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2020.04.27 12:30

Lithuanian intelligence to add focus on medical emergencies

Vaidotas Beniušis, BNS 2020.04.27 12:30

The Lithuanian intelligence service, the State Security Department (VSD), plans to add a focus on medical emergencies following the threats exposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

"The coronavirus shows what kind of world we will live in in the future," Darius Jauniškis told BNS in an interview. He was confirmed for a second term as the chief of VSD earlier this month.

"Looking back, we had a certain period of calm, but these days we are seeing viruses coming back. We see outbreaks of tuberculosis, SARS, swine fever, bird flu."

"We should pay more attention to virology, and [...] the intelligence also needs to change profiles [and] think very seriously about medical intelligence," said Jauniškis.

"The United States has a separate intelligence service that deals with medical intelligence, monitoring the medical situation in the world. Lithuania must be no exception," Jauniškis said.

"This is one of the tasks and priorities of my second term. Given the trends, it is inevitable and it would be foolish to ignore it," he added.

"In my conversations with political groups in the [Lithuanian parliament] Seimas, I have already mentioned it as one of the areas for intelligence to focus on and adapt to."

Vetting presidential candidates

The intelligence chief is also aiming to change the practice of giving verbal orders. He registered the amendments to VSD's internal rules after a recent controversy, when the agency was accused of unlawful interference in the country's politics.

A parliamentary inquiry was launched earlier this year after MP Vytautas Bakas claimed he had a whistleblower's report alleging unlawful actions by the intelligence service during last year's presidential election.

Read more: Seimas committee clears intelligence agency of political interference allegations

The whistleblower, a high-ranking intelligence officer, contacted Bakas, who then headed the parliamentary committee on security and defence.

The informant claimed he had been instructed to collect information about the inner circle of Gitanas Nausėda, then a presidential candidate, and Lithuania's former foreign minister and diplomat Vygaudas Ušackas who was also planning to run for president.

According to MP Dainius Gaižauskas, who headed the parliamentary inquiry, a verbal assignment was given to vet some individuals, which could have led the whistleblower to believe that information was collected unlawfully.

The VSD director confirmed during the interview with BNS that people in the inner circle of Gitanas Nausėda, then a presidential candidate, were vetted in the run-up to the election after receiving a report from a "human source," and some candidates were informed about the risks.

Read more: Lithuania's intelligence chief denies intimidating presidential candidate

Jauniškis said he backed initiatives to establish an intelligence ombudsman's office and allow contesting actions by intelligence officers in court. However, he had doubts about recommendations to set maximum timeframes for collecting intelligence and to introduce stricter procedures for destroying collected information.

The VSD director also said he would pay even more attention to internal communication within the intelligence community.

Read more: Whistleblower claims Lithuania's intelligence investigated president's campaign