Twelve Tbilisi-based civil society organizations released a joint statement, voicing their concerns over the planned merger of the State Security (SSS) and the Intelligence Services. The respective legislative amendment has been presented to the Parliament on November 22 within the legislative bill on the Government-proposed structural changes.
“Assigning excess, unfettered powers and mechanisms of total control to one institution only, will not produce an institution, which will effectively safeguard the country’s security,” the organizations wrote in their statement on November 29. “It will most likely result in power abuse and will undermine the country’s institutional governance.”
The CSOs expressed particular concern over the transfer of the specific Intelligence Service mandate, enabling SSS officers to work in government agencies, as well as in private enterprises and organizations, without disclosing their affiliation with SSS.
Currently, the State Security Service can only assign its officers to those pre-determined public agencies and facilities “which contain high security risks.” The assignment, however, needs to be agreed with heads of respective organizations.
According to the CSOs, the proposal “raises legitimate doubts” that the amendments “represent an attempt to return and strengthen the Soviet-style ODR practice [an informal name of security officers, which stems from the Russian abbreviation ОДР (Офицер действующего резерва - active reserve officer)].”
The twelve organizations called on the Parliament of Georgia not to allow the blanket application of the Intelligence Service mandates to the State Security Service.
Similar points were raised by the Human Rights Education and Monitoring Center, which said in its statement on November 29 that the concentration of “excess” power in the hands of a single agency “in the absence of effective oversight mechanism,” raises the risk of the abuse of power.
The Georgian Young Lawyers Association issued a statement as well, saying the proposed merger of the two institutions and the full transfer of Intelligence Service powers to the State Security Service, “creates a risk that the malpractice” of permanent security officer “supervision” in public and private agencies would be restored.