Government pushes ahead with secret service shake-up.jpg

Government pushes ahead with secret service shake-up

PORTUGAL’S SECRET services are undergoing their biggest reorganisation since the 1980s.

Instead of having their own independent, structured organisational hierarchy co-operating alongside, but working outside governmental department direct influence, their members are to be absorbed into governmental ministries, as part of the civil service.

Since the PS government came into power nearly two years ago, it has been amalgamating government departments and services in a bid to cut costs and slim-line the Portuguese bureaucracy. However, there are those that argue that the very nature of espionage service work means, that in order to operate effectively, they cannot be directly legally, or administratively, tied to government departments or ministries, but must operate independently.  

Up until now, the Serviço de Informações de Segurança (SIS) and the Serviço de Informações Estratégicas de Defesa (SIED), Portugal’s versions of the British MI5 and MI6 services, came under the umbrella organisation of the Gabinete do Secretário-Geral do Sistema de Informações Da República Portuguesa (SIRP). Now, they will belong to the Portuguese Council of Ministers (PCM) and their agents will act as a bridge between that organisation and the various government ministries.

The most recent case of integrating Portugal’s SIS and SIED ‘spooks’ into the public administration occurred in August, when both the Finance Minister, Fernando Teixeira dos Santos and Jorge Lação, Secretary of State for the Council of Ministers, decided to rescind the administrative contracts of SIS and SIED co-workers.      

Rui Pereira, former director of SIS between 1997 and 2000 explained the integration of SIS and SIED employees into the Portuguese civil service by saying: “The legal framework existing now was defined in the 1980s (when SIRP was created) and was set up to avoid a rigid bond to the civil service, in order to avoid the kind of legal complications that can occur when agents leave one service or another.”

Bettencourt Picanço, President of the Sindicato dos Quadros Técnicos do Estado (STE), the State Worker’s Union said there was no justification to integrate secret service employees into the civil service, which does not have the professional development and training profile for this kind of clandestine work.