The Polish defence ministry has appointed a new head at a new Nato-affiliated counter-intelligence centre in Warsaw following a raid in the early hours of December 18.
The move is being regarded as yet another controversial act in the new Law & Justice (PiS) government’s drive to consolidate power, which involves planting trusted people in the country’s institutions and state companies.
At around 01:30 on December 18, an official from the defence ministry, accompanied by a colleague from the military police as well as soldiers, reportedly entered the premises of a Nato-affiliated Counter-Intelligence Centre of Excellence, a training hub for officers from Poland and Slovakia, in order to replace the staff, including its head.
The incident caused more fury amongst critics of the new government, who accuse it of damaging democracy as it grabs up power. A second weekend of protests – both for and against PiS – is planned over the government’s ongoing bid to engineer a friendly Constitutional Court. A cull of management at Poland’s numerous state-controlled giants is also in full swing.
Some reports suggested that doors were broken down at the centre as the officials entered the building. However, government officials insist all was calm. The party that raided the facility removed its chief, Colonel Krzysztof Dusza, and appointed Colonel Robert Bala as the acting director of the centre
Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski told reporters there was nothing to worry about, as the defence ministry and military police SKW were carrying out a routine operation. ”Polish employees lost access to classified information and so had to be replaced with ones that have that access,” Waszczykowski told Polish public radio. “We’re dealing with the military so we have to act quickly.”
Bartlomiej Misiewicz, the defence ministry official that led the raid, told local media the operation should not have been a surprise to anyone. “Colonel Dusza’s access to classified information was suspended, as he was dismissed from his position a week ago,” he told Rzeczpospolita.
He also claimed Slovakia was informed about the need to replace the personnel beforehand. However, Polish officials have since apologised to Slovakia.
Earlier reports in the Polish media claimed SKW suspected Dusza of espionage for the US. Radio Zet insisted on December 11 that the claim is wrongheaded. “Dusza’s work in the Nato counter-intelligence centre relies on cooperation with Americans,” the radio station reported.
However, a political row, with potential international repercussions, is likely to follow. The ousted head of the facility insists the action was unlawful and would lead to a “national scandal”. “I still consider myself the head of the Nato [counter-intelligence training centre],” colonel Dusza told TVN24.
“It’s probably the first time in Nato’s history that an alliance member has attacked a Nato facility,” said former defense minister, Tomasz Siemoniak. However, as in the fight over the Constitutional Court, the opposition Civic Platform – which was in office for eight years until the elections in late October – is also being less than straight with the population.
As the alliance was quick to point out, the Warsaw centre is not actually a Nato facility. “This is an issue for the Polish authorities,” Nato said in a statement. “The [facility] has not yet been accredited by Nato. In general terms, Centres of Excellence are international research centres, which are nationally or multi-nationally funded and staffed, and work alongside the alliance, but they are not Nato bodies.”
The counter-intelligence centre in Warsaw is one of 20 Centres of Excellence that are affiliated with Nato. The CoE in Warsaw is run and funded jointly by Poland and Slovakia, and having just opened in October is yet to launch full operations.
Even so, on top of the growing international concern over PiS’ approach to power, the raid on the facility is unlikely to help persuade Nato to increase its presence in the region. Alongside the Baltic states, Poland has been pushing recently for the military alliance to base a sizable and permanent force to protect against what they see as Russian threats.