Andrej Babis and Milos Zeman

Matt Atlas

Government Opts For Interim Spymaster Amid Political Row

The government today commissioned the current head of the Security Information Service (BIS) Michal Koudelka to represent the director of civil counterintelligence from 16 August until the appointment of a new head. After a short extraordinary meeting of the cabinet, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told the press. According to him, the selection of the new director of the BIS will belong to the government, which will emerge from the October parliamentary elections. Koudelka’s term ends in mid-August.

“We think that such an important position should be decided by the new government, which will gain the trust of the citizens and the Chamber of Deputies,” Babiš said. According to him, only Deputy Prime Minister Jan Hamáček (CSSD) spoke at the cabinet meeting. “He informed members of the government that I had consulted with him, that he agreed with the procedure. The government voted, no one was against, no one abstained,” the prime minister added.

According to Babiš, Koudelka will not have limited room for maneuver when she is entrusted with the function. He sees this as a difference from the Attorney General when the government recently approved a proposal to appoint Igor Stříž. The prime minister finds it strange that in the case of the chief prosecutor, the opposition wanted to wait for a new government with the appointment of a new chief, while in the case of civilian counterintelligence it bothers her.

“Mr. Stříž’s competence to intervene in a case is the competence of that function. At BIS, it is a service that works and which cannot depend on one person. There is continuity, there is no difference in those competencies,” Babiš remarked.

The prime minister refused to answer the question of whether he would appoint Koudelka if he became prime minister again after the election. “Why would I say that?” He asked. “I have an opinion I don’t need to tell you,” he added.

Last week, after a meeting with President Miloš Zeman, Babiš outlined two options for resolving the situation at the head of the BIS. According to one of them, Koudelka would continue to lead the intelligence service. The second option assumed that Koudelk’s successor would choose a new cabinet. In such a case, Koudelka’s deputy Jan Pavlíček should lead the BIS in the meantime. Koudelka’s commission to lead civilian counterintelligence until the appointment of its new chief was not mentioned by the prime minister. 

Koudelka has long been criticized by President Miloš Zeman. In May, for the sixth time, he did not comply with the government’s proposal to promote him to the rank of general. Last year, at the end of the year, he handed Babiš critical material about Koudelka. According to the Intelligence Act, the director of the BIS is appointed by the government after discussion in the parliamentary security committee. Babiš said today that he did not talk to Zeman about his progress.

Due to the appointment of the director of the BIS, a political debate broke out in the Czech Republic. The opposition coalition Spolu (ODS, KDU-ČSL, TOP 09), which, like other coalitions of Pirates and STAN, supports Koudelka, prompted the convening of an extraordinary meeting of the lower house due to the current situation. MEPs are due to meet on Friday. On the contrary, they are critical of the current director of civil counterintelligence of the SPD and KSČM movements.

Today, in connection with the information that he wants to leave the appointment of the new head of BIS Babiš to the next government, representatives of the ODS, TOP 09, KDU-ČSL or STAN spoke about the fact that the Prime Minister is afraid of Zeman.