Wednesday, November 13, 2013

UPDATED Uproar over BNS in Lithuania, strange silence over police actions in Latvia

There is shit going down in the Baltics and everyone reading this (yeah, the both of you and the lady who stumbled in here from the blog next door with that arrow icon thing) should know about.
There has been reporting already on the bizarre events in Lithuania. Seems that a while ago, the Lithuanian president Dalia Grybuskaite mentioned (while in Latvia at a Baltic presidents’ summit) that it looked like someone, probably Russia, was planning a disinformation campaign against Lithuania and her in particular. The reasons were easy to guess - Lithuania holding the presidency of the European Union (EU) and moving along with the process of bringing Ukraine closer to the EU (on behalf of the whole EU, not some nefarious Lithuanian plot). Well, Putin’s Russia will be Putin’s Russia, no surprise there.
What was surprising is that after this possible Russian disinformation plot was reported by the Baltic News Service (BNS), citing intelligence sources, it was confirmed by President Grybuskaite and, apparently, by the head of the intelligence service. Nonetheless, since the story was first reported based on “leaked” intelligence information, an investigation was launched by the Lithuanian authorities to find the source of the leak.
On November 7, about a week after the first reports of the alleged disinformation plot, agents of the Lithuanian Special Investigation Service (SIS) descended on the BNS office in Vilnius and on a small office that BNS keeps at the Seimas, or Lithuanian parliament. Six journalists and editors were interogated, one had her home searched in the presence of her children and a lawyer called in by BNS. Neither the editor nor the lawyer were allowed to communicate with anyone for six hours. Computers and a phone or two were seized.
As my colleague Mike Collier wrote, it was almost as if Lithuania had beat the Russians to discrediting itself by intimidating journalists and creating an international scandal (I wrote about it for The Wall Street Journal). Even Lithuania’s Prime Minister Algridas Butkevicius, who was confronted with the raid on BNS when attending a Baltic prime ministers meeting in Riga, later said the action was excessive. A political firestorm ensued, and it also emerged that the SIS had questioned journalists at the news portal and IQ magazine.
In an update, I have learned that the SIS agents "completely tore apart" the home of one female editor in the presence of her children. She was not used to such treatment (it has been more than 20 years since the Soviet KGB did this kind of thing to people in the Baltic countries) and suffered a severe psychological trauma. 
So much for Lithuania, but there is also strange news from Latvia. My version (based on various sources) is as follows:

Latvian Television reported, on September 23, that a document had been drafted in connection with the state’s dispute with air Baltic’s former (and deposed) CEO Berthold Flick stating that a possible solution to the dispute would be to settle it with the former executive for some LVL 16 million. The restricted access or confidential document was routinely prepared by lawyers outlining various resolutions of the dispute – probably including litigating the issue before an arbitration tribunal with all the costs that implies and the risk of losing a large sum if the tribunal found for Flick. The following day, the State Chancellery, from which the document was reportedly leaked, said the leak was apparently aimed at pressuring the government to take this course of action. The Chancellery did not deny the substance of the document.
What follows I have pieced together:

Security Police visited both the Ministry of Justice and the State Chancellery to find out how the leak happened. This was, to some degree, legitimate, as it is the duty of state employees to keep confidential documents confidential.

The Security Police was also in contact with Latvian Television, specifically, those responsible for the September 23 news item. At some point, by exerting pressure and threats, something (a document) was obtained that, in all likelihood, contained enough information to trace it back to the source. In other words, it would appear that Latvian Television may have burned its source, though it says that it did not. LTV officials do not deny that something was given to the Security Police, but say that they protected their sources.

So far, well.. so, so. But it is also disturbing that little or nothing was written about the rather extensive activities of the Security Police to track down a leak to the media. Normally, any contact by national security services with the media should be taken very seriously – overreported, rather than underreported- especially in light of disclosures about global surveillance by the American NSA, the detention of journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner David Miranda by the British security service and the attempts to silence Wikileaks.

This has to change.


John Christmas said...

Keep fighting, Juris! Thanks/Paldies

TRex said...

If I may be so bold as to suggest that you imbed links in your post so as to allow those of us not up to speed on the background to follow along.

Just a friendly suggestion.