Cyber Security Expert Simandl Takes Over Intelligence Service

Prague, Sept 12 (CTK) – Cyber security expert Marek Simandl will become the new director of the Office for Foreign Relations and Information (UZSI), i.e. the intelligence service, as of Thursday, replacing Jiri Sasek, Czech Interior Minister Jan Hamacek (Social Democrats, CSSD) told journalists today.


Simandl will be officially installed in the office on Friday.


Simandl is now the deputy head of the The National Cyber and Information Security Agency (NUKIB).


Hamacek presented the proposal to the government today.


Hamacek’s predecessor Lubomir Metnar (ANO) put Sasek off duty due to the investigation into the UZSI finances in the spring.


“Government members had a chance of discussing Simandl’s role with him,” Prime Minister Andrej Babis (ANO) said.


Simandl is to take part in the first meeting of the National Security Council, scheduled for September 18, as the full-fledged UZSI director, Babis said.


The Chamber of Deputies commission for the supervision of the UZSI will have a meeting in October. It will be attended by Simandl and Hamacek, the commission chairman Pavel Blazek (Civic Democratic Party, ODS) has told journalists.


“It is fully the government’s responsibility whom it named to the post. He will be facing an uneasy situation since there are problems in the intelligence he will have to solve,” Blazek said, adding that he did not know Simandl, expecting him and Hamacek to unveil the concept of the intelligence in October.


Under the law, it is the interior minister who appoints and dismisses the UZSI director with the government consent. The director is accountable to the interior minister.


The Czech Republic has three secret services. Along with the UZSI, it is the civilian counter-intelligence (the Security Information Service) and the military secret service (the Military Intelligence).


Metnar said “an investigation into the financial management of the office brought to life some facts evidencing a repeated violation of internal rules.”


Some intelligence members are suspected of having committed “the deeds with signs of criminal acts.” A large-scale damage occurred, Metnar said.


He said this meant the approval of the purchase of overpriced property. There were also doubts whether the paid property had been really bought.


The daily Pravo writes that UZSI had bought eight to nine Agata devices for the wiretapping and localisation of cell phones. It paid roughly 90 million crowns for them. The exact fate of the equipment is unknown and the unconfirmed information has surfaced that two-thirds of them ended up as a gift to Egypt, it adds.


The UZSI has been headed by seven directors, such as former interior minister and current senator Frantisek Bublan (2001-2004) and Karel Randak (2004-2006), who has been working in the National Anti-Corruption Fund since he left the post.


Ivo Schwarz was the longest serving UZSI head between June 2007 and June 2014. He was replaced with Sasek.


Simandl worked in the NUKIB, which was separated from the National Security Office (NBU) last year.


He is a graduate from the CEVRO Institute and an IT expert. He worked in the Security Information Service (BIS) and later he went to the NBU, where he became its security director and since 2012 the deputy for the management of the technological section.


In recent years, the UZSI was spoken about in connection with the kidnapping of several Czechs in Lebanon in July 2015. The media has written that bad communication between the UZSI and Military Intelligence contributed to their detention.


Last year, Babis said he was wiretapped and shadowed by the UZSI, at that time reporting to Interior Minister Milan Chovanec (CSSD), with whom he had tense relations. Sasek dismissed the speculations.