Political surveillance: Security has done its job

Although it was created by the parliament, on Wednesday the permanent committee for intelligence oversight (Committee R) made public a report. It refutes charges of possible abuse of power within the leadership of the two Belgian intelligence services, State Security and General Intelligence and Security Service (SGRS). As it was said this summer, during the partial revelation of an intelligence report on the Church of Scientology, intelligence agents did not use illegal surveillance or target members of parliament or ministers.

“Committee R has found no indication that (Security) targeted elected officials for reasons foreign to the interests and threats enumerated in the law” establishing Security. Security “did not show any interest in elected officials as such.”

That does not mean that the names of elected officials were not in the raw data collected by agents or even in their notes on analysis. Committee R notes, “since June 2010, some 350 reports and notes (redacted by the Security services) mentioned names of active members of the federal parliament.” Since June 2010, 142 elected officials were mentioned by Security, and 48 were the subject of an SGRS file. There are several legitimate reasons for these mentions: either the members of parliament approached a legitimate target and thus became part of the scope of investigation or the officials became potential threat victims without being aware of it.

Even though the legislature could have conferred specific protection on elected officials similar to lawyers and journalists facing specific intelligence methods, members of parliament have never found such an approach useful. Committee R applauds this approach: “The status of politicians cannot be an obstacle in and of itself (to the work of intelligence.)”

The cherry on top: the only time a political party was watched for its own activities (Vlaams Belang), was under a ministerial directive dating May 15, 2001. Security took the initiative to stop that surveillance. The political powers did not withdraw the directive until 2013. So, who is abusing what?

ALAIN LALLEMAND

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