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Searching candidate for National Intelligence Director

The director of the National Intelligence Center (CNI) is in an interim situation. The Intelligence Services’ director cannot be in such a situation and if it has arrived to this point it is because of a political reason. The objective of this analysis is to offer a series of reflections regarding the political approach of the Intelligence Services.

The CNI’s Regulatory Law establishes a five-year term with the possibility to renovate, which happened with the previous director General Félix Sanz Roldán who served from July 2009 to 2014 and continued from 2014 until 2019. Ten years is a long time and to exhaust the second mandate knowing the date of departure without having indicated a substitution manifests defects at the Executive Power level. This observation would be made by any organizational development consultancy.

Because of the absence of a director, its functions are taken over by the general secretary Paz Esteban López. She is the first woman in charge of the Spanish Intelligence Services. Since the Spanish Government remains in office, she still does not have the rank of Secretary of State. It is worth asking if an Executive who still does not know how and with whom to agree to reach a parliamentary majority understands what an Intelligence Service is for and if it sees it as a vital advisory body and therefore, if it is willing to fully comply with the consequences of supporting the missions to dissuade and confront the threats that Spain faces today.

Often the remedy in this type of organizations lies inside and not outside. Having a candidate proposed by the director would be the solution to this interim situation, however, there was no candidate in 2014 nor in 2019. The CNI has three souls: the military, the police and the civilian and perhaps it is time to trust all three. The new director should have experience in planning and strategy, like Esteban López. His situation recalls that of Stella Rimington – general director of the British MI5 – whose memoirs titled Open Secret – I highly recommend to read to better understand the reaction of politicians when they have to address issues of Intelligence.

It is convenient not to politicize Intelligence because it means vitiating it and one of the best parameters to measure a democracy is precisely the situation of these services: transparency, law enforcement, regulation, financing, etc. In the case of seeking a new Secretary of State Director (SED-CNI), the profile should meet three conditions. First, his appointment should not coincide with electoral periods in the sake of strengthening the vision of the State, of disrupting party interests and of making it easier to validate by the Government and the opposition; second, the new SED-CNI should have international experience meaning that he knows languages and he has traveled around the globe; lastly, if possible he should be comfortable with the end of his professional activity to avoid incompatibilities after the mandate.

An interim contract covers temporarily a job during a selection process, which is why it is also referred to as a replacement contract. Intelligence Services do not deserve interimness nor temporality. A closer relationship between civil society, politics and the intelligence community is appropriate. It is not enough to give lectures, organize courses or go to the Official Secrets Commission. It is necessary to talk about threats, an uncomfortable issue for a political culture installed in the Welfare State and focused with winning elections resulting on a short-term mindset.

It is not easy to talk about the Intelligence services because it is a topic prone to raise suspicions, conspiracies and a variety of nonsense keeping in the dark the valuable work that these men and women do. Our intention is that this important tool of the State is understood and valued. It is because of it that this situation of interim cannot happen again.

Gabriel Cortina, Diploma in Higher Studies of National Defense (CESEDEN)

Responsibility for the opinions set out in this analysis lies entirely with the author.

English version: Valeria Nadal

Photo: Ministerio de Defensa