Bulgaria’s security agency head faces resignation calls after addressing Parliament on anti-terror raid
The head of Bulgaria’s State Agency for National Security (SANS), Vladimir Pisanchev, has come under harsh political criticism from parties in government after his performance addressing a closed session of Parliament on anti-terror operations earlier this week.
The minority partner in the coalition cabinet, the centre-right Reformist Bloc, confirmed that during the behind-closed-doors sitting of the National Assembly, it had called for Pisanchev to resign.
Reformist Bloc MP General Atanas Atanassov, formerly with Bulgaria’s counter-intelligence service, told reporters, “we could not understand whether in Bulgaria there are radical Islamic sleeper cells, but we did understand that there is a sleeping cell, and that is SANS”.
Atanassov described Pisanchev’s briefing as “pointless and meaningless”.
The deputy leader of the majority partner in the coalition cabinet, former interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov, said that Pisanchev had failed to answer MPs’ questions.
Tsvetanov said, “we are highly concerned about the fact that Mr Pisanchev said that they were ‘watching’ the process but they have to know that one of SANS’s main functions is to counteract, not watch”.
SANS had no initiative, Tsvetanov said.
“We did not hear anything meaningful from him,” said Tsvetanov, who said that Pisanchev appeared to have forgotten that Bulgaria was a parliamentary republic and that Parliament was his “employer”.
GERB wanted legislative amendments in view of the changing dynamics of the security environment, Tsvetanov said.
At the early stages of the November 27 proceedings in the National Assembly, MPs for far-right Ataka walked out, dismissing the hearing as a “farce”.
After the briefing to MPs, Pisanchev confirmed to reporters that there had been MPs who had called for him to resign, but he declined to disclose who they were. He said that he would be prepared to resign if Parliament wanted this but indicated that he had no immediate plans to do so.
“I was accused of minimalism, but no matter. I think everyone had the opportunity express an opinion.”
Pisanchev told reporters that there was no immediate terrorist threat to Bulgaria, but said that there was still danger: There is such a risk, because we have a conflict that is growing. We have a real threat that we must be very careful about”.
Meanwhile, Hussein Hafuzov, an MP for the Movement for Rights and Freedoms – the party led and supported in the main by Bulgarians of Turkish ethnicity, many of them Muslim – told reporters on November 26 that the raid the previous day was groundless and he saw it as a political move made in support of the propaganda of “a certain political formation” – likely a reference to the Patriotic Front, the nationalist coalition currently supporting the government.
Pisanchev became head of SANS in July 2013 after the abortive appointment of Delyan Peevski prompted widespread public protests. Pisanchev had been appointed deputy head of SANS in 2012 by Boiko Borissov, then in his first term of office as head of government.
SANS came into existence in January 2008 after being legislated by the then-tripartite coalition led by the Bulgarian Socialist Party.
In 2013, under the now-departed ruling axis, the National Centre for Combating Organised Crime was merged into it, a move that the current government is expected to reverse.
Interior Ministry Act amendments being proposed by GERB would appear to open the way, if approved, to oust Pisanchev as head of SANS.