Ferenc Katrein worked for the Hungarian civilian counter-intelligence agency for 13 years. In an exclusive interview to index.hu, the former executive head of operations talks about the Russian secret services in Hungary, how illegal agents use residency bonds to infiltrate the country, and how political advisors may pose a threat as well.
Ferenc Katrein worked for the Hungarian National Security Office (NBH), then for the Constitution Protection Office (AH) between 2000 and 2013. He resigned when he could no longer identify with the leadership, and the professional values and principles he holds were not being met. Currently, he lives abroad as a civilian.
Katrein considers the Russian threat in Europe to be very serious right now. “A secret service attack is being carried out against the European Union,” he says, “and those influential operations in which the Russians have experience and traditions are part of this. Russia plays a part in furthering the refugee crisis and particularly in using it for propaganda and manipulation.”
While he was still in service, the political attitude to Russia had begun to change. Their active operations, which were professionally justified, could not be carried out, and international relations were being reduced.
Discovering the illegal agents in the country is the biggest challenge of his profession, he says, which would require its own department, since these are the people who can cause the biggest damage. “The Russian secret services think far ahead, and make long-term plans for the next 10-20 years, placing their agents in fields which will be important in the long run, such as politics, energy, law enforcement, homeland defence, education-scientific research, media, etc,” he says.
Katrein estimates that 30-40pc of diplomats at the Russian embassy could be suspected of espionage, although this cannot be restricted to embassies alone. Journalists of state-owned media or employees of a cultural centre could also be suspect, for instance.
For many agents, the Hungarian residency bonds present a great opportunity, especially since the AH only has 30 days to carry out national security screenings. “Knowing the system, it poses a very big risk to let such a large number of people into the EU, especially from places where we do not have proper operational positions,” says Katrein.
Foreign secret services are willing to pay 300 thousand euros to settle a covert agent in the country, especially since these agents would not be diplomats or soldiers, says Katrein. These can be the most valuable assets, since they are not tied to a certain country through diplomacy, and do not attract the attention of the target country’s national security agencies. Through the residency bonds, whole families of Russian or Chinese agents can be settled in Hungary, says Katrein.
“Of course politics has the right to run a residency bonds program,” says Katrein. “At the same time, the task of the services is to identify what kind of security risk this poses, and to minimise it. A balance should have been found, meaning if politics insists on the bonds, the AH should have been granted the opportunity, time, and resources to build capacities in the given countries.”