Albania Spy Agency Accused of Illegal Surveillance

The head of Albania’s national security commission, Spartak Braho, announced the parliamentary hearing after claims appeared in local media that the State Information Service, SHISH, was collecting allegedly damaging information about police chiefs.

Braho said in an interview for Albania’s Top Channel TV on Sunday that Visho Ajazi Lika, the head of SHISH, will be immediately called to parliament for a hearing.

“We will review this situation calmly and inform parliament, the president and the prime minister,” he said.

Braho also compared SHISH’s alleged practices with those of its communist-era predecessor, the feared Sigurimi.

The announcement of a parliamentary hearing comes after the publication by Top Channel of a leaked document in which the agency’s spies are ordered to collect information on new appointments in the police force made by the centre-left government of Prime Minister Edi Rama, who took office last September.

In the document dated December 2, 2013, the Counter Intelligence Directory of SHISH, orders all agency branches across the country to identify high-ranking state police officials who have been involved in illegal activities.

The scope of the order includes every police district director, the head of public order, the chief of criminal investigations, the head of precincts and traffic police.

Braho said that the order to spy on police chiefs went beyond SHISH’s mandate, was illegal and amounted to abuse of power.

He alleged that SHISH’s activities coincided with a parliamentary inquiry launched by the opposition Democratic Party against new appointments in the police force.

“It looks like the institutional agenda of the agency is fitting into a political agenda,” said Braho, who is also an MP with the junior government partner, the Socialist Movement for Integration.

“The agenda of SHISH is the agenda of the Democratic Party, which is accusing police chiefs of having ties to organized crime,” he added.

A former head of SHISH, Fatos Klosi, who headed the agency from 1997 until 2002 and now serves as the director of Albania’s atomic agency, also condemned the order to spy on the police.

“After reviewing the document I find it completely illegal. The most delicate question is who ordered this information and to whom is being reported,” Klosi said.

The current head of the agency, Visho Ajazi Lika, was nominated in August 2012 by the former centre-right government of ex-Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

Since the new government took office in September 2013, Visha has faced accusations that he is still serving the former prime minister and has provided little information to the current administration, which is facing a growing problem with violent crime after several car bomb attacks.

During a hearing in parliament on January 28, interior minister Saimir Tahiri said that SHISH had provided “zero information” to the government about the blasts.

“I have asked SHISH and expect information on these terrorist acts but have received nothing,” Tahiri said.

“This is unacceptable because it threatens the country’s national security and the wellbeing of citizens,” he added.

Meanwhile former President Bamir Topi, head of the opposition New Democratic Spirit Party, accused the security agency in an interview on TV Klan on January 27 of illegally spying on “the political opponents of former Prime Minister Berisha”.

Topi, who was once a member of the Democratic Party, fell out with Berisha while he served as president from 2007 to 2012.

After the he left office, he created the New Democratic Spirit, a splinter party from the Democrats, who are now in opposition.

According to Albanian law, the head of SHISH is proposed by the prime minister and the nomination has to be approved by the president.