Just two weeks before the historic NATO summit, the U.S. Department of Defense has issued a reprimand to Latvia, Slovenia and Bulgaria, three of the seven countries that are expected to receive invitations to join the alliance at the Prague summit.
The last-minute reproach, which was first reported in The Washington Post and Poland's Gazeta Wyborca, was directed at the integrity of the countries' security organizations.
The Pentagon admonished the three countries for failing to meet NATO criteria and not focusing sufficient attention toward adopting alliance recommendations.
Specifically, the reproach from Washington mentioned the susceptibility of having top secret military information administered by officials linked with certain political circles, a veiled reference to possible corruption.
In Latvia, the Pentagon's stance was quickly swept under the rug, following the declarations of support by both U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and President George Bush.
The Pentagon reprimand was thus quickly brushed off, said an official from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Regardless, the 11th-hour slam by NATO's most influential member underscored concerns about the three countries' abilities to administer and preserve classified information.
The fact that Slovenia, Bulgaria and Latvia were singled out as potential non-compliant states is now unclear, although some expect clarification on the subject after the Prague summit on Nov. 21.
The American Embassy in Riga refused to make any statements on the matter, leaving further comments after the summit in November.
No official position was expressed by the Latvian government, though Sandra Kalniete, the newly appointed foreign minister, said that "signals" had been received from top NATO members about Latvia's security structures falling short of meeting alliance standards.
Latvia's outgoing Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins told Baltic News Service that, "This is a matter of trust - what kind of people get access to classified information - so that persons in high offices would be screened and trustworthy."
He added, "This is a serious issue, and the new government will have to work on it after receiving the invitation."
At the same time former prime-minister Andris Berzins and Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis said that the information, however genuine, had no official character as it was not supported by any official source.
According to Normunds Malnavs, a World Bank expert on corruption issues in Latvia, there are no local reports either on corruption inside the military structures or on any specific connections between certain political circles and defense structures.
Now that the Pentagon has challenged the three countries' integrity, a revision is almost certain. Such a task will certainly be carried out by internal audit departments or the newly established anti-corruption office under the government's auspices.
According to analysts, Latvia's chances to get in NATO are neither diminished nor increased after the Pentagon reprimand. If anything, the countries have been warned that now that membership is all but assured, Latvia and other new members cannot afford to slack off in meeting the military alliance's strict criteria.