NATO Centres of Excellence: A Security Threat?

It is essential for the American public to understand that post-Soviet countries still struggle with their past. Their new military or civilian structures may be filled with people whose allegiance is unclear. Those dubious connections may pose a serious security threat to the entire NATO structure. This existential threat needs to be properly understood and taken into account when evaluating the actions of the newly elected Polish government and the radical changes it introduces. Those changes have justification that can be easily investigated. However, they require thorough and fair media reporting, including a better understanding of the reality in post-Soviet countries. Otherwise, we run the risk of NATO infiltration by foreign intelligence services.

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By Maria Juczewska | March 8, 2016

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A legitimate night raid by the new Polish authorities neutralized a suspected nest of FSB operatives and its native collaborators ensconced at the Warsaw NATO Centre for Excellence counter-intelligence offices on December 18, 2015.

According to NATO’s website “Centres of Excellence (COEs) are international military organisations that train and educate leaders and specialists from NATO member and partner countries. They assist in doctrine development, identify lessons learned, improve interoperability and capabilities, and test and validate concepts through experimentation. They offer recognised expertise and experience that is of benefit to the Alliance, and support the transformation of NATO.” However, “NATO does not directly fund COEs nor are they part of the NATO command structure.” The Warsaw COE is based at a temporary location and is still awaiting accreditation.

The counter-intelligence office was founded just before the conclusion of the previous Polish administration’s term of office in 2015. It was staffed by former members of the Polish Military Counter-intelligence Service – SKW. This organization enjoyed peculiar rights. According to a 2006 law, it was allowed to cooperate with intelligence services of other countries. However, any such cooperation had to be authorized by the Prime Minister upon consultation with the Minister of Defense.

It seems that this right was used in a perverted and illegal way in April 2010. At that time, suddenly, following the crash of the Polish presidential plane in Smolensk, the SKW and the Russian FSB signed a secret cooperation agreement. On the Polish side only Janusz Nosek, the head of SKW at the time, and Bronislaw Komorowski, the acting President of Poland, knew about it. Apparently, none of the authorities specified in the 2006 bill had been informed. The Prime Minister and his Minister of Defense found out about Poland’s cooperation with the FSB only at the end of 2011 from a parliamentary report.

Thus, the agreement signed in April 2010 was rubberstamped by then-Prime Minister Donald Tusk retroactively, not earlier than November 2011. This means that for 18 months the FSB had access to the Polish military counter-intelligence data beyond any control stipulated by the bill. None on the Polish side who had authorized this state of affairs wielded the power to do so legally and NATO authorities were not informed. The latter lacked information about how long, how frequent, and how detailed the contacts between SKW and FSB were; and there were quite a few.

In the period between April 2010 and December 2014, despite the Russian intervention in Ukraine, the cooperation of the two services flourished. The FSB organized at least one professional training exercise for the SKW members on Russian Federation territory. Russian intelligence officers also visited SKW in Poland. Whenever they did, neither their arrivals nor departures were registered in the visitor’s log. Even though they apparently were frequent visitors at the Warsaw SKW headquarters, not a single personal pass ID card (indispensable for entry into the highly guarded facility) was ever officially issued to an FSB operative. They entered the SKW premises in their own unauthorized and unsearched vehicle, at least once.

When the Counter-intelligence Centre of Excellence in Warsaw was formed, many of the former SKW employees were employed there. The head of the Centre, Col. Krzysztof Dusza was one of them. Following the Polish elections of October 2015, the new Minister of Defense requested Col. Dusza to report to him directly at the Ministry of Defense. The soldier flatly refused claiming that as the head of the Centre of Excellence he did not answer to the Polish Minister of Defense but to the NATO authorities directly.

Yet, the Centre has not been officially accredited by NATO. What is more, COEs are not a part of the NATO command structure at all. It was an unsupervised “international research center” in an allied capitol having extra-legal relations with Moscow’s intelligence services. And, the Centre’s head, Col. Dusza, disobeyed a direct order.

This strange behavior of a military member refusing to recognize his chain of command raised additional red flags. Thus, the night time takeover of the Centre of Excellence was organized as a high security measure. The Western media became weirdly fixated on the night time of the raid, failing to see its true purpose – both in terms of national and alliance security.

Meanwhile, the results of the rapid measures were well-justified. The state of affairs in the hoping-soon-to-be-accredited NATO counter-intelligence center was far from professional. On the contrary, signed blank checks and other documents ranging from secret to top-secret were found in unsecured cabinets and drawers. A particularly symbolic discovery was made in the office of the head of the Centre. In it, the Polish coat of arms remained discreetly hidden behind a window blind, while the FSB emblem was displayed for everyone to see.

All the facts described above were made public in Poland by Rzeczpospolita daily and Niezalezna portal on various occasions between 2013 and 2015. They can be found, read, and analyzed by anyone. That is why I was surprised when no FSB-related fact made its way into the American press commenting only on “a night raid on a NATO facility,” for example, the Wall Street Journal of December 18, 2015.

It is essential for the American public to understand that post-Soviet countries still struggle with their past. Their new military or civilian structures may be filled with people whose allegiance is unclear. Those dubious connections may pose a serious security threat to the entire NATO structure. This existential threat needs to be properly understood and taken into account when evaluating the actions of the newly elected Polish government and the radical changes it introduces. Those changes have justification that can be easily investigated. However, they require thorough and fair media reporting, including a better understanding of the reality in post-Soviet countries. Otherwise, we run the risk of NATO infiltration by foreign intelligence services.


Maria Juczewska is working on an MA in international affairs at the Institute of World Politics in Washington, DC, where she is a research assistant to the Kościuszko Chair of Polish Studies. Ms. Juczewska is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.