A government bill regulating the staffing and operation of the Central Intelligence Service, approved in parliament’s final plenary session on Thursday, marked the official founding of the intelligence-gathering body, 46 years after it was created and became operational by then-President Archbishop Makarios.
Founded in 1970, the CIS (or KYP) has largely been operating unchecked, on instructions from – and in the service of – the political leadership, which staffed it with members of police and the National Guard, until the government decided to overhaul the system and create some form of accountability mechanism.
According to the bill passed on Thursday, the intelligence agency will report directly to the president, taking its orders from the highest level, much as it has done thus far.
Key changes in the bill, however, include the removal of the police chief’s right to appoint the CIS boss, who will now be appointed by the president directly.
It also includes the service’s rules of operation and staffing decisions, as well as a new, clearly-defined organogram, with a CIS chief and two lieutenants.
Further, a three-person committee – also appointed by the president – will serve as an advisory body, reviewing and assessing the service’s operations with a view to improving methodology and tactics.
In terms of its mandate, the CIS is given a very broad remit of activity, allowing it to collect and process sensitive private information in order to prevent or neutralise threats.
Although the bill stipulates that the service must adhere to privacy and data-protection laws, the nature of its operations, as well as the fact that it is essentially accountable to a single person – who, in turn, is not accountable to anyone – may prove a weakness.
Approved by the cabinet and taken to the House for voting in September 2014, the bill was the subject of much discussion at the House Ethics committee, before it finally made it to the plenum floor on Thursday.
But despite all the haggling, the only amendment that was introduced to the bill was a clause inserted by main opposition AKEL, which stipulates that the president may opt to order the CIS chief, as well as his two deputies, to brief parliamentary party leaders on matters of strategic policy only – not individual operations.