NSS is not Only Guys in Black Cloths and Masks
Interview with Director of the NSS Arthur Vanetsyan published in Hraparak newspaper on 31 January and 1 February 2019
- You have been in the office since May 2018, in the system – since 2000; first of all I would like to know, have you made any pivotal change of working principles and modus operandi once being appointed head of the NSS?
- The pivotal change is the fact that today we are engaged mainly in our functions. Now a question will emerge as to what they were doing in the past: More than once I have stated that I did not comment on the modus operandi of the previous one, and I will stay devoted to this principle. After my appointment, everyone had an impression that the NSS was engaged in the detection of exclusively corruption and economic crimes. In fact, it is not the case. It is just that the above-indicated is the part that we can disclose, present it to the public.
- Nevertheless, today there are also those who criticize the NSS, that the structure has become the political instrument of the revolutionary power, it has estranged itself from its main functions, and tries to influence certain circles, judges, etc.
- Frankly speaking, I have not heard such assessments and criticism from serious circles. If there is such a case, that we have become a political instrument in the hands of the new authorities, if it is substantiated, I will answer… Believe me, today's political authority, in the person of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, completely excludes such modus operandi. On the first day of my appointment he told me to go and get down to my job, the NSS had nothing to do with the politics. I am trying and I think that we succeed in keeping the NSS away from interfering into any political process.
The vivid example of this was the recent election. Probably, representatives of NGOs, civil society, the journalistic community would have spoken aloud about it if the NSS had done anything. We are implementing only functions vested upon us by the law, and the criticism you are talking about is groundless and not serious. As to estranging itself from the main functions, then I will say that I have just presented a new report which wholly pertains to foreign intelligence, domestic counter-intelligence. Our main and key adversaries, it's no secret, are Azerbaijan and Turkey; activities are constantly conducted, very hard work requiring great devotion and professionalism. The ones conducting this work, intelligence and counter-intelligence officers, are in fact high professionals, I would not be afraid to say, devotees, who are never seen though, no one sees them, no one knows them. If a “visible” officer of the NSS can feel good somewhere, comparatively, those persons are neither seen anywhere at all, nor anyone knows about their work done. There are many times their work may be attributed to other agencies, embassies etc. In the Republic of Armenia threats of terrorist nature are uttered, which, praise God, we can prevent, we handle the situation.
- Terrorists threats from outside, or inside?
- Yes, from outside. Our region is such a region that, whether we want it or not, we are in the center of it. Illegal border crossings, in different forms, radical representatives of all these try to establish their sleeping cells in different countries. Maybe my words will seem surprising to you, but we are not isolated from those processes taking place in the world and we must be able to counteract those threats, and up till now, praise God, we are doing it with honor. So, the NSS is not only guys in black cloths and masks who go and catch and take away some people. In fact, this is a serious analytical, intellectual work that is conducted by the whole staff of our service.
- Are wiretappings of public figures, especially opposition figures, made, as in the times of the previous authorities? Aren’t they used for political purposes?
- I don’t know what was done in the past, but I will tell you that today the NSS wiretaps exclusively those persons who are suspected of having committed or prepared this or that crime. A substantiated decision, a reference, is drawn on that, it is presented to the court, a court decision is made, and next are our steps within the framework of the law.
- Well, let’s speak about criminal cases. How many cases are now being investigated by the NSS?
- In 2018 in the Investigation Department of the National Security Service of the NSS, nearly 370 criminal cases were investigated, more by 100 cases in comparison with 2017. The cases investigated by us were quite efficient, there was no complaint, no disagreement presented by any lawyer on the violation of the law. We kept the 100 % impartiality.
- Does the information that after the revolution the cases of the structure headed by you increased, that you increased the number of the officers, correspond to reality?
- First of all, I will say that 3-4 months ago a serious structural change took place in the NSS. I cannot tell the details because it is top secret information. But in two words I can tell the directions – intelligence, counter-intelligence, a newly established department on economic security and fight against corruption. One must correctly understand the economic security: We do not replicate the function of the operational intelligence department of the SRC or the functions of the Police department on the fight against organized crime. Economic security is a big block that comprises food, agricultural, veterinary security, etc, i.e. epidemics, threats. The information on that part is received, analyzed and presented to the political leadership.
There used to be a small division, we have enlarged it. However, as to your specific question, we have not changed the number of the staff list, we have neither reduced, nor increased the list of the staff: We have correctly allocated it. The other one is the Department of Protection of Constitutional Order and Fight against Terrorism, and another structure that was established is the Department of Government Communications and Information Security. The government communications are our well-known yellow telephones, their maintenance, state websites maintenance, i.e., we maintain not as an admin, we protect in order to secure from attacks of external hackers. Last year we prevented about 3 mln. attempted attacks.
- Is it a lot or a little compared to last year?
- It’s a lot and it is explained by the interest towards Armenia, the issue of information security is the most important threat of the 21st century that can exist. The entire system is being digitized, if we have no information security, we can’t ensure the security of our country to the fullest extent. Before these changes were made only one division had implemented all these functions, at present a clear differentiation of the areas has been made, precise directions have been defined.
- Mr. Vanetsyan, you are enumerating: we are doing this, we are doing that, however, after all, how did it happen that the NSS Director was wiretapped? I am talking about your telephone conversation with the Head of the Special Investigation Service (SIS). You said that you know who did it, but you have no grounds for charges. Can you give the names now? Is it known, at least, how many people in Armenia have appropriate wiretapping equipment?
- I am not avoiding any question, but I do want to close the subject of this wiretapping once and for all. As long as the investigation goes on, I will not make any comment on it; besides, what I said has already become a subject of speculations. I repeat once again: I have nothing to be ashamed of, and I will repeat it anywhere, to be ashamed of what and so on. There is no need to speculate on the fact that if Director of the NSS of the country is wiretapped, where we have come to… The Director of the NSS of the country uses the telephone communication that ordinary people use, though at present we use another telephone communication, it is an internal communication, that’s the program developed by us, thus, wiretapping is excluded. In the 21stcentury any person can be wiretapped, at the given moment we can also be wiretapped by some sort of laser, technology is so advanced that it is almost inevitable. Of course, it doesn’t justify anything, but I want to say that there is no need to make this issue an extremely dangerous thing. It is very bad, I admit that I suffered a lot because of those conversations. I was ashamed not of the content, but of the fact of wiretapping. However, what happened happened, we continue to work more vigilantly, more carefully, so such cases will not happen again.
- Don’t you want to give names? You told they were famous figures.
- No, I don’t want. As for the wiretapping equipment, we have no such information that anyone has such equipment; these are talks and nobody has ever presented a factual basis concerning them, we haven’t such information.
- You promised to publish the schemes of enrichment of Robert Kocharyan’s family and property. Is there a criminal case, for instance, related to a share in the “Congress” hotel acquired by Sedrak Kocharyan, or any other?
- Yes, I have to tell that a criminal case was initiated, within this framework solid evidence was obtained and in the near future it will be disclosed by the Investigation Department of the NSS.
- During the examination of the lawsuit brought by Sedrak Kocharyan against you your lawyer insisted that speaking of Kocharyan’s family you didn’t mean Sedrak Kocharyan personally. Who did you mean?
- Frankly speaking, I don’t follow this case and I don’t take it all that seriously, I don’t want to comment on the lawyer. Once there is a court decision, we will abide, let the court investigate, I don’t want to say anything, so no one says that we influence the court, guide it, especially when everyone keeps telling that we call judges, we tell that we are doing this, we are doing that, so let me repeat it again, these are groundless accusations.
- You declared а war against corruption, you stated that about 70 cases are associated with corruption in the army; you checked the financial transactions amounting to 250 bln. drams. Are there results, news?
- If I am not mistaken, at present, with regard to the army, 11 bln. drams have been already returned, and 6-7 bln. will be returned in the near future. Moreover, there are large, huge amounts of money related to the army, the so-called external budget, which existed in the past, and its cost efficiency is being checked now, i.e., what they spent this money for. If it is written that weapons were purchased, no problem, we must check it; if it is written that it was provided to settle some issue, we must check it. We are conducting very extensive work and when we finish it, we will present the results.
- I would like us to talk about several other criminal cases of public interest, they are many, but I have separated the one related to “Yerevan” fund – one of the first cases initiated after the revolution. Do you have any news on this case?
- As a result of large-scale, operative measures undertaken in connection with this criminal case, it has been substantiated that “Yerevan” fund wasted some part of this money, the other part it spent inefficiently or not for the purposes it was intended for, totally 1 bln. 807 mln. drams have been fully restored and transferred to the state budget. Why did we begin the activities? Because it was stated that this fund was in the process of liquidation; when we carried out our action, 500 mln. was still in the account, therefore, it turns out that 2 bln. 307 mln. drams in total were returned to the budget.
- Is there any news related to a case initiated against former Head of the Customs Service Armen Avetisyan? After the case had been initiated against him on charges of involvement in illegal entrepreneurship and legalization of illegal sums, he stated on presenting “Golden Palace” Hotel owned by him as a gift to the state. Was this case really closed?
- Yes, he expressed a wish to donate that hotel to the Republic of Armenia, but that doesn't mean that we closed the case, of course we didn’t. The investigation of the case continues, you have seen the famous video material, everything that was said is substantiated and will be substantiated within the framework of the criminal case, charges will bе brought and there will be consequences.
But let’s understand one thing as well: this exact case took place in 2005-2006, i.e. there is a statute of limitations that serves a ground for not conducting criminal prosecution, but we must substantiate the guilt of that person or prove his innocence within the framework of the criminal case. This means we were doing our work and during that Mr. Avetisyan expressed a wish to donate “Golden Palace Hotel” to the state, that is commendable.
- Raids are periodically organized against thieves in law, criminal lords - “Zap”, “Oshakantsi Gevorik” and others. Their houses were searched, Kanevskoy was detained and released and so on. All in all, what were the results of these raids against “thieves”?
- I’m not the one who organizes this, do not «deprive Osipyan of his livelihood” (joking), the Police work in this direction. You know, that is the direct function of the Police, they are working properly in this direction and if there is a need for the NSS to deal with these individuals, of course, we will do that.
- Do you think that the situation related to this circle in Armenia is quiet enough that there is no need for your interference?
-Yes, yes. You know, that is the direct function of the Police, they are working properly in this direction and if there is a need for the NSS to deal with these individuals, of course, we will do it.
- Maybe there are no more thieves in law and criminal lords in Armenia?
- I do not accept the term “thieves in law”, it is made-up, there is no such position.
- And what about such people?
- There are people who consider themselves something. There are people who consider themselves a thief in law, other - something else, but all the citizens of the Republic of Armenia are equal before the laws of the state and have the same rights and obligations. Irrespective of the position they held or a group they adhere to, they must be equal before the law, if they violate the law, they will be held accountable. If a person doesn’t cross the line, let him go live and say “I am Yuri Gagarin”.
- During the previous authorities those people were in rather privileged conditions, there were even speaking about cooperation with the authorities, is there anything like this now?
- You know, I believe that we all and the society, the NSS has also a lot to do in this field, we must create such an atmosphere in the country in which young people would not like to go in criminal direction or accept it, but would rather go in the direction of law enforcement system. In this regard, I very positively assess the fact that, due to the NSS activities of the recent 9 months, positive emotion has been established among broad segments of the society. The evidence of this is young girls and boys in Yerevan wearing caps with “NSS” prints and T-shirts with «siraharvaAATS» prints (note: AATS is NSS, “siraharvats” means “in love” in Armenian).
- Do you think this is due to your activities or just your person?
- Of course, persons are of relevance, I am thankful to our journalistic community, that they initially tried not to vilify me, and on the contrary objectively covered my activities. And yes, as I am Director of the NSS, I am the face of the service, I’m not the one who should give assessment, but the positivity is obvious.
- But recently it seems you haven't been making new sensational revelations, and there is a lack of, as you said, «positive emotions» for some segments. Are these revelations over, did this wave stop?
- No, of course not. During January we detected illicit drug trafficking in large amounts, illegal border-crossers, we also disclosed a chain of corruption at Bagratashen Customs Point, in which customs officers were involved, we arrested a high-ranking official from the Police, who was also involved in a chain of corruption... I can list other cases as well, but without details. This means during the first seven days of January, when people didn’t work, we did all these, but from the other side, I don't want the NSS to be on the frontline, we just don't publicize and don't make noise over it.
- You don’t want or…? There was information saying some people in Government were jealous of your rising popularity.
- No, no, I don’t want. After the so-called non-violent velvet revolution that took place in April, the NSS had a lot to do, and there was a public demand, but if you remember, I said, from the beginning of my service, that I thought that the NSS excessive publicity was wrong and little by little the NSS should go in the shadow. I kept my promise, but this doesn’t mean we won’t be accountable to the society and media. We don't have any constraint to disclose any crime irrespective of persons, incidents and the people involved, but let’s put “detain, close, blood” this everything aside, and let people unite and start working to make our country prosperous.
The Prime Minister stated that he would make an economic revolution after the elections, and taking this opportunity, I call upon the society to roll up their sleeves and work day and night for their well-being, as well as for ensuring the development of the country. We will do our job, we firmly stand at the core of the state security protection, we work day and night for our citizens to be protected, to live in a safe environment, but everyone should work and strengthen our economy, because all our defense system or security would mean nothing if we do not develop economically. We will provide security, you deal with country’s prosperity. Let all become rich, being rich is a good thing, let people become rich, live well, satisfy their needs but only in a legal way. Once there was a situation in the country that even short stories were made: the NSS was coming after who was rich, lay them down and take away their property. No, we are only happy, that people become rich and live well.
- By the way, recently the press has frequently been touching upon your family business, that the SRC has even initiated a case of abuse in your father's flower business, is there your sponsorship…?
- You know, I feel very bad when such false information is written, after that you are obliged to refute and protect yourself. Eventually it was found out, wasn’t it? Neither the SRC had initiated the case nor my car had been given as a bribe: My father has gratuitously given for use to the NSS. I repeat once more that there is no constraint to detect any crime irrespective of individuals, incidents and people who are involved.
- And finally, we noticed that you continue to move around accompanied by many body-guards. Do the threats directed against your security, about which you have announced, continue?
- Unfortunately yes, there are threats, yes, I move around with body-guards and an armored car; anyway, it is better to secure ourselves of sudden accidents that may happen to us because we receive much information. Of course, it does not mean they sit and say, well, let us go and kill Vanetsyan; but we feel danger and we protect ourselves so that if anything accidentally happens, no one will be able to say that Vanetsyan could not protect himself.