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Criticism Mounts as Georgian Govt. Moves to Expand Security Services’ Power

By Tea Mariamidze
Friday, December 1
(TBILISI) – Georgia’s political opposition and several local NGOs have in recent days warned that the ruling Georgian Dream (GD) government is attempting to revive Soviet-era domestic surveillance and spy programs by allowing the country’s State Security Services to carry out far-reaching intelligence gathering activities in both the public and private sectors.

Critics of the moves say the GD is consciously attempting to reinstitute the illegal wire-tapping and surveillance practices that were perfected by the KGB - the feared Soviet spy agency that terrorized the country until its independence in late 1991.

which aimed at secret surveillance and mass control of the society.

According to the amendments to the Security Service Law, both active and reserve agents for Georgia’s spy agency will be obliged to work in parallel with state or public institutions and disclose information about their findings to their primary employer – the State Security Services.

The amendments were added by the ruling GD party shortly after the party announced that the Foreign Intelligence Service would merge with the domestic State Security Services – which is also known by the acronym SSG or SSS.

The merger, in essence, reconstitutes the structure of the KGB and mimics the recently reconfigured FSB – Russia’s successor agency to the Soviet intelligence services.

The country’s main opposition party, the United National Movement (UNM), claims that billionaire tycoon Bidzina Ivanishvili, Georgia’s former Prime Minister and founder of the Georgian Dream, uses the SSS to maintain his power in the country, despite having officially been a private citizen since 2013.

Ivanishvili, an eccentric oligarch who made his fortune in Russia in the 1990s, is often referred to as Georgia’s informal leader. He wields enormous influence over the party he founded and continues to guide the country’s political discourse, including its move to establish warmer ties with Moscow.

“The government wants to grant the SSG more power and to give secret agents more functions...They want to control every branch of government and the whole of society,” said UNM MP Tinatin Bokuchava.

The country’s other pro-Western party, European Georgia, slammed the amendments saying it gives the Georgian Dream and SSG unlimited and unchecked authority over society.

"The government wants to legitimize the totalitarian political practices of the SSG...this will be implemented at every public institution,” said European Georgia member, Irakli Abesadze.

Defense and Security Committee Chair Irakli Sesiashvili rejected claims that the intelligence services plan to have unfettered access to both private and public institutions and stressed that agents will only be allowed to be active in certain sectors.

“The amendments do not allow an SSG officer to work anywhere. The draft law lists 25 separate institutions where active agents can also work,” Sesiashvili said.

Sesiashvili also added that the function of carrying out intelligence activities at the executive or public services, was from the beginning defined in the State Intelligence Law, and now the SSS will carry out this function, as the two agencies have merged.

Lika Sajaia, Parliamentary Secretary of the NGO Transparency International Georgia, believes that the draft law is identical to the Soviet ODR practice, which was the mechanism of total and mass control.

“The new amendments have nothing to do with strengthening the intelligence services or improving national security, it’s meant to completely control society,” said Sajaia.

Deputy Parliamentary Chair Giorgi Volsky chastized the opposition for having what claimed were “weak arguments” against the amendments, saying the changes have nothing to do with resurrecting Soviet domestic spy practices.

“This is not the ODR. They are security officers...highly qualified individuals who will work in state agencies and ensure our safety and security,” said Volsky, using the Soviet acronym for KGB officers charged with spying on civilians at their place of work and in state institutions.