“Brussels has now overtaken Vienna when it comes to the density of so-called intelligence services from outside the EU.”
Peter Gridling — Head of Austria’s domestic intelligence agency (June 2018)
Jaak Raes — the head of the Belgian State Security Service [VSSE] since April 1 2014 — believes that it is not the task of his agency to monitor the activities of foreign services on the Belgian territory when their espionage is not directed against the interests of Belgium. That statement is nonsensical, downright absurd, and most importantly legally incorrect. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY
RELATED POST: City of Spies — Hellish Week for Belgian Spooks
The rather bizarre opinion was communicated to the Minister of Justice Koen Geens (CD&V), in the context of a parliamentary question.
The information was revealed by the Belgian Flemish newspaper De Standaard on Wednesday (March 13 2019).
The VSSE statement is clearly non sensical. How could the Belgian spook know the goal of foreign spies if they are not actually monitoring them? In fact, the statement is downright absurd.
Indeed, in their last report, the VSSE made it clear that foreign spy agencies are not really interested in Belgium per se. Their activities in Brussels are best explained by the presence of important organizations such as the EU institutions and the NATO headquarters.
So what exactly would be the job of the VSSE Counter-Intelligence Department if monitoring the activities of foreign spies was not part of their responsibilities?
In fact, the statement is simply incorrect from a legal point of view. Since early 2016, both Belgian intelligence agencies — civilian and military — are clearly and unambiguously competent and responsible for this kind of operations. (Law of January 29 2016)
The Charles Puigdemont Affair
Catalan politician Carles Puigdemont and five other Catalan ministers arrived in Belgium on October 30 2017.
A Spanish arrest warrant had been issued against Carles Puigdemont for organizing a referendum that, according to Madrid, was unconstitutional. His actions were therefore closely monitored by Spanish intelligence agents.
In March 2018, Puigdemont was arrested in Germany. Spanish agents were able to track him because they had planted various electronic devices on his Belgian car.
After the arrest of Puigdemont, the Belgian State Security froze all contacts with its Spanish counterpart in response to their operation in Belgium.
The State Security did not inform Minister Geens of this exceptional decision, which is extremely difficult to understand given the diplomatic sensitivity of such a decision.
In the aftermath of the Barcelona attacks (August 2017), Belgium’s Office of the Public Prosecutor stated that there was no link between Imam Abdelbaki Es Satty and the attacks perpetrated on March 22, 2016 in Brussels.
Marc Trévidic — A former French anti-terrorism judge — quickly made a few cryptic comments about a possible link between Islamic terrorists in Belgium and Spain.
And indeed, in November 2017, Thierry Werts — a spokesman of the Office of the Public Prosecutor — admitted that Abdelbaki Es Satty did, in fact, stay in Belgium, but he was not known to the judicial authorities.
That information was also quickly refuted. Imam Abdelbaki Es Satty stayed in Vilvoorde — seven miles north of Brussels, Belgium — from January to March 2016.
A Belgian policeman told a Catalan colleague in 2016 that the imam was a suspicious person.
The tip-off about Es Satty, the Muslim cleric, was made informally between two police officials from Belgium and Catalonia who knew each other, a source in Catalonia’s regional government told Reuters.
“The communication between the two policemen was not official. They knew each other because they had met in a police seminar,” the source said on condition of anonymity.
Vilvoorde Mayor Hans Bonte later revealed that Es Satty had been “intensely screened” by Belgian police. The VSSE never issued a formal warning to its Spanish counterpart.
International Law and the Vienna Convention
Article 29 of the 1961 Vienna Convention states that “The person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable…the receiving state shall treat him with all due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack on his person, freedom, or dignity.”
As I have explained in a recent post, the US Government considers that the use of microwave radiation against a diplomat — as it would occur during microwave spying operations — is a violation of the Vienna Convention.
Indeed, in mid-February 2017, U.S. officials reminded the Cuban government about their responsibilities under the Vienna Convention when they already suspected “microwave attacks” as the prime suspect behind the mystery of the Havana Syndrome.
There is no doubt whatsoever that “microwave spying” is a big game in Brussels and, considering that the Belgian authorities do not appear to care about it at all, I would recommend to all diplomats to be extremely careful if they work in the “city of spies”.
29 JANVIER 2016. – Loi modifiant la loi organique du 30 novembre 1998 des services de renseignement et de sécurité, concernant le contrôle des activités des services de renseignement étrangers en Belgique — Publication 24–02-201 — Entry into force 05-03-2016
Kritiek op Staatsveiligheid in zaak-Puigdemont — De Standaard
Belgium Top Spook : “Not my Job to Monitor Foreign Spies!”