Despite assurances by prime minister António Costa that there is “nothing to worry about”, NATO officials are on their way to Portugal to try and find out how a known-risk security agent seems to have been able to sell “very secret documents” to the Russians, very possibly for years.
The inquiry is hoping to pinpoint failings in the Portuguese security system and identify possible “accomplices” that might have helped Frederico Carvalho Gil, 57, “from the inside”.
According to Diário de Notícias, NATO’s Security Office – “one of the largest structures of NATO headquarters in Le Mons, Belgium” – has been in touch with Portugal’s national security office (GNS), “responsible for guarding the classified material of all international organisations”, and a visit to GNS HQ at Forte da Ameixoeira in Lisbon is due “within the next few days”.
Meantime, Gil and his purported Russian intelligence handler remain in jail in Italy, and are both due to be extradited to Portugal possibly as soon as next weekend.
As US intelligence expert John R Schindler told the BBC earlier this week (click here), Gil’s alleged activities are being seen as “deadly serious”.
Documents recovered following Gil’s arrest in Rome almost two weeks ago (click here) included a number of “secret” and “very secret” reports – the unauthorised publication of which “could be exceptionally grave for NATO”.
The problem for Portugal with this developing story, explains DN, is that it comes at a moment when NATO’s parliamentary assembly has just declared Russian (once again) to be Public Enemy No. 1.
“We are facing a new situation in which Russia has declared NATO as an adversary”, president of the assembly Michael Turner said on Monday when the alliance’s 28 member states defended the need for a “collective defence” to respond to the “Russian threat”, said the paper.
For now, no sanctions on Portugal seem likely as a result of Gil’s alleged activities. “The main objective (of NATO officials’ visit) will be to evaluate the vulnerabilities that lead to the leak and find solutions to ensure it doesn’t happen again”, a source has told DN.
Though publically, Costa has come out with platitudes, saying Gil is “an isolated case” and that “one swallow doesn’t make a Spring”, behind the scenes the case is being taken very seriously, said the source, and concern “over the credibility of the country before international organisations is large”.
GNS – THE GUARDIANS OF SECRETS
Diário de Notícias’ report today explains the workings of Portugal’s Gabinete Nacional de Segurança (GNS), explaining that it makes more enemies than friends – “particularly among politicians” – in its zeal to guard secrets.
Run under tight military precision by former naval admiral José Torres Sobral, GNS played a “key role suspending a plan by the last government, inspired by former minister Miguel Relvas, which consisted of combining all databases, including that of GNS, in a centre to be run by a private company”.
GNS apparently dug-in-its-heels “and this was one of the main reasons for the plan being altered”.
Another ‘victory’ in the interests of secrecy was the fact that GNS has ensured that the national centre for cybersecurity is “located in its bunker” and that operatives are recruited from top universities.
The objective, explains DN, is to keep “commercial interests” well out of the picture.