Pribyl case reveals loopholes in security screening

24-08-2004

The row around the appointment of Pavel Pribyl as head of the government's office is now over. Mr Pribyl's problems became untenable when it emerged that he had commanded a riot police unit which beat up anti communist demonstrators in the streets of Prague in 1989. Pribyl resigned last Friday and will most likely be replaced by a man whose past could hardly be more different - former dissident Ales Sulc. Pribyl is gone -but a lot of questions remain unanswered. How is it possible for a man with such a history to have gone undetected for so long and to hold such an important post? And how many others are there like him? Daniela Lazarova has been trying to find out some of the answers. Daniela, is the Pribyl case an isolated one?

Pavel Pribyl, photo: CTKPavel Pribyl, photo: CTK I am afraid not, Ian. I don't think you'd find anyone in the Czech Republic who believes that and indeed another case has now emerged of a former commander of a communist riot police unit who is currently a city councillor. He apparently did not beat up protesters in 1989 but only because he happened to be on holiday at the time. So it seems, Pribyl is not the only one - and it is possible that many more such cases will now come into the open.

How did these people slip through the net, given that there is a screening process?

That's the question on everybody's lips. I called Prokop Tomek of the Office for Documentation of Communist Crimes to find out. The first screening that Mr. Pribyl would have undergone concerned all employees at the interior ministry and was conducted by special civic commissions shortly after 1989. Here's what Mr. Tomek had to say about them:

"The criteria these commissions used were not unified, and not well thought out. They differed from one commission to the next. For instance a lot of attention was paid to whether or not the given person had been involved in the persecution of dissidents here at home, but I know that a lot of people involved in counter-espionage, whose task it was to monitor foreign embassies and prevent Czech citizens from making contacts with foreigners, actually sailed through those security checks undetected. "

Another form of screening that a man in Mr. Pribyl's position would have undergone is set by the screening law which specifies that all persons in public service must produce a certificate proving their hands are clean. Mr. Tomek again:

"Mr. Pribyl would have had no problem with the screening certificate at all. Because that security check clearly specifies which posts in communist service would incriminate him. And the communist riot police is just not on the list. Not even the post of commander. The list includes secret service personnel, agents, collaborators and the communist bosses, but there is no mention of riot units. Another thing is that for an elected post in public service you don't need a clean screening certificate."

Ales Sulc, photo: CTKAles Sulc, photo: CTK Finally, there is one last security check that might present a hurdle if you want a prominent public post - or at least one that's considered security sensitive. In this case, you need a special Security Office certificate. Mr Tomek explains:

"Even in these cases, the fact that you may have been a member of the communist secret service or an agent does not automatically disqualify you. The Security Office may come to the conclusion that even if a person is morally wanting, their past activities are not such as to prevent them from working with classified information."

Members of Parliament are now calling for stricter screening - but it is not clear what they have in mind. At this point a revision of the screening law is improbable and with every year passing year Czechs find it harder to come to grips with the past. A lot of people are hoping that the problem will just resolve itself when the new generation of Czechs takes over. It is not an ideal solution - but that's the situation at present.

24-08-2004