The annual report of the Czech civil counter espionage and intelligence service contained two headline pieces of information this time round: the stepped up activity of Russian and Chinese secret services in the country and the fact that the country is described as being at potential risk from a terrorist attack from groups linked with Islamic state.
Czech newspapers on Friday gave the potential terrorist threat the most attention. The Czech counter espionage service backed up its warning with news that seven individuals from Islamic countries had stayed in the country temporarily on their way to Syria to join Islamic State or similar groups. Their return to Europe would, the report adds, represent a clear terrorist threat.
Chairman of the lower house of parliament’s security committee, Roman Váňa, of the main government party, the Social Democrats, spoke to Czech Television about the risk revealed in the 2015 report:
“Clearly there is a security risk because if these people are in some way linked to the Czech Republic then there is there is the chance they might want to return for whatever reasons. We should prevent that, of course, because these returning fighters from Syria and such countries are a significant security risk for Europe. Fortunately, the Czech Republic, has not been the main focus of this threat. Hundreds of citizens from Germany, Belgium, and Austria are fighting there and some are starting to come back. Finding and keeping check on these individuals is a major burden for the intelligence services there.”
The circumstances of the mysterious seven’s transit through the Czech Republic is not elaborated on in the report. It also notes the presence of Islamic State sympathizers in the Czech Republic, adding though that they are overwhelmingly marginalized and shunned by the local Moslem community.
It should be pointed out that there are two parts to the annual report, the public part and that reserved for the eyes of government, president, and other authorities only.
The Czech service has frequently pointed the finger in past years at spying in the country by both Russia and China. The latest report highlights an intensification of activities, especially by Moscow linked with the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Ukraine. It pinpoints attempts infiltrate the Czech media, paint a distorted picture of the Czech situation for Russian audiences, fuel political and social tensions within the Czech Republic, and foster rifts within the EU and NATO. The report says the main cover for Moscow’s activities is the burgeoning staff and cover of its Prague embassy. China’s main tool appears to be its military intelligence services and organisations linked to the Communist Party.
“Both of these countries have a great interest in the Czech Republic. For Russia, it is somewhat traditional. Of course, the Czech Republic is a small country but it is strategically sited in the centre of Europe and a Czech visa is also a Schengen zone visa, which means it can be used for the rest of Europe. For Russia, we have an understandable language and they can easily move about and it traditionally had an interest in the region. China is a bit different, is has discovered us recently. It has its interests, overwhelmingly economic, and I think it uses us as a bridge towards Europe.”
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