Archive for November 15th, 2017


What about the SBU reform?

November 15, 2017

14th November witnessed the publishing of Presidential Decree 362/2017.

It relates to the replacement of Yuri Goncharov with Vladislav Kossinsky as the head of the SBU in Sumy, and the posting of Yuri Goncharov to head the Chernihiv regional SBU.

This follows the 14th February 2017 (Valentine’s Day massacre) of regional SBU Chiefs when, similarly by Presidential Decree, the SBU directorates in Kherson, Sumy, Nikolayev, Ternopil and Zaporozhye regions all received new leaders.

Indeed Sumy has seen two regional SBU Chief’s in 2017.

The President has every right to tinker with the SBU leadership.  In fact as a matter of good policy it would be wise for any Ukrainian President to rotate or replace regional SBU Chief’s every 4 or 5 years – lest they become “too comfortable” within the corrupt regional fiefdom structures.

Likewise the Interior Ministry would be well advised to rotate the regional police leadership after a similar tenure for the very same reasons.  The 15th November saw the Interior Ministry announce its strategy to 2020 – albeit thus far the blog has been unable to find the strategy document for public perusal.

Nevertheless the public is aware that the Ministry of Interior does have a development strategy.

The announcement of the MIA 2020 strategy, combined with Presidential Decree 362/2017 regarding changes in SBU regional leadership, brings about questions over the Ukrainian SBU (and FISU – Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine, an agency that is ne’er mentioned).

Is there a development strategy for the SBU?

Undoubtedly it is involved in many tasks it clearly should not be.  It’s core competency is counterintelligence and counter-terrorism.  Indeed its competencies are defined in law – “The Security Service of Ukraine is vested, within its competence defined by law, with the protection of national sovereignty, constitutional order, territorial integrity, economical, scientific, technical, and defense potential of Ukraine, legal interests of the state, and civil rights, from intelligence and subversion activities of foreign special services and from unlawful interference attempted by certain organizations, groups and individuals, as well with ensuring the protection of state secrets.

Yet the SBU appears to have an ever seeping mission creep – or at the very least, has not surrendered “additional duties” historically dumped upon it to Ukraine’s new and/or reformed institutions.

It is the only government agency with the authority to conduct wire taps – a situation that is completely wrongheaded – and thus conducts wire taps for and on behalf of NABU, police and prosecutors et al.  It also seems to be involved daily in tackling organized crime, drug busts, and any other number of unlawful acts that are clearly not immediately threatening Ukraine’s vital interests.

Is organised crime a national security threat?  Definitely.  Should the SBU keep a watchful eye upon it?  Absolutely.  Should it police it?  No.  That is what customs, the police and specialised police departments therein do.

Hardly a day goes by without witnessing the SBU kicking in office doors with the police when executing search warrants.  The police can kick their own doors down.  If necessary they have their own SWAT equivalent in KORD to help.  Why are the SBU doing/assisting in it (even if they played a part in the investigation)?

Why are the SBU seemingly involved in standard, daily, criminal police work?  The police have a criminal investigation division.  There is NABU.  There are specially trained officers for drugs, people trafficking et al.

Ukraine is in a war.  It is a war that will not end – even if the military engagements stop, the espionage, subversion, active measures, reflexive control, coercive diplomacy, economic sabotage and (ever-failing) attempts at manipulating public opinion will continue for decades.

Counterintelligence and counter-terrorism are far from easy tasks.  For many such agencies it is only when failures occur that they feature in the public realm at all.  Successes go almost unnoticed (if even announced) because devastation and tragedy was avoided.  Such is the Ukrainian neighbourhood that there will be SVR, FSB, GRU officers, agents, collaborators, provocateurs, sleepers, and saboteurs aplenty for the SBU to look at for many decades to come.  Focus and not distraction is required.

The SBU has to stick to its core competencies and not be distracted by police work.  They are not the police.  There will be times where investigations will obviously overlap.  Questions of lead agency will have to be resolved.  But the SBU should not be a daily sight on TV carrying out prima facie very standard policing operations.

Further, when was the last time a reader was informed of any foreign investment into the SBU?  Or training?  Or intelligence sharing?  Or significant international cooperation leading to results of note?

Yes they are a security service prone to a level of secrecy, but the Ukrainian military has received funding, training, equipment, limited intelligence, and numerous opportunities to train with western nations while managing to fight a war – plus its own internal corruption and infiltration.

The police have been significantly reformatted due to significant external funding, equipment, training, continuing scrutiny and benchmarking while still managing to police – and attempting to police themselves internally.

Prosecutor and judicial reform have seen no end of political and diplomatic energy, notwithstanding financial input, again with continuing (and often exasperated) scrutiny from those external of Ukraine – albeit clearly the most disappointing of reform arenas thus far.

It is perhaps time to think about SBU organisational strategy and reform too – except a reader would probably suspect that external friends of Ukraine have already thought about this – and appear have decided to do nothing (or very little).

If they had, then assuredly issues such as equipment or training arriving from foreign donors would be announced by the SBU Chief who regularly appears on TV updating (or misleading) the public over cases, operations or simply PR showboating.

So the question is why is the SBU seemingly being shunned by foreign donors given its obviously critical role in Ukraine?

Firstly of course, it may be that such assistance was offered, but refused by the SBU.

Perhaps the reform strings attached were simply not to the liking of the SBU leadership.  Or perhaps not to the liking of the Presidential Administration.  It maybe that the current SBU operational set up would be required to change too much for those in charge.

The current SBU structure is a central command (within which there are 25 departments), a Main Directorate for Corruption and Organised Crime, 26 regional offices/divisions, a few “special” departments, the Anti-Terrorist Centre, and dedicated education and archive establishments.

It may be that foreign donors would have sought a clear delineation between counter-terrorism and counterintelligence.  Or a clear delineation between analysts and operatives – and/or a heavy bias toward one over another.  Perhaps clear parameters upon the SBU involvement in organised crime – eyes and ears, but not boots through doors was sought.  The surrendering of historical “additional duties” to other new and/or reformed State institutions .  Any or all of the above?

The SBU-Presidential Administration relationship may also be a reason why the SBU has apparently not featured highly on the western donor agenda.  The SBU, prima facie, on many occasions appears to be little more than the Presidential Administration’s politically controlled leg-breakers (metaphorically in most cases).

Indeed it often appears that SBU intelligence does not shape politics, but rather politics selectively uses SBU intelligence to shape further politically directed SBU action.  Often an entirely counterproductive situation for the nation.

It could be that foreign donors simply do not trust the current SBU leadership, or perhaps consider the SBU still far too infiltrated to be able to meaningfully assist at present – that would matter insofar as intelligence sharing, or tech gadgetry, or specialised training is concerned.

That said, foreign nations have tangibly and visibly supported the military which undoubtedly posed similar difficult questions for the same reasons.  An effective SBU is no less critical than an effective Ukrainian Army in defence of the nation and its interests.  Perhaps it was simply a question of having no real choice but to support the military, but there is more scope not to rush with the SBU?

It may be, that because many nations structure their loans and grants into “military” and “civil”, that a security service that is neither military nor civil comfortably falls under any budget header.  Perhaps massaging the budget headers is an option – until a FOIA inquiry discovers the Ukrainian SBU received “x” under a budget header when it doesn’t really “fit” the declared prupose.

Is it simply a question of priorities and it is on both the Ukrainian and “friendly nation” “To do list”?

Perhaps the visible police, prosecutor and judicial reforms, plus urgent military assistance were a reform and/or operational (optics) necessity?  A matter of reforming the spooks and the spookery (domestic and foreign) by its nature being less visible (and arguably tangible), and thus could wait?

If so, then the optics are certainly changing.

For all the SBU sacrifices and the best efforts of those within its rank and file in defence of the national interests, as an organisation it is increasingly perceived as a political tool by some – and simply because it does not stick to its core counterintelligence and anti-terrorist competencies, for others the SBU has become an entirely disproportionate and/or operational policing tool.

It is an issue that requires addressing.

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