EMC responds to the State Security Service's annual report, and considers problematic the number of arguments in the document that contribute to the marginalization of specific groups. These arguments enhance the rhetoric of security and control, not only with regard to the occupied territories, but also in terms of dealing with so-called hybrid threats. At the same time, the report contains only superficial and populist information about occupation, counter-terrorism and other sensitive issues,which makes it virtually impossible for both the parliament and the public to supervise and monitor effectively the activities of the agency.

On April 14th of the present year, the State Security Service submitted its annual report to the Parliament of Georgia. This procedure is one of the main mechanisms for assuring the accountability of the State Security Service. Thus it is essential that the report, prepared by one of the most influential and powerful official bodies in the country, be both detailed and informative so that parliament and society can actually have the opportunity to assess the effectiveness and legitimacy of the agency's activities.

An essential problem is that the SSSG does not have a strategy or action plan for its policy. Such a strategy or plan would be based on specific political, social and legal goals, and would include the activities of both this agency and other government agencies as a whole. The lack of any strategy or plan increases the risk of arbitrariness, and promotes the dominance of security measures in politics and approaches, and complicates the examination of political expediency and the compliance with human rights standards in relation to the activities of the agency as a whole. The issue of the relations and coordination of SSSG with other state agencies is also problematic, as the report does not explain how these relations and this coordination are organized.

The report views the occupation, and the so-called dangers associated with hybrid warfare through the narrow 'prism' of security concerns, rather than taking a broader and more comprehensive view. Consequently, militaristic and control mechanisms are used as the main tools to combat these threats. However, it is not clear how much the state is trying to use political mechanisms to transform the conflict and engage in dialogue to address these problems. At the same time, the report provides only general information on the measures taken to reduce the impact of foreign intelligence services. Therefore, it is impossible to evaluate the activities carried out by SSSG in this respect.

The report shows the multi-ethnicity of the Georgian population as a potential precondition for encouraging separatism and hostility. This shows once again how problematic is the state's approach to ethnic minorities, how the security measures for these groups encourage their exclusion, and how the issues of inclusion, equality and participation of these groups are left in the background.

The report also sees the events of June 20th as an attempt to destabilize the country and create unrest. However, it does not assess the previous events, which led to a large-scale protest in front of the Georgian Parliament. Even in this case, instead of analyzing the causes of public dissatisfaction, the focus is shifted to the potential dangers that might have followed from this dissatisfaction.

Overall, the report does not actually look at the socio-economic and political analysis of the existing challenges, and the issue is seen from the extremely narrow perspective of security concerns. The vast majority of problems are perceived as provoked and encouraged by outside forces, which, within the logic of this narrow perspective, ultimately requires further strengthening of control and counter-terrorism mechanisms.

In this context, the seclusion and secrecy of the State Security Service is particularly problematic. It is alarming that the main tool for accountability of the agency over the years is the annual report, which does not contain enough information to actually assess the activities of the agency. Significant components of the service's activities, such as counterintelligence and anti-terrorist activities, remain beyond substantial consideration. The secluded nature of the agency also complicates the supervision of investigative and operational activities. For its part, the mechanisms of parliamentary accountability that exist today do not guarantee the professional and expert supervision of the SSSG, and the issue is left entirely to the political arena.

Critiques of just a few aspects of the report document on which EMC has worked are presented below. Accordingly, the organization does not claim to make a  a full assessment of the agency and its report.

 

Weak analytical apparatus and an undue focus on security issues

The document is essentially devoid of conceptual definitions and does not contain a theoretical framework for standards and policy aims. The document does not review the political concept of security, which is based on the strategy and activities of the agency. Security in the report is understood by the old (post WW2) paradigm, which focuses only on the protection of the state system (its military, security, etc.) and considers the state as its object of protection, and not in the modern understanding of security, which expands and deepens the concept and claims that the purpose of security is the prosperity and peace of human beings and social groups, and therefore, protection from economic, social, environmental threats is of critical importance. In the modern sense, the meaning of security is to emancipate people and social groups, aiming to protect against risks and challenges for the sake of their freedom, well-being, and development. Accordingly, beyond the militaristic external threats to the security system, poverty, exclusion, weak education systems, pandemics, environmental disasters, etc. are also seen as challenges. Modern security systems take into account the fact that deprivation of rights, social deprivation, and frustration increase security risks and weaken individual social groups within society and the state, and for a stable and peaceful political environment, the state must eliminate the structural causes of exclusion in the first place. Unfortunately, such an understanding of security is completely missing from the SSSG report, and it is seen as an end in itself and not an opportunity to protect the rights, well-being and peace offered to people and social groups. The document is completely devoid of progressive political ideas and does not even mention the value system on which the security system should stand. Under these conditions, it is symptomatic that the document does not cover all security dimensions, does not divide individual, communal, national and international security aspects and does not discuss, for example, social security, environmental security, or community security issues.[1] Seeing security only in a foreign / geopolitical sense makes the security system fragile and deprives it of any relevance to social interests.

 

Explanations made by various agencies show that the service defines security in a narrow sense, with the result that the service largely analyzes the established security risks and consequences and completely excludes any discussion of the historical, political, economic, social and cultural reasons behind those risks. Clearly, discussing challenges and processes in isolation from a historical and social context makes it difficult to fully grasp reality and carry out a systematic, preventive policy. This approach, however, completely deprives particular social groups (for example, non-dominant ethnic / religious groups) of their agency and turns them into mere instruments.

 

Problematic approaches regarding the conflict regions  

The document discusses essentially the geopolitical threats from Russia with regard to the occupied territories, and describes Russia's expansionist policy as a major challenge. However, the document clearly shows that the agency is not interested in the ongoing local political, economic and social processes in the occupied Abkhazia and Tskhinvali regions, nor in their impact on the long-term transformation of the conflict. In a situation where the government is trying to pursue a policy of reconciliation and trust with the Abkhazian and Ossetian peoples in parallel with the policy of non-recognition and de-occupation, this aspect of the policy is not even mentioned in the SSSG report. The document does not review the ongoing important political processes in these regions, even for analytical purposes. This deprives local politics and agents of their importance and agency, and hinders systemic work on conflict transformation.

The agency's vision for policies and systemic measures to ensure security and promote human rights in conflict areas is also unclear. The report describes only descriptively the difficulties encountered by the government in 2019 in the occupied territories and in the current bilateral and multilateral formats, although it does not offer a critical analysis of these processes nor does it offer positive alternatives regarding political formats. This question is all the more relevant when the IPRM (Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism) no longer works following the complicated security and political processes of 2019, and the platforms for dialogue and joint work are extremely limited.

The report also says nothing about the lockdown in the Tskhinvali region on September 4, 2019, which was linked to the opening of the Chorchana checkpoint. Among other things, the document does not speak about the expediency of opening the checkpoint and what the state actually did to stop the isolation of the Tskhinvali region, including Akhalgori, in response to the humanitarian crisis. 

The issue of preventive measures taken by the state in connection with the illegal kidnappings and detentions of our citizens is also unclear. The document does not show how much the SSSG or the police carry out patrols around the so-called border and what strategy the state has in this regard. It should be noted that the local population criticizes the Georgian government in this respect due to weakened patrolling and police control in the villages by the border.

 

The hybrid warfare

Although the document does not address much of the hybrid warfare and Russian soft power issues, it does not explain or analyze the schemes and details of how these practices operate in Georgia, including its political, media and civic interests. Given the recent polarization of society, the creation of social conflicts and the practice of violence by ultra-conservative groups, it is important that the government should list these groups and separate from them clearly, especially when there is criticism and a sense of government loyalty towards these groups. Unfortunately, the document also does not present the aims and strategies that the state should use to mitigate the impact of soft power in this process, and to pursue a positive information policy.

The interest in safeguarding national security, beyond the interest in territorial integrity and the normal functioning of state systems, essentially implies the right of a nation / citizens to self-determination. and to determine its policy and agenda autonomously. Excessive influence on the political agenda by those groups under foreign influence clearly show that citizens have the right to know more about the funding, interests, and ideologies of these groups.

It should be noted that the document also does not cover the analysis of the current political and social processes in Russia, which once again shows the weakness of the analytical approach of the agency and its work.

 

The problem of discussing ethnic minorities in terms of a threat  

The report still highlights ethnic minorities as a threat and deepens the alienation of non-dominant groups. The document reads: "Georgia, due to its ethnic and religious diversity, is constantly in danger of escalating hostility and separatist manifestations." However, the reasoning of the agency in this regard is completely vague, unspecified and problematic. It does not name specific countries or agents that could be encouraging the move toward separatism. Among them, it does not mention the Russian Federation in this respect, while in the context of other neighboring countries, it is constantly emphasizing partnership and cooperation. Under these conditions, it is unclear exactly what types of risks does it see in relation to ethnic minorities and why does it openly create "the enemy image" in connection with minorities.

It is obvious that marking ethnic minorities as a threat and as “others”, ultimately has a substantial impact on integration policy. Connecting ethnic minorities with other countries deepens alienation and abolishes their agency and civic identification. It is clear from the text that from the point of view of SSSG, these groups do not have a chance to act as independent agents and there is always a high probability that they will fall under the influences of other countries or actors. Clearly, this approach makes it legitimate to pursue a policy based on security and control in the regions densely populated by minorities.

According to our estimation, it is a policy based on excessive control and security. It is not a policy of integration, equality and participation, such as would help build a more inclusive, fair and ultimately more stable state and society. This approach once again demonstrates the government’s narrow understanding of security, which is focused on outcomes rather than causes, and control, rather than inclusion and protection. This reasoning developed in the report not only exposes the problem of the SSSG's misrepresentation of non-dominant ethnic and religious groups, but also ultimately reveals the SSSG's misunderstanding of the state, which instead of an inclusive and equal understanding of citizenship, is based on ethnic and religious markers and hierarchies.

The document does not address systemic challenges related to integration and the creation of an equal legal, political and social environment for the integration of ethnic minorities. The agency is not interested in the problems of  the exclusion, isolation, or deprivation of these groups and discusses them without social context. Clearly, this approach shifts the responsibility of state policy away from taking action to protect the rights of minorities and promote inclusion. Not a single word in the document mentions the importance of equality, inclusion, and the importance of a multiethnic and multireligious environment. It is unfortunate that the agency does not even consider the social consequences and perceptions of exclusion that ethnic and religious minorities can face after becoming aware of such a state document written in this tone.

The guidelines on the influence of external forces on young people in non-dominant ethnic and religious groups are also vague in the document, and it completely excludes the shortcomings of the state education policy for ethnic minorities. Among them is the difficulty that the local Armenian and Azerbaijani communities have pointed out over the years, and which is directly related to the use of textbooks imported from Azerbaijan and Armenia (and, consequently, containing the political and historical narratives of these countries). 

Unfortunately, SSSG, in the report, reiterates the conspiracy theory regarding the confrontation of local communities over the hydroelectric power plants promoted by the interested companies and by irresponsible politicians. The document reads: “In 2019, there were attempts by some forces to polarize the population regarding the construction of hydroelectric power plants. There was a strong confrontation between the population and the state“. A year has passed since the events in Pankisi, and it seems that the agency did not have the analytical apparatus and methods to actually assess the social causes of local unrest, including legitimate environmental arguments related to the construction of the hydroelectric power plant series. Neglecting local contexts and not having an analytical apparatus in this regard, SSSG once again shows fundamental flaws in its work. Although the Prime Minister himself acknowledged the mistakes of the police action organized in Pankisi, SSSG does not even look at the issue analytically and its discussion is limited to superficial conspiracy theories.

It is important to point out that the instructions on destructive forces contained in the report are way too abstract, wherein the agency fails to clarify, using any political or legal standards, precisely which actors and which types of practices they consider to be destructive,. Clearly, this points to the superficiality of the agency's work and continues to be dominated by the approach of conspiracy theories and the creation of "enemy images."

 

The policy of returning women and children from Syria

The report focuses on the return of the fighters of Islamic State and their families to Georgia. The agency considered the return of fighters to Georgia as a threat from the very beginning, however, the document states that in terms of letting their wives and children back into the country the approach of SSSG is based on international practice and considers all cases individually. However, the document does not specify which international approaches the agency uses and how the cases are handled. Gathering information about individuals is justified by the lack of diplomatic relations with Syria, although no attention has been paid to other alternative mechanisms, including the assistance of third, friendly countries and international organizations. The state does not have a unified strategy for the return and rehabilitation of family members of fighters fighting in Syria. The report formally states that the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism addresses this issue, although the document contains only a declaration stating that the state understands the importance of studying the challenges facing women, girls and children in terms of terrorism and extremism. Given the need for the return and rehabilitation of women and children in this category in Georgia, it would be helpful if SSSG presented more tangible and specific views and policies in this regard.  

 

Skipping the causes of the radicalization of ultra-right groups

The report focuses on the radicalization of ultra-conservative groups. However, their plan, including the geopolitical and ideological factors are not discussed in detail. The agency sees them as a homogeneous group and does not discuss the local social, economic and political reasons that could lead to the mobilization of young people in such groups. The document also does not review the state's concept of preventive policy and approaches to these groups.

The document does not specify whether the agency has developed a special strategy to study, assess and prevent threats from extremist groups. It does not explain these terms either. The report notes that due to its preventive function, recommendations were systematically shared with the central government, although the document did not specify when and in connection with what events, or what substantive recommendations were issued, and what were their impacts on ongoing processes.

The report indicated that the agency worked on exposing the individuals involved in the far-right groups, however, it is not clear which mechanisms provided by the law did the state use in relation to the detected individuals including the information about the investigation and prosecution of the crimes committed by the far-right groups during the reporting year. According to order N3 of the General Prosecutor of Georgia of August 3, 2019 on the Determination of the Investigative and Territorial Investigation Subordination of Criminal Cases, the crimes that constitute racial discrimination or violation of human equality are subject to the investigative oversight of the SSSG.  Yet, the report does not mention the SSSG’s investigation of the crime and its response.

 

Fighting against terrorism

In its review of the Counter-Terrorism Policy Review, the report completely omits the review of the counterterrorism operation on Monk Salosi Street and other criminal cases related to it, which are still under investigation. Against the background of the high public interest in these cases and the criticism of SSSG, the reason for their omission may be an attempt to avoid this criticism.

Conclusion

In view of the above, the EMC considers that it is essential that the Parliament should:

  • Ensure that the State Security Service's institutional arrangement and policy reform process is initiated and that it is brought into line with modern security concepts and systems;
  • Instruct the State Security Service to keep the information in the report comprehensive and based on research and tangible data;
  • Ensure that the review of the report is substantial, reasoned, and possibly transparent. In this regard, it is important in the process to establish consultations and discussion formats with human rights agents in Parliament.

Footnote and Bibliography

[1] Note: It is clear that the implementation of such a security policy cannot be the sole competence of the SSS, and it essentially implies effective coordination and cooperation between the various state agencies.