Mr. Musliu, we are having this conversation after a year since you were appointed at a time when the EU is pointing out the need for security sector reform. What has changed in the Agency since your arrival?
We have done a lot, but there is still work to be done for us in the Agency. One of the strengths of the AR is the internationally built image with successful intelligence operations. Unfortunately, over the past few years, the recognition for which we have worked so hard has been disrupted by individuals who, using privileged status and connections to political structures in the country have interfered in the work of the AR. In intelligence, lost trust is hard to return to partners. Therefore, from May 2019, we in the Agency, are working to restore confidence at the strategic, regional and institutional level. We managed to have an independent and autonomous role in the work and execution of tasks, free from party and political influences, and that is very important. Today, the Agency is more mobile and adaptable to action in given situations. The most important thing we get in quality is to be objective. With the changes in the organization of work and the systematization, we have actually improved the setup and system of the work process, the mode of work in the field, processing of the obtained knowledge and the way of informing the end users.
You say political ties have been abused. Will there be purification in the Agency?
The word purification is a bit difficult. It covers some moments regarding the issuance of security certificates and in this part we are actively cooperating with the relevant NATO security bodies, and internally we have excellent cooperation with those institutions that are legally responsible for it, and above all I think of the Directorate of Security of Classified Information and the National Security Agency.
How much reform is being implemented, given that you are still operating under a 25-year-old law, and the new law has not passed the procedure before the dissolution of Parliament?
For some time now, we have been faced with the need to amend or pass a new Law on AR, because the current one, which is from 1995, no longer corresponds to the real needs for functioning. The new law clearly defines the place and role of the Agency as the only institution responsible for external intelligence with the task of collecting data and information on asymmetric, hybrid and cyber threats from abroad. Among other things, I would like to emphasize that this Law regulates workers' rights and social status, a request that has been ignored by previous leaderships for many years. Unfortunately, the Law did not pass in the Assembly due to the submitted more than a thousand absurd amendments by the opposition. What is the background to their move, ie boycotting and resisting for defining the Agency in professional service according to NATO standards, remains to be seen. But, I am convinced that we will have a new law, in fact NATO and the EU are asking us to do that.
While you are director, North Macedonia has become a member of NATO. What did we get out of it from your point of view, did it make your job easier? On the other hand, what does NATO get from North Macedonia being inside?
The Republic of North Macedonia is no longer alone, it is part of the most powerful military-political alliance, so threats to our national security are threats to the alliance, and vice versa. We get a lot. We gain allied access to information, faster exchange of information, joint action in dealing with challenges and threats. This means that we exchange knowledge, analysis, views and opinions on all issues. Now, as a NATO ally, the Agency is paying more attention to the requirements and priorities coming from Brussels, we are building capacity in that direction, we are adapting to standards and procedures, and to be honest, more work from an administrative point of view. At the bilateral level, NATO allies know and recognize the Agency's operational capacity because we have been cooperating at the operational level for a long time. But there is value here and the geographical position of our country, further, we have in mind our multiethnic, multireligious and multicultural composition of the population, which in the Agency has been transformed into an intelligence advantage and quality, and I believe it will be beneficial for NATO.
What reforms do NATO partner countries expect from the Agency? What needs to change?
More elements are expected to be completed, here I would like to mention the process of passing the new law on the Agency, which I said before, completion of the initiated process of VETING in the security intelligence entities, we are required to have a better, stronger and more efficient internal installation, we have already done that with the new systematization, we are required to have a more strict system of internal control, building cyber security facilities which is a novelty and a special focus on protection and security related to technical equipment and technologies from countries that pose a security risk to NATO.
What are Macedonia's main security challenges today? What is the Agency focusing on?
As I said, Republic of North Macedonia is a member of NATO, we work together and share priorities and focus on work. First of all, I would like to single it out as a priority the geopolitical rivalry, which develops hybrid strategies and threats, regional phenomena and processes, internal and international conflicts with the possibility of influencing national security, weapons of mass destruction, terrorism and violent extremism from all aspects (political, ethnic, religious), illegal migration as a phenomenon, but also as a tool in the hybrid strategy of regional actors, cyber threats, the current threat from COVID-19 facing the whole world. This is a new reality that we as services will have to focus on in the future.
In recent years, members of the Intelligence Agency have been called in for their involvement in the Kumanovo events, in the violence in the Parliament on April 27. What is their role in these cases? What is your view of these events?
Both events are in fact two dark spots in the recent history of our country, but also two bitter experiences for our composition and management of the Agency. Immediately after my appointment, we sat inside the Agency, discussed and decided to form appropriate Commissions with the task of determining the factual situation in terms of the role of the Agency in both events. We found a series of unprofessional actions and behaviors of previous directors. Worked only with persons trusted by them without informing and involving the immediate Sectors in charge of issues; Regarding the "Kumanovo case", I have to say this; insincerity towards the Public Prosecutor has been ascertained. It is clear from the motives of the group that the political motive for hiring the members prevailed, although a financial moment is also mentioned. The reason for the contacts of the operatives with the leaders of the armed group is unclear, i.e. there is a lack of information about the attack in Goshince and the intrusion of the group in the urban part of Kumanovo. But it is good that the public understood the new reality in the AR, i.e. the autonomy and objectivity in our work, so we started to receive new information that was previously unknown to the Agency. However, I think that some of the necessary knowledge to complete the whole case is found in some of the convicts. Not all secrets have disappeared with the death of the Rizaj / Ndrecaj duo. Regarding the "Violent intrusion in the Parliament on April 27, 2017", mistakes were made in the management and selection of the operatives who were hired. First of all, it is unclear why the Agency and its members were involved in events within the competence of the public order bodies. Members with minimal work experience in the Agency or with a newly passed internship exam were sent to the field. They were sent without a clear purpose and operational preparation, i.e. "they had to identify a foreign presence" of entities for which there is no identity, description or photo. The most important thing is that we have done our job. Regarding the two incidents, the Agency submitted two extensive analyzes that were handed over to the Public Prosecutor's Office. Given the fact that there is COVID-19 pandemic, we expect a meeting with the Public prosecutor regarding these events to see how the Agency will be able to help shed light on these cases.
Do you doubt the cause of death of Rizaj and Ndrecaj?
To be honest, no. I have no doubt about the death, but I wanted to say that not all the secrets went away with the very act of killing them. It wasn't just the two who had contacts with the security services. That’s what I said.
Are the operatives involved in these events, which you mentioned, still working for the Intelligence Agency?
From those who were involved in the management, giving instructions and operational action on the ground, related to the "Kumanovo event" I can say that today several of them are no longer members of the Agency, and the director of that time is now Minister of Interior. As for the "Violent intrusion in the Parliament" as the public knows, we have one convicted member of the Agency, others who were hired are no longer part of our composition, and the then director is also no longer part of the army security.
Has the Agency participated in an operation to prevent international terrorism that you are particularly proud of?
Of course, along with our partners we have been involved in operations in the Balkans, in other volatile and war-torn regions, and I mean in the Middle East, North Africa and Ukraine.
Can you point to a specific operation?
I have to be honest that your question has a classified character. But what does it matter to an intelligence officer? His mission is always secret. Everyone will understand the possible mistake or may pay with their lives, but the success of such operations is the inner feeling that you have in yourself that you have saved human life or objects and goods vital for the safety of citizens and the state. I think you understand that we have participated in such operations and I am proud of many of the successfully completed operations.
Finally, where do you see the Agency in 5 years? What is your goal?
Our plans for the next 4-5 years are moving in two conditionally speaking directions: internal component and external component. Regarding the internal component, I talked a little bit before about it, completing the legal framework of the Agency, it is of priority importance to us, building and upgrading the human and technical capacities of the Agency, teamwork is the formula for success, we lacked in in the past, in the profile of the intelligence officer's personality to achieve a level of intelligence balance on the ground and greater openness in communication with the environment, with the public. The second component refers to our institutional set-up, ie the perception of the users of our information, the partners and finally the public. We want to reach a level where the users of our information know exactly what to expect from the Agency and understand its essential role in the security of the state. Our partners should be able to make the right choice in the decision to exchange information and joint operations and finally, what I think is really most important, the citizens and the people to recognize us and have confidence in us, to know that we are doing the right thing for protection and security of the state.