By Stefanos Evripidou
THE CYPRUS Intelligence Service (KYP) is about to get a full overhaul for the first time in 44 years, putting it on a solid legal footing while giving it a more analytical role in an effort to face the rapidly changing global challenges.
The cabinet approved on Wednesday a bill making KYP an independent body.
According to a government statement, the goal is to turn KYP into a “fully independent and professional body able to perform its national security duties adequately”.
It added: “KYP is to enter a new era. A fully independent body staffed with qualified personnel so it could play its part in dealing with a new, complicated and always evolving international and regional environment that presents our country with threats and challenges.”
Until now, KYP was staffed mainly with police officers, operating like a branch of the Cyprus police, with some military staff also on board. Every time a new government came into power, the secret service would see sweeping changes to its personnel, with positions filled by other police and army officials considered more familiar with the incoming government.
The new legislation will allow for non-police personnel to be employed in the service and, according to the statement, will also provide for greater oversight. The general understanding is that under the current system, apart from being accountable to the president and police chief, the intelligence service has little to no established oversight on its activities.
Speaking to the Sunday Mail this week, head of KYP Andreas Pentaras said since its establishment by President Makarios in 1970, there has been no legal framework setting out KYP’s operations.
“It effectively worked as a branch of the police force until now, without any framework,” said the former National Guard Lieutenant General.
On his appointment as Cypriot spy chief following the election of President Nicos Anastasiades last year, Pentaras said he was given the mandate to look at the legal framework covering intelligence agencies in other countries like Greece and the UK and prepare a relevant bill to finally put the service on solid ground.
Pentaras said KYP will become a fully independent service, not a public service, answering directly to the president.
The new bill foresees the establishment of a special committee staffed by three former judges appointed by the president who will examine the legality of KYP’s actions and any allegations of misconduct.
It also includes a provision for a limited number of political appointees: one director and a number of deputy directors. This will restrict the workforce turnover after each election.
The service will be divided into a number of sub-departments or directorates depending on the needs of the country. Pentaras said the finer details of the organisation of the service will be ironed out after the bill has passed.
Some of the issues likely to get their own directorate include: the protection of Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone; hydrocarbons in general in the region; internal security; international relations; the Green Line, and military discipline.
“It will be staffed with civilians, scientific people with various expertise from international relations to the Middle East, energy, economy, interpretation, criminology, information technology etc. It will be an organised service with modern equipment,” he said.
The process of hiring civilians will start gradually once the bill is passed into law, until eventually the civilian staff will outnumber officials from the police force or army, said Pentaras.
Asked whether KYP’s reorganisation has anything to do with greater collaboration with foreign agencies, the intelligence director said KYP cooperates with many countries like the US, Russia and in Europe and the Middle East.
As part of the government’s general policy to become a ‘strategic partner’ to the US, “we have advanced a great deal through cooperation with our counterpart the CIA, and have very close relations on many issues, especially terrorism and organised crime”, said Pentaras.
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides said the cabinet-approved bill, which has already been given the nod from the attorney-general, should go to parliament next week.
It will give the service the freedom to hire experts who can produce more in-depth threat analysis on the changing regional environment, such as the rapid developments in Iraq and Syria, he said.
The government still plans to establish a National Security Council to develop long-term strategies for the country, said Christodoulides.
Hiring is expected to start with the approval of next year’s budget, said Pentaras, adding that the 2015 budget will be independent from the general police budget, unlike previous ones, but will still be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.