Military Intelligence – an inconspicuous but very important institution
Military Intelligence (MI) is on the one hand an inconspicuous institution under the Ministry of Defence, but all the more important. No meeting of the Committee on Defence of the Parliament of the Czech Republic was held without the presence of its director or one of his representatives, especially last year. The founders of the Czechoslovak state were already aware of the importance of intelligence information, which is why the Military Intelligence Service, which has undergone various changes during its existence, celebrated its 104th anniversary.
Picture: Military intelligence provides information important for the defence and security of the Czech Republic, about intelligence services of foreign powers in the field of defence, about intentions and activities directed against the defence of the Czech Republic, about intentions and activities threatening classified information in the field of defence of the Czech Republic. | Shutterstock
In order to understand the intelligence system, it should be stated at the outset that the MI provides information important for the defence and security of the Czech Republic, about the intelligence services of foreign powers in the field of defence, about intentions and activities directed against the defence of the Czech Republic, about intentions and activities threatening classified information in the field of defence of the Czech Republic. On the basis of the amendment to the Act on the General Security Service, it has been responsible for the cyber defence of the Czech Republic since July 2021. It also performs other tasks if a special law or an international treaty to which the Czech Republic is bound so provides. Military Intelligence is tasked by the Government, the President of the Republic with the knowledge of the Government, and exceptionally by the NSA. Military intelligence obtains information from open, non-public and intelligence sources. Military intelligence has a fairly robust control system. Its activities are subject to scrutiny by the Government, the Ministry of Defence, the Parliamentary Permanent Commission for the Control of the Activities of the General Staff and other internal and special control bodies, such as the Independent Inspector of Cyber Defence. As is common in the intelligence services, the GOC deals extensively with classified information in its activities, for example, all information communicated to the Defence and Security Committees is normally classified or secret.
Not only in the context of monitoring new threats, we asked several questions to the Commander of Military Intelligence, Lt. Gen. Jan Beroun.
General, one of the priorities at the moment is the protection of cyberspace. How are the competences divided between the MI and the NUKIB, or is there any closer cooperation between the MI and the NUKIB?
The division of competences is unambiguous and clear. Both institutions have a legally defined area of competence. We are involved in the active defence of the state against attack. The NUKIB rather creates security rules and ensures that they are respected by strategic institutions. However, the reality of cyberspace is that it cannot be viewed in isolation. If it is said that everything is connected to everything, this is doubly true in cyberspace. So without some kind of closer cooperation, it is actually unimaginable. We work together on a daily basis and very intensively. We coordinate individual steps, we share knowledge with each other, but we also cooperate, for example, in the area of training our experts.
Does the MI work on tasks independently (it looks for them itself) or does it receive assignments?
There are clear rules given by law. We can be assigned tasks by the government or (by the President) with the knowledge of the government. But that doesn't mean we wait until we get assignments from above. In the first place, there is an independent activity for which the legislation defines our scope and powers. In short – Military Intelligence provides information of importance for the defence and security of the Czech Republic on a permanent basis.
What role does MI play in the context of the conflict in Ukraine, do you have any new special tasks in this context?
I cannot give any further details, but it goes without saying that we are monitoring and analysing the situation very closely. We have also intensified our cooperation with allied and non-allied intelligence services. And in closed-door meetings, we regularly provide situational briefings not only to the leadership of the defence ministry, but also to the relevant committees of the House or the Senate. We are doing our job. So that people in executive branch positions have a fresh and clear basis for their decision-making.
Who can become a military intelligence officer? Are you recruiting? What qualifications should a candidate have?
If I simplify it very much, any citizen of the Czech Republic who has no criminal record can become a member of the MI. The recruitment is ongoing and I will be glad if more candidates apply based on our interview. We have a number of interesting positions for technically and humanities oriented individuals.
We are a secret service, we have our demands, so the criteria for admission are strict. We're looking for people with not only relevant skills and abilities, but also moral cred. All of our employees must also obtain a security clearance to become familiar with classified information. For those who successfully pass the selection process, we offer in return a prestigious job for the state and a great opportunity to do specific activities that you will not encounter in a normal working career. And that strikes me as a great challenge for young and enthusiastic people who want to do meaningful and at the same time really exceptional work. I encourage interested candidates to visit the Military Intelligence website www.vzcr.cz for more details on the selection process and basic contacts.
In your opinion, has the security situation in the Czech Republic changed in any way since the outbreak of war in Ukraine? Is there a risk of similar situations, such as the explosions in Vrbětice?
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has changed the security situation globally. For several decades we lived in relative peace and security. Vladimir Putin quickly took that sense of security away from us in February. We need to be much more cautious, but on the other hand, I do not want to frighten our citizens with violent actions.
However, it is absolutely clear that, notwithstanding the collapse of the Eastern bloc, Russia has never given up trying to maintain its influence on public opinion and economic events in the country. And it uses a wide range of tools to do so. These range from ownership stakes in companies, to visible and covert support for pro-Russian individuals, groups and media, to propaganda for the large Russian minority living in the Czech Republic.