Exclusive interview with the Director of the Czech counter-intelligence BIS. Misinformation, propaganda and Russian influence in the Czech Republic

Information war, and Russian spies in the Czech Republic — sensitive subjects, which in their reports constantly attracts the attention of Czech counterintelligence. The Director of the BIS, Michal Koudelka gave HlídacíPes.org the first from the Czech media, an interview in which he told about these problems.

— HlídacíPes. org: In their public reports to the BIS service have repeatedly drawn attention to the Russian influence and the Russian information activities on the territory of the Czech Republic. Significantly increased this effect in recent years, for example, in light of the conflict in Ukraine?

— Michal Koudelka: you do Not need to be a brilliant analyst to note the growing number of supposedly different news sites that openly participate in the spreading of disinformation and the support of Pro-Russian politicians. However, we must understand that this is happening on both sides of the imaginary barricades. The West also needs to act, which he does. As for the counter-intelligence services, they must resist such phenomena, to recognize the potential risks and report them to those who the law requires to report it. I think that in this sense, BIS is working very responsibly.

The space is filled with ballast

— Conducted media analysis to the evaluation of Russian influence in the Czech Republic, it is monitored whether the Pro-Russian media?

— Of course, Yes. Our analysts constantly evaluate the information that appears in the media space. I would not all be reduced to the so-called Pro-Russian sites. Publications in reputable security officers also find interesting information for themselves.

— How is usually presented to the world the Pro-Russian media?

— This is a topic for a more detailed conversation than interview. If to describe briefly and very simply, is an impact on the mood of the masses, constantly provoked by the feeling that actually the reality is different around the deception that democracy is weak and Western society led by the European Union and NATO, is riddled with corruption, bureaucracy and so on. The goal is to flood the media space a large amount of information of ballast, which should deprive ordinary citizens of the fulcrum. Nothing is clear, there is an alternative however… On a real basis is overlaid with dangerous misinformation, and to the layman this news seems reliable. From a professional point of view, they do it well, but not very successfully. We are intelligent people, and that’s good.

— The environment in which Russia often creates their (dis)information structure in the Czech Republic?

— As I said, probably most noticeable in the so-called information sites. The Internet is a free environment where you can distribute, in General, anything. Protection — education, education, even the little ones, so that they are able to consume information, evaluating it critically and checking several sources.

— In the annual report You mention about “provoking and encouraging tensions within the Czech society and in the political environment.” Could You specify who is involved? And what methods are used?

— It is just about the dissemination of misinformation and various “half-truths” to incite conflict and division of society. This involved not only the so-called Pro sites. There are many topics that divide society, and deliberate misinformation contributes to their popularity. People have different opinions of migration, the European Union, adopting the Euro or, for example, environmental problems. A typical sign of manipulation — change of the information and arguments on emotions. People often think irrational, based on feelings that cause them to have emotional storytelling, however, has no basis in reality. Thus is formed a breeding ground for those who spread misinformation.

— Is it possible to defend against it?

— Of course, Yes. By using common sense. People should be able to question, to think critically and should not become part of the disinformation campaign, for example, making social networks “census” of various news from dubious sources.

All suspect not

— In the Russian Federation Embassy in Prague is much more staff than is customary in international practice. This fact has been estimated at BIS?

— The geopolitical location of the Czech Republic disposes — by the way, was so long — to ensure that the Czech Republic was a crossroads between West and East and, therefore, of interest to powerful States. So it was in the past and doubtless will in the future. Any country has the right to have such a diplomatic state which she considers necessary. But we, in turn, has the right to exercise caution and monitor the actions of employees of intelligence services of different countries. If we refer to our annual reports, already mentioned today, it is clear that we made a pretty good idea about the number of Russian spies in the Czech Republic.

— What conclusions can be drawn from these figures?

— The sheer number means nothing. Our task is to monitor the security officers regardless of who they work for, and how big the diplomatic staff of their countries. I’m sure it works for us.

— Not so long ago, several employees of the Russian Embassy were expelled from the Czech Republic. Others were forbidden to come or to come back here. These decisions were made with participation of the BIS service?

— For public conversation, is too delicate to discuss. From the very nature of the work of the counter-intelligence services, it follows that we need to keep the actions of the intelligence services under control, and if we believe that someone from employees of foreign intelligence services threatens the interests of the Czech Republic, we have to intervene.

— What’s harder in the work of the counterintelligence: to monitor the activities of accredited diplomats and administrative employees of the Embassy, or to observe the so-called illegals?

We live in a free country with open borders, so that goods and people move freely. Of course, it is difficult to have an idea about all the foreigners who sometimes come or some time live in the Czech Republic. We have lived a lot of foreigners from different countries, and probably impossible to automatically suspect them of spying. Freedom has its pros and its cons and we have to cope with them. But I am sure that BIS performs its tasks at a high level.