s possible impact on state evolution many years ahead. We have numerous examples, for instance, Nukem (Russian-capital German company implementing Ignalina nuclear power plant decommissioning projects) – we started with Germans and where did we end up?

BNS: So the main risk is acquisition of companies, not trade relations?

Jauniškis: Of course, we need to monitor to prevent investments in strategic economies, which may have long-term effects. The gas issue and dependence on Russia is one aspect. I understand that business is business, we do not interfere with the free market.

BNS: The most notorious cases are the halted investments by Gediminas Ziemelis due to a warning from your service over ties with Russia, the data center project outside Vilnius. Do you see risks in connection to possible investments from China?

Jauniškis: Without doubt, we should know these things. There is nothing to hide – many countries list China as a truly aggressive country, which operates via intelligence institutions, via business, via investments. We see companies being purchased worldwide, especially in the energy field. China is a powerful and wealthy country with interests and strategy of its own, therefore, we do not rule out that investments from the country could have an effect on our country’s life.

However, we do not feel any military aggression from China or willingness to make us part of its zone of influence.

BNS: This year, China held its first joint military drills with Russia in the Baltic Sea? What is your opinion about it?

Jauniškis: I believe that an exercise with a country that is hostile towards us sends a certain message. It is difficult for me to tell what the message is, maybe they could explain why this is happening. Of course, we should be very cautious. I do not think it is a very friendly gesture. If you hold a joint exercise, it sends a certain message about who you are hand-in-hand with.

BNS: Both you and the military intelligence this year repeatedly warned about the Zapad 2017 military exercise, possible provocations and incidents. How did the exercise go? Were the threats exaggerated?

Jauniškis: The exercise went the way we expected them to – they were calm. We managed to bring it to the attention of our partners and secure Allied support. Zapad threats were obvious. Russian war games have repeatedly evolved into a major military conflict, let’s take Georgia or Ukraine.

I do not think we exaggerated. In my opinion, Russia’s tactic was different – they saw the response of the Western world and NATO. They had no other way out. They slightly pulled the exercise from the border, saying they had no intention of attacking and tried to show us in an awkward position – as if we were screaming a lot but nothing happened. But what if things were the opposite? What if we didn’t have Germany or US troops – can we be sure that things would not have turned out different? There may have been much more aggressive actions at the border, there may have been attempts to enter our territory.

We were focused, we checked our operational mechanisms among institutions. It was a very good practice. I can only applaud the way we exchanged information, notified state leaders and how we were ready for any incidents. A Russian border guard was detained immediately after crossing the border. It benefits us, it is a good practice for us not to stay alert and work to ensure state and public security.

BNS: Did relevant Belarusian institutions contact Lithuania’s intelligence before the exercise?

Jauniškis: No, we have no contacts with institutions of unfriendly countries.

BNS: Let’s move to migration issues. The symbolic two-year program for receiving Syrian, Iraqi and Eritrean refugees from Greece and Italy has recently expired. How many suspicious persons did you identify and refused entry?

Jauniškis: I do not want to elaborate on the statistics but I want to emphasize that intelligence in Lithuania is working, we have a good vision and understanding of the situation. I am certain we are not faced with the problems and threats the Western world is faced with. Of course, we can never know what the future will bring – there can be threats, we cannot sit back.

BNS: The neighboring Poland refused to take in refugees, saying this would threaten its national security. Did Lithuania’s participation in the program bring additional national security risks?

Jauniškis: No, it didn’t So far we see no major threats for raising the level of terrorism threat. Of course, we had more work to do, as it required resources, people and collection of information.

BNS: Now the number of immigrants from Ukraine doubles every year. Do you see threats here?

Jauniškis: We see no major threat so far. The biggest threat would be infiltration of agents but so far we are able to control the process at our borders, everything is fine. It would be a bigger problem, if flows went via other Schengen countries where certain mishaps are possible.

BNS: Earlier this week, chairman of the parliamentary National Security and Defense Committee noted lack of closer cooperation, information exchange and clear procedures among the Migration Department and other state institutions in charge of security. Do you agree?

Jauniškis: The information sharing intensified significantly after the last scandal, we are on the right track. Of course, things can always be better but at the moment I think the machinery is working better and better. I believe things will get even better when the Interior Ministry finally manages the issues with the Migration Department. I am optimistic about this.

BNS: In May, you were summoned by the Seimas board to present information about the influence of business groups on Lithuania’s political system. A parliamentary inquiry has been opened on these grounds. Do you see a reason for this? How much information will you be able to provide to the parliamentarians?

Jauniškis: I will not be a politician and leave it up to politicians to decide this, I will not say whether this is good or bad. However, we are willing to present the information needed by the commission in accordance to the law, if we have it.

BNS: You mentioned cyber treats. How ready is Lithuania’s for cyber challenges?

Jauniškis: The cyber security center listed our capabilities of defending against a cyber attack as negative. I believe we are paying insufficient attention and insufficient resources to this. The tendencies are bad, the world will have to be increasingly protective against cyber attacks. As far as I know, Ukraine is faced with major problems, Russia is also under threat, the United States have repeatedly spoken about cyber attacks, there were scandals in connection to Kaspersky. We should have been stepped up interest a few years ago.

By setting up the Cyber Security Center, our state is taking steps, however, I still view the situation as unsatisfactory. I do not want to take the flagship role from the Ministry of National Defense but I think the State Security Department should be a major part of cyber security, and this is the road we will take.

BNS: What is your recommendation for the use of (Russian cyber security company) Kaspersky software in state institutions?

Jauniškis: I believe there is enough public information on the matter. I hold a highly cautious view of the company. The United States has proven it to be a toy in the hands of the Russian administration, which sometimes operates as a satellite of the (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s administration rather than performs functions of a private company. These facts alone should give food for thought for anyone using Kaspersky anti-virus software or other software.

BNS: Does VSD assess the national security threats of demographic and social problems? These issues get hardly any attention in public reports.

Jauniškis: A highly influential person has said that VSD should take care of everything. I would not want to agree with this. Our field of competences is limited. According to the law, the department should work to establish and remove external threats outside and inside the country. This is the essence of intelligence and counterintelligence. Speaking about social seclusion and size of wages – as a person, I think it has an impact on national security. I only doubt whether VSD should decide these things. Is that a threat. As the VSD chief, I should probably say that my competences end here. As a citizen, I can say that emigration issues definitely have an effect.

BNS: CIA in the United States focuses on issues, such as demography, analyzing how concentration of young men in certain countries can give start to martial foreign policies, etc.

Jauniškis: I am not saying we ignore these facts. Without doubt, we take them into consideration. We have to see emigration tendencies, as well, and understand why people choose it. This has a painful effect upon us in the form of the number of people who come to us. We are understaffed, and the number of those willing to work for the department is declining with time. We are part of the same society. It is a very important field.

BNS: Speaking about people, your colleague from Britain’s Mi-6 said he would not accept James Bond to his agency, as he needs different qualities. What do you consider as the most important competences of the people you hire? How much does the public opinion of VSD agents match the reality?

Jauniškis: They must be prevailed by reasoning, analytical thinking, communication with people and IT literacy. Speaking about the James Bond example, intelligence agents face the most dangerous situations, and, in addition to intelligence and analytical thinking, they need to be able to defend themselves or flee, if necessary, possibly do acrobatic tricks. Self-defense is also important. These are unique people. There is a romantic side to the work of an intelligence agent but there are many nasty things. The society does not see the threat an officer is faced with during a task, especially when abroad. I do not want to elaborate but we need unique people.

BNS: The next year’s budget envisages a 12-million-euro rise in funding for your department, while VSD officials say that the actual increase is 2.2 million euros. Could you please explain?

Jauniškis: The explanation is simple – just over 9 million euros will go towards payment of debts to Turto Bankas. We have taken a loan from the state to build the facilities in the Pilaite neighborhood. This is not an investment where we would get additional money, we are investing the money immediately. Therefore, we are left with 2.2 million euros, which we have now. I truly hope that our requests are taken into consideration and that we are granted more. We are asking for 5-7 million euros. We have clearly stated our needs to the National Security and Defense Committee and the government.

This is the state attitude – what intelligence we need. Not a single army can go without intelligence now, they need protection against hostile plots, everyone needs information as they need air, and without intelligence you cannot have verified information.

BNS: Which fields need additional funding?

Jauniškis: Technological modernization and staff. We are forced to be behind the rest of the world, as investments have not been getting enough attention for years. We also have to invest in competences and new people.

BNS: Nikolai Filipchenko who has been listed as Russia’s FSB agent has been convicted in Lithuania and is serving his sentence here. A few Lithuanian citizens convicted of spying are in jail in Russia. Has Russia proposed to exchange the persons?

Jauniškis: No comment on the matter.

BNS: The Strasbourg court is about to present its conclusion on the complaints about operation of a secret CIA prison in Lithuania. The justice vice-minister has told the court that an intelligence support center was being developed in Antaviliai, and the secret flights were used to deliver communications equipment. What was the function of the Antaviliai facility in 2005-2006?

Jauniškis: All of the information has been submitted to the European court, processes are in progress, I do not want to comment more. It was a training center all the time, just like it is now. I do not have any evidence to prove that things were different in 2005 or 2006. Together with (officials of) the Justice Ministry we go there and answer the questions.

BNS: And at the end I would like to hear your insights about the future. How is the intelligence work altered by changes of the information environment and development of social media? What will be the impact of the fourth industrial revolution, robotization and artificial intelligence?

Jauniškis: We already discussed the cyber threats. We see a perspective of the fourth industrial revolution, development of IT and social networks. Without doubt, intelligence needs to shift its focus to the IT. We cannot stand still. At the same time, we cannot forget the human factor – people have not died yet and I think they will live on for a long time.

The intelligence is faced with a major challenge. At the moment, both decision-makers and the public can acquire information from various sources. The biggest problem is distinguishing accurate and inaccurate information. Every one of us are faced with the choice of what who we should believe: one politician or another, Wikileaks or CNN. Human minds are messed up, and it is difficult for the intelligence to operate in such environments. But I want to emphasize that intelligence information can be trusted in the majority of cases. We are sometimes too slow, as we never publish unverified information without multiple checks. We cannot stand still, close ourselves up, as we will be trampled. The department has tried providing information only but standing aside of the process of eliminating threats. We all know the outcome. We have to go to the society.

BNS: Thank you for the interview.


Jauniškis: has been heading the State Security Department since April 2015. Before the appointment, he served as commander of the Lithuanian army’s Special Operations Forces. Lithuania celebrates Oct. 27 as the Day of Intelligence Officers, marking establishment of special services in the country’s Armed Forces in 1918.

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