Dr. Antonio Díaz
(Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Burgos, Spain)

Copyright: www.rieas.gr

At the structural level, Spanish intelligence after transition to democracy came about without a prior blueprint, and was turned into a hotchpotch of bureaucracies (Defence, Interior, and Foreign Affairs) that competed for this emerging area of the Administration dedicated to intelligence and information gathering. Up until about 1995, enormous strains and overlapping responsibilities were evident, while attempts by the Prime Minister’s office to establish order and assign specific tasks to the different agencies were to no avail. Although the idea of coordination and of having an Intelligence Community (IC) appeared in political speeches as long ago as 1976, the first time that Spain attempted to give some real substance to the idea was in the mid-1980s.

With the aim of coordinating the diverse information on the struggle against terrorism that was reaching the Prime Minister, a minimum unit of six persons was set up at the Moncloa palace (the location of the Prime Minister’s Office), comprising two members of the Civil Guard, two Police officers and two agents of the CESID (former intelligence service 1977-2002); nonetheless, the different agencies boycotted these attempts and actually brought them to a halt after the celebrations of 1992 (the Barcelona Olympics and the Seville Expo). Since then, only a few structures of anti-terrorist coordination have survived, and with considerable tensions, that often serve as a stage for the deep disagreements that exist between the different security structures.

The result of all these projects was in vain. It was not until a decade later, in the law of May 6, 2002 that regulates the National Intelligence Center (Centro Nacional de Inteligencia) that, for the first time, an explicit reference was made in a legal text to the IC. To give definitive birth to this concept, the Spanish legislators chose an indirect and rather peculiar means. They avoided an outright definition of the IC and, after defining the new Government Delegated Committee for Intelligence Affairs (Comisión Delegada del Gobierno para Asuntos de Inteligencia), the constituent components of which they did enumerate, they then indicated in Article 6.1 that this Committee “will monitor the proper coordination of all the information and intelligence services of the State so as to establish an intelligence community”.

With regard to the direction of the IC it seems clear that this falls to the office of the Deputy Prime Minister. Nonetheless, the possible practical consequences of the provisions of the law on the CNI makes it plain that the day-to-day work cannot be carried out by the Deputy Prime Minister but will remain in the hands of the director of the CNI.

This very vague and guarded way of giving birth to the IC was due to the opinion that it would be impossible to complete a thorough design of an IC with strictly defined functions. What was intended was, once and for all, to give a legal basis to a sufficiently diffuse legal structure, which successive governments would later be able to invest with meaning. Thus they avoided the enormous resistance from the relevant Administrations that would have been generated by any clear distribution of competences and responsibilities, above all, at a time when the CNI was reviving past bureaucratic struggles between ministries. So there is a an urgent need for reflection at the highest level on the model of community that Spain needs and wants, and its consequent formalization so that all the actors involved will know what kind of model the Executive wants, the role to be played by each actor and the mechanisms to be followed for its coordination and control.

The Spanish security system is quite secretive. The law that regulates access to official secrets dates back to 1968. Tinkered with in 1978, with the aim of adapting those authorities that had powers to classify and declassify information, it is a preconstitutional law as it was promulgated before the Spanish Constitution. The law defines top secret material – that of the highest level – and confidential material, at a lower level; nevertheless, NATO membership meant having to use an equivalent classification system. However, our system does not automatically declassify material after a certain period. This, coupled with it being a highly unusual practice, makes it tremendously difficult to declassify any document however old it might be. Deputies have the constitutional right to access any information generated by the Administration.

In order to facilitate this, an Official Secrets Committee was established made up of the spokespersons of the different parliamentary groups that form part of the Congress of Deputies. However, it is of little use, and has only been employed following some scandals when deputies wish to consult these types of documents. Nonetheless, the lack of experience among deputies in these matters means that this committee is of practically no use whatsoever. This situation did not improve with the reform in 2002 and, in conclusion, the control of the intelligence system, even though is managed by a triple pillar (executive, legislative and judicial), is still very limited.

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