Defence Policy

Polish Internal Security Agency: Russian Intelligence Initiates The Interest Groups In Poland

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The Russian Intelligence made an attempt to consolidate the pro-Russian circles in Poland. And this is the first time in history, when such attempts have been made within such wide scope – as Maciej Sankowski states in his analysis of the 2014 ABW [ABW – Agencja Bezpieczeństwa Wewnętrznego; English: Internal Security Agency] operational report.

Traditionally „Raport z działalności ABW w 2014 roku” [ABW’s Operations Report for 2014] seemed to be unnoticed by the mainstream media. However, once one reads the report, there is no room left for any doubts – this is the most homogeneous, powerful and the most interesting out of the annual reports published so far. Due to the situation in the Ukraine, which is dynamically developing, and also due to the circumstances in Russia, the Polish Internal Security Agency’s Counter-Intelligence section, and the cyber-security CERT department became very significant. This does not mean that the remaining operations carried out by the agency are left in the shadows – including the counter-terrorism (CAT) operations and activities, the aim of which is to protect the economic interest of the country – nonetheless, these will be covered by me in one of the future articles. Let us get back to the Report – why does this document differ from its earlier editions? It is:

Unambiguous – because not only does it, in a clear manner, leaving no room for interpretation, indicate the direction of threat, it also precisely indicates the locations where the threats arise – and it is Russia that is considered to be the source of the danger here.

The strongest one so far – besides the areas of interest of the foreign intelligence services, the report also lists numerous examples of the tasks and objectives that are being realized – one may create his/her own opinion on them, considering the media presentation of the issues mentioned by the report. Secondly, this clearly shows how the public opinion in Poland was manipulated, also by some of the influential agents.

The most interesting one so far – since it additionally describes the new tools utilized by the foreign services within the territory of Poland, it also creates a clearer image of the profile of the operations carried out by the Russian intelligence.

The fact that the authors of the report also point out some issues beyond the Polish border is also interesting. Here, they refer mainly to the Ukrainian conflict and the attempts made to emphasize the tough periods in the common history between Poland and Ukraina, in order to complicate the Polish-Ukrainian relations.  The report also defines Brussels as one of the central points of the Russian intelligence services’ activity directed against Poland, the main aim of which is to devalue the Polish stance regarding the Russian aggression in Ukraine. Secondly, the aim of this activity is to emphasize the statements made by the Polish politicians and experts who raise doubts, regarding the main directions of the Polish foreign policy.

At the same time, the Russian intelligence has undertaken consolidation activities regarding the Pro-Russian circles in Poland. To put it bluntly, the Russian services have initiated all, politically varied, interest groups. What is interesting, the opinions that explicitly support the Kremlin’s policy were also often present in the mainstream media. The attempts to manipulate the public opinion were not limited solely to provision of support for befriended experts or journalists. A Pro-Kremlin media agency – Sputnik – had its début in the Polish market. It also started to cooperate with the Legionowo-based Hobby radio station. The station it broadcasts programmes that are created in Polish, however the production is realized in Russia. Why do I elaborate on that potentially harmless, local radio station? Well, it constitutes the best example of the way in which the mechanism driven by the Kremlin’s interest is operated. One should note that commercial activities, beneficial for the Hobby station, gathered together persons with a wide variety of views, including Artur Zawisza (far right), Piotr Fohadgler (prominent PO [C0ivic Platform] activist) or Agnieszka Wołk Łaniewska (journalist of the “NIE” weekly).

The activities undertaken by the Russian special forces were clearly visible during the key events in Ukraine, particularly in the social media, where some content patterns could have been observed. The patterned communication made it possible to identify numerous fictional accounts, belonging to fictional users, who had been used to carry out coordinated media activity in the Internet discussion boards, opinion media or within the realms of Facebook or Twitter.

“Russian Forces also undertook lobbying activities for the Russian companies that are active in the Polish market” - in my humble opinion this is the most important sentence in the report. Lobbying, which is a new tool, is being used by the Foreign Intelligence Service of Russia and the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) – the military intelligence.Back in 2014 numerous examples of such activities could have been easily observed. The most significant example may be seen in case of the Acron company – a private, Russian company trying to take over the control over the Polish nitrogen processing plants. However, here we observed two phases of that activity:

Phase one – soft offensive actions, with a commercial use made of the strictly political relationships (e.g. by employing the former Polish president as a lobbyist). In other words, the first phase constituted an attempt to probe the situation and then to try to get a positive decision regarding the Acron’s involvement in the Azoty Group’s share capital.

Phase two – hard offensive activities, combining an attempt of a hostile takeover of a company and pressure, implemented in order to force the beneficial decisions to be undertaken – all done in a zone which could have been considered to be placed at the verge of what is legal.

Here, I would like to address some doubts the reader may raise, regarding the economic lobbying and its connection with the foreign intelligence activities. It is evident that not only is the issue financial, but it also has a deep, political background.

When it comes to the intelligence dimension, this constitutes a test of efficiency for the state, should certain internal and external pressure be imposed. Such activities make it possible to assess the prominent persons in power within the scope of the way in which they cope with stress. Secondly, the purpose of such operations is to check the possibilities within the scope of commercial cooperation with certain persons, bribing, or, at the end of the cause-effect chain, potential recruitment of the assessed persons. Please note the width of the scope of operations – they are not easy to execute, without the proper level of coordination and support.

However, when it comes to Acron – this is not an individual case in which the state’s structural integrity was tested, even though it is the one that was most thoroughly described. Other operations, as spectacular as the one mentioned above, were carried out in the fields of nuclear energy and power plants, however details of these remain secret. When it comes to the energy industry, the strategic resources (gas and oil) trade and transfer areas are a separate category. In the public sphere we could have been observing attempts made to destabilize the cornerstone investments within the area of energy, realized through skilful use of the Polish public procurement legal loopholes.

Here I would like to indicate an interesting example, where the Russian capital coming from the oil market was invested in a field which has a completely different nature – real property development. The operation made it possible to employ persons selected for the future recruitment, in case of which liabilities of the energy industry subject existed (this would  make it possible to create so called delayed benefit). 

So far, I, on purpose, did not mention the issue of the shale gas. Russia undertook a wide scope of activities (in the media, lobbying, political activities) in Europe, the aim of which was to stop the shale gas deposit exploration in Poland. Attempts were made to actively influence the Polish legislative changes. Also, the foreign parties were unusually interested in the parliamentary works on that issue. They were engaged in the process within a scope which far exceeded the traditionally understood monitoring, and the persons that are suspected to cooperate with the Russian special forces were said to be involved in these activities.

Another case, which may be used to accurately illustrate the attempts the aim of which was to test the Poland’s determination, is the case of Leonid Svirydov. Svidyrov, a foreign correspondent of the Russian Ria Novosti outlet, lost his accreditation granted by the   Ministry of Foreign affairs, and later the Voivode, Governor of Mazowieckie, revoked Svidrydov’s right to stay in Poland. This happened on a basis of a confidential request, with a solid background in facts, that was submitted by the ABW’s Counterintelligence service. Svirydov did submit an appeal, he was even supported by the Russian Ambassador in Poland. What did Svirydov do, what made the Polish intelligence undertake the actions? Well, his activities exceeded the scope of what is traditionally defined by the journalistic standards as a profession of a correspondent. Svirydov was involved in lobbying activities carried out for the Acron company which was willing to take over the Polish nitrogen processing plant. He also organized trips for the journalists, trying actively to expand the Russian interest group in the media. Even though Svirydov’s activity could not have been defined as spying, it was considered to be a threat for the Polish interests. So wasn’t it a mistake? Could it be worth to observe his activities and wait for an error, which could make it possible to arrest him? The answer here is no – the materials and evidence gathered by the Counter-intelligence are expansive enough, leaving no doubts, thus Svirydov’s options are limited now – since he was, in some sense, exposed. Declaring him to be a persona non grata is deeply reasonable – it shows that Poland would not tolerate such behaviour. The rule of reciprocity is yet another dimension – we may expect that one of the Polish media professionals working in Moscow could be facing a similar fate soon.

Russian intelligence operations are of global character. The Ukrainian crisis, as well as the talks pertaining the trade agreement between the USA and the EU, along with the dynamic changes within the energy market (increased significance of exploration of the shale gas deposits, drastic decrease when it comes to the oil prices) – all of these elements shall have an impact on the level of activity of the Russian intelligence in Poland and in Europe. It is hard to assume that, considering the current attitude of the politicians towards the Counter-intelligence, many successes would be achieved within that scope soon. It is enough to analyse the budgetary constraints placed on the Polish Internal Security Agency. Throughout the recent period no changes were made within that scope – the budget is set at a stable level of PLN 500 million. The amounts remain unchanged, even though the scope of the Agency’s responsibilities is expanded. Besides the Russian issue, activities of the Muslim terrorists are also a problem – Poland plays a certain role in their plans. I will cover the CAT operations in the next article. The cyber-security related threat has also been on the rise.

Back in 2014 the number of incidents and attacks involving the Polish government’s IT infrastructure was significantly increased. Out of 12 thousand reported cases 7.5 thousand incidents were classified as real attempts of intrusion.

Also the ARAKIS-GOV early warning system detected more than 28 thousand alerts – number of the high priority alerts was significantly increased (1140 in comparison with 644 during the previous year), same applies to the medium priority alerts (13896 in comparison with 4773 during the preceding year). The numbers speak for themselves.

What is more, the Internal Security Agency notes that the attacks are significantly different not only in quantitative, but also in the qualitative dimension. They are more persistent, have a long-term profile and are based on modern and advanced IT tools. The government’s resources remain the main target for these offensive operations, along with the widely understood energy industry.

Last year, the Internal Security Agency actively counteracted the “Energetic Bear” cyber-intelligence campaign, targeted at the energy industry. Nonetheless, the Japanese, Ukrainian and Chinese IT hardware was the main target here – thousands of computers all around the globe were infected.

In  a conclusion we may claim that the number of the cyber attacks has been doubled – the main targets are closely correlated with the intelligence activities, the aim of which is to destabilize Poland.

Maciej Sankowski