• 2006-09-13

cartoon by Jevgenijs Cheksters

Informational security was the common theme this week in the Baltics 's how to provide it, how to breach it, and generally why there's so precious little of it. The spectacle started in Lithuania, when the State Security Department, the country's top law enforcement office, detained the editor/publisher of a controversial paper for obtaining and possessing classified government information. The editor, Aurimas Drizius, had sent the secret information to the printing house, but security officers beat him to the press.

They confiscated the entire print-run for that day, and even shut down the paper's Web site. Allegedly this information concerned the recent death, under mysterious circumstances, of a Lithuanian security agent in Belarus, but that has since been relegated to secondary importance.

The detainment was swiftly denounced by President Valdas Adamkus and has become the focus on a parliamentary inquiry. The State Security Department is now scrambling to salvage its tarnished image.
In Latvia, the situation is more complex yet so far less worrisome. The country is awash in pre-election grandstanding and muckraking, but in contrast to previous years Latvians are being treated to transcribed phone conversations compliments of…the nation's law enforcement agencies! Ostensibly Latvian politicians are using their connections in these agencies to have their adversaries' phones tapped; for a tidy sum the recordings are handed over to the private sector and, if the subject matter is sufficiently juicy, it's promptly published in next morning's broadsheet.

This week a daily paper reprinted the conversations of investigative journalist Ilze Jaunalksne, whose phone had been tapped by a judge on request of the financial police department in the state revenue service. (The origin of wiretap request alone speaks volumes. Since when have the financial police been cracking down on journalists?) Jaunalksne has gotten under the skin of many politicians for her own wiretap transcriptions, and someone decided to hit back by showing that she herself may have been obtaining classified information from law enforcement agencies.

It's all quite a debacle, and reflective of endemic corruption in Latvia. On Sept. 12 Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said that the entire system of obtaining wiretaps needed to be audited, and Janis Kazocins, the head of the Constitutional Protection Bureau, the equivalent of Lithuania's State Security Department, was summoned to Parliament to provide an explanation. Finally, Andris Gulans, chairman of Latvia's Supreme Court, suspended the judge who approved the tap on Jaunalksne's phone, saying Justice Marija Goldsmite may have acted "unprofessionally."

Comparing the two sets of instances, what transpired in Lithuania is a bit more troublesome, since the incident there shows that Lithuanian security officials are prepared to detain people and seize assets in order to cover up their own inadequacies. Essentially, instead of summoning the in-house plumber to fix the leaky faucet, Lithuania's security bureau arrested the sewer worker for handling the dirty water. Be that as it may, Latvia's new fashion of "bug-and-publish" is also repugnant in that it shows how blatantly upholders of the law have abused their powers and are untrustworthy.

We know politicians will go to any length for the sake of power, but when their efforts are abetted by law enforcement agencies there is ample reason to be alarmed. Our advice: all NATO leaders should consider turning off their phones during the upcoming summit. Because in Latvia, you never know who's listening.