By Elias Hazou
The House ethics committee on Tuesday resumed discussion of a government bill designed to overhaul the Cyprus Intelligence Service (KYP), with MPs saying they hoped to take it to the plenum within the next fortnight.
The legislation has been languishing in committee for a year. It aims to put the secret service on a solid legal footing, for the first time since it was established in 1970.
Review of the bill will continue next week, said committee chairman Nicos Nicolaides, adding that the intention was to pass it as soon as possible.
Attending the discussion was the new head of KYP Kyriakos Kouros. He was appointed in the summer, after the resignation of Andreas Pentaras over phone surveillance allegations.
Speaking to reporters later, AKEL MP Aristos Damianou blamed ruling DISY for holding up the bill for so long.
It was time that KYP operated according to rules, so as to end non-transparent procedures against political parties and citizens, he added.
Until now, KYP was staffed mainly with police officers, operating like a branch of the Cyprus police, with some military staff also on board. Each 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 civilian personnel to be employed in the service and purports to provide for greater oversight. It’s understood 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.
KYP is to become a fully independent service, not a public service, answering directly to the president.
The bill foresees the establishment of a special panel staffed by three former judges appointed by the president who will examine the legality of KYP’s actions and any allegations of misconduct. The panel will also evaluate documents that are declassified from time to time.
Upon his appointment as KYP chief in 2013, Andreas Pentaras was given the mandate by President Nicos Anastasiades to look at the legal framework governing intelligence agencies in other countries and prepare a relevant bill to finally put the service on a solid ground.
In September 2014, the cabinet approved a bill, drafted by the justice ministry.
Since then it has been stuck in committee with media reports suggesting it was being held up by DISY leader Averof Neophytou.
Back in May of this year, Neophytou moved to freeze discussion of the bill until the autumn. The reason, reportedly, was that the DISY boss opposed a key clause granting the secret service a budget independent of the general police budget.
Presumably, allowing KYP to have its own budget would allow the agency to operate unchecked – even though the bill provided that the budget would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
In addition, earlier this year justice minister Ionas Nicolaou sought to insert into the bill a clause whereby he would have the last word on which police officers are seconded to KYP. Given that most of the agency’s personnel come from the police, that would have given the justice minister considerable control.
This appeared to contradict the very intention of the original KYP bill, which included a provision for a limited number of political appointees.
Nicolaou’s idea was withdrawn, apparently following an intervention from the President himself.
This July, Andreas Pentaras quit his post as spy chief, following the revelation that the secret service had acquired surveillance tech used to infect smart phones and other devices with an internet connection.
Documents leaked on the internet showed that several countries besides Cyprus had obtained the software. As far as is known, no other nation’s secret service chief other than Pentaras resigned in the wake of the disclosure.
Politicians at the time made a lot of noise about eavesdropping, but then just as quickly dropped the issue.