RADIO FREE EUROPE/RADIO LIBERTY, PRAGUE, CZECH REPUBLIC
RFE/RL NEWSLINE 2 April 1999
HUNGARIAN EMBASSY IN BELGRADE 'SUSPENDS ACTIVITY' AFTER
ATTACKS. Foreign Ministry spokesman Gabor Horvath on 1
April said the Hungarian embassy in Belgrade has
"suspended activities" and evacuated the two technicians
who stayed behind after diplomats were withdrawn earlier
this week. Earlier that day, a group of about 50 people
attacked the embassy, smashing windows, damaging the
facade, and threatening personnel. The ministry has
filed a protest with the Yugoslav embassy in Budapest.
NATO'S EMBRACE OF FORMER ENEMIES
by Michael J. Jordan
In the shadowy world of espionage, there is no fool-
proof system for preventing the betrayal of an Aldrich
Ames, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, or, now, allegedly, of
Los Alamos scientist Wen Ho Lee, who has been accused of
leaking nuclear-warheads research to China. Such a
system would require the technology to read an
So it was with a leap of faith last month that
NATO--which stared down the Soviet Union during 40 years
of the Cold War--admitted three ex-Soviet satellites as
new members: Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
This strategic embrace of former enemies, one decade
after the collapse of Communism, means that the three
countries' military and political elite are now privy to
NATO's deepest, darkest secrets. And though these
countries have purged most of their hard-line Communist
officials, their historical ties and geographic location
make them perhaps more vulnerable to infiltration than,
say, some NATO officials.
Many Warsaw Pact military officers were trained in
places like Moscow and Kyiv. Trade relations at that
time were cozy with countries such as Iraq, Iran, and
Libya. Not surprisingly, then, when NATO officials speak
privately of "hostile" intelligence agencies, they
identify three regions--Russia, the Middle East, and the
Balkans--as the primary threats.
"There's still the residue of contacts and
relationships between Central Europe and those parts of
the world," said one NATO official in Budapest. "You can
presume that if Russia, for example, wished to seize
classified NATO material, it might be easier to do it
here than, say, in London or Paris."
But there is a second side to this coin, says Tamas
Wachsler, a state secretary at the Hungarian Ministry of
Defense. "While these countries know us, we also know
them and their tactics," said Wachsler. "So from this
standpoint, NATO shouldn't view us as a deficit, but as
Today, much of what was once secret is now easily
accessible on the Internet. Yet the most sensitive NATO
data continue to be those on the alliance's weapons of
mass destruction, air-defense system, storage depots of
fuel and ammunition, and communication and
So despite their new status as "full and equal"
partners of NATO, the Central Europeans will learn NATO
secrets in line with the "need-to-know" principle. And
under instructions from NATO, each newcomer has taken
both legal and practical steps in recent months to do
what it can to prevent classified material from falling
into the wrong hands.
According to NATO specifications, all three
established new systems for the handling of classified
material--such as secure telephone lines and storage
facilities--and a screening process for those who will
have access to such material. Candidates submit to a
rigorous questionnaire and interviews. These probe for
potential liabilities like family, financial, or
psychological problems that might expose the candidate
to bribery or blackmail.
But after six years of intensive cooperation, NATO
officials already seemed satisfied with their new
partners. "It's like a marriage," said another Western
officer in Budapest.
"Hopefully, from that first day you have the same level
of trust, and it continues to grow.... If the trust and
confidence weren't there, they never would have been
invited to join."
When it the time comes to keep a NATO secret,
national pride will be at stake, according Lt. Gen.
Lajos Urban, the number two in Hungary's armed forces.
"We want to be seen as contributing to NATO's strength
and trusted as a new military ally," said Urban, who was
trained in Moscow during the communist era and in London
and Rome since 1989.
A further motivation is to avoid the national
humiliation that befell France last November, when it
was revealed that a French major working at NATO
headquarters in Brussels had passed along to Serbia
NATO's plans for military strikes in Kosova.
So, if even longtime NATO allies are vulnerable,
what about the Central Europeans, who continue to
unearth their share of skeletons? Polish Prime Minister
Jozef Oleksy, for example, resigned in January 1996 amid
charges he had been a long-time spy for the Soviet KGB.
The case was ultimately dropped for lack of evidence.
Another issue is the fate of those Hungarian, Czech
and Polish agents who for years operated covertly in the
West. Are they still active, or have they found new
employers? Either way, it seems accepted as a given.
"You think there aren't American agents in Paris or
French agents in London? Everybody still needs good
intelligence," said a third NATO official. "Why should
they stop? It's completely natural to want to confirm
information you receive. Yes, we're allies and partners,
but in other areas we're also competitors."
The NATO neophytes will be under pressure not only
to meet NATO's expectations but to perform well enough
to enable a second wave of expansion eastward. "NATO has
never rejected an alliance member," said one of the NATO
officials in Budapest. "But if a member brought the
alliance into ill-repute or dragged it down, there's no
reason why we wouldn't."
The author is a U.S. journalist based in Budapest
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