Bulgaria’s Parliament elected Vladimir Pisanchev as director of the State Agency for National Security (SANS) on July 19, with 104 votes in favour, one against and 14 abstentions.
Before the vote was held, Prime Minister Plamen Oresharski said in his address to MPs that he opted to nominate “a man from within the system” because of the “high public sensitivity”, a reference to the failed Delyan Peevski appointment to the position last month, which sparked the – still ongoing – anti-government protests in Bulgaria.
Oresharski said that by appointing Pisanchev, the MPs will be maintaining the status quo; Pisanchev has been serving as interim director for the past month, ever since Parliament rescinded its decision to appoint Peevski.
In a short address to MPs, Pisanchev said that his top priorities would be the economic crisis, which he described at the biggest threat to national security and fighting contraband. According to Oresharski, one of the main criteria for judging Pisanchev’s performance will be SANS’s co-operation with the National Revenue Service and improving tax and excise revenue collection.
Speaking with the one-year anniversary of the Sarafovo terrorist attack fresh in memory – although he appeared to stumble and refer to it as Sarajevo – Pisanchev said that Bulgaria should learn its lessons and ensure that another such attack does not happen agin.
Opposition party GERB continued its boycott of Parliament. The one vote against the appointment came from socialist MP Mladen Chervenyakov, a member of the internal security and public peace committee, Bulgarian National Television said. Chervenyakov declined to explain his decision, saying that he gave his reasoning during the nomination hearing by the committee overseeing security services
Socialist MP Georgi Kadiev, who said that he was not persuaded that Pisanchev had the required ethical standards to be SANS director, abstained. He said that the reason for his doubts lay in the Galeria case and added that he did not accept Pisanchev’s justification that he was merely following orders.
The Galeria controversy in 2008 was the first time Pisanchev, then the head of the security department of SANS, became known to the wider public as the man in charge of a large-scale eavesdropping operation.
Meant to ascertain whether SANS employees had leaked confidential information to the media, the internal investigation code-named Galeria had become a “witch-hunt against journalists”, SANS spokesperson Zoya Dimitrova said at the time.
Among those eavesdropped on were a number of MPs in the socialist-led tripartite government coalition of the time, as well as journalists and senior SANS officials, including the current Interior Minister Tsvetlin Yovchev, then a department head at the agency.
Last week, parts of the investigation were made public, but not enough to ascertain how wide-spread the eavesdropping was. However, the documents made public showed that it was Petko Sertov, then SANS director, who authorised the eavesdropping, rather than Pisanchev.
Some local media critical of the Oresharski administration, interpreted the decision to declassify some of the files as an attempt to dispel some of the controversy surrounding Pisanchev and make his appointment more palatable.
(Vladimir Pisanchev. Screengrab from Bulgarian National Television)