By Daniel Stroe – Bucharest
The Romanian PM Victor Ponta aims to bring one of Romania’s secret services – the Special Telecommunications Service (STS) – under his direct command, arguing the institution failed to properly respond to a plane crash two weeks ago and which resulted in two casualties, drawing the ire of the public.
“I have decided (…) to forward the draft law on passing STS under the coordination of the Ministry of Interior and its Emergency Situations Department to have a better coordination so we have a less bureaucratic structure and a very clear responsibility” Ponta aid last night.
Ponta holds STS responsible for the failure of the rescue operations in the wake of the plane crash on 20 January. Two people, the pilot and a medical student, lost their lives after the crash site was located after six hours and rescue teams got there even later. The minister of Interior resigned then amid public pressure and Ponta also asked for STS’s director, Marcel Opris, to submit his resignation as well.
But President Traian Basescu, Ponta’s political rival, defended STS’s performance and rejected accusations the service is the one responsible for the failure of the rescue operations and localization in time of the crash site. Basescu yesterday chaired a meeting of the Country Supreme Defense Council (CSAT), the highest decision making body in state security affairs, in which the plane crash on the agenda.
Speaking in a public intervention following the meeting, Basescu said Ponta had asked him to allow the transfer of STS under the government’s supervision which the president refused. STS is currently under the direct control of CSAT.
“Over the past days, through the persistence of some lies the idea that STS had to exactly locate the accident site has been rooted in the public speech. This is a lie. STS doesn’t either have equipments for such things or the legal right to do more that it did” Basescu said. He argued STS can only locate calls made from fix phones while in cases of mobile made calls it can only identify a larger area. In the case of the plane crash two weeks ago, a range of 200 km was established by STS which forwarded the data to the emergency situation department.
Basescu blamed the failure on a lack of coordination among governmental institutions and said pointing fingers at STS is only meant to discredit the secret service. In return, Ponta accused him of supporting STS’s director due to “personal interests”, such as the service’s involvement in the presidential elections in 2009 and the impeachment referendum in 2012, Ponta argued.
Bu many analysts say Ponta is taking advantage of the public ire following the plane crash and is turning it into his own advantage. As controlling STS is a long desideratum of his, Ponta is now using the accident leverage to put pressure on the service and its head and subordinate the institution. In 2012, shortly after coming to power, Ponta passed the Ministry of Interior’s intelligence service under his direct control. Many say the stake of STS’s full control is strictly related to electoral goals since the service supervises data transmission from polling stations.