Eighteenth edition of the N&O column / Spooks newsletter

(Date: Sat, 02 Oct 1999 16:04:00 +0200)

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Agency profile: Albanian intelligence

The Albanian defense forces consist of the following branches: Army, Navy, Air and Air Defense Forces, Interior Ministry Troops, and Border Guards. The major administrative divisions serve all services. These divisions include the political, personnel, intelligence/counterintelligence directorates; the military prosecutor's office; and the medical services.

During the period of communist rule from 1944 to 1991, Albania was the most closed and isolated society in Europe. This situation began to change drastically in 1991, in part because of the efforts of the Albanian Democratic Party, which advocated restructuring the security organs and purging officials who had repressed the population under Hoxha and Alia. In early 1992, officials responsible for preventing or investigating crime were disorganized as a result of political changes in the country and were unsure how to operate effectively. Organizational change in the police and security forces, initiated by the communist dominated coalition government, also inhibited their effectiveness at least for a time.

In Hoxa's last years, the Directorate of State Security (Drejtorija e Sigurimit te Shtetit -Sigurimi-), increased its political power. After Hoxha's death, Alia was apparently unable or unwilling to maintain the totalitarian system of terror and repression that Hoxha had employed to maintain his grip on the party and the country. Alia relaxed the most overt Stalinist controls over the population and instructed the internal security structure to use more subtle, bureaucratic-authoritarian mechanisms characteristic of the post-Stalin Soviet Union and East European regimes. He allowed greater contact with the outside world, including eased travel restrictions for Albanians, although the Sigurimi demanded bribes equivalent to six months' salary for the average Albanian to obtain the documents needed for a passport. More foreigners were allowed to visit Albania, and they reported a generally more relaxed atmosphere among the population as well as a less repressive political and antireligious climate. The dramatic collapse of communist rule in Eastern Europe in 1989 apparently had a devastating effect on the internal social and political situation in Albania despite Alia's efforts to contain it. Massive demonstrations against communist rule followed by liberalization and democratization in Eastern Europe began to affect Albania in 1990. The power of the security police was successfully challenged by massive numbers of largely unorganized demonstrators demanding reforms and democratic elections.

Security Forces

Until April 1991, all security and police forces were responsible to the Ministry of Internal Affairs, which also exercised authority over the judicial system and the implementation and enforcement of the country's laws.

Each security or police organization (the Sigurimi, the Frontier Guards, and the People's Police) constituted a separate directorate within the ministry; each had a larger proportion of personnel who were party members than the armed forces because of the need for political reliability. In the Sigurimi, for example, nearly all serving personnel were believed to be party members. In the Frontier Guards and People's Police, all officers and many other personnel were party members.

The Sigurimi were the security police forces. Organized to protect the party and government system, these forces were responsible for suppressing deviation from communist ideology and for investigating serious crimes on a national scale. Frontier Guards, as their name implied, maintained the security of state borders. The People's Police were the local or municipal police.

In July 1991, the communist-dominated legislature abolished the Sigurimi and established a new National Information Service (NIS/SHIK) in its place. It was unclear to Western observers to what extent the new organization would be different from its predecessor because at least some of its personnel probably had served in the Sigurimi. Only former Sigurimi leaders were excluded from the new NIS.

Directorate of State Security

The Directorate of State Security, or Sigurimi, which was abolished in July 1991 and replaced by the NIS, celebrated March 20, 1943, as its founding day.

The Sigurimi was organized into sections covering political control, censorship, public records, prison camps, internal security troops, physical security, counterespionage, and foreign intelligence. The political control section's primary function was monitoring the ideological correctness of party members and other citizens. It was responsible for purging the party, government, military, and its own apparatus of individuals closely associated with Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, or China after Albania broke from successive alliances with each of those counties. One estimate indicated that at least 170 communist party Politburo or Central Committee members were executed as a result of the Sigurimi's investigations. The political control section was also involved in an extensive program of monitoring private telephone conversations. The censorship section operated within the press, radio, newspapers, and other communications media as well as within cultural societies, schools, and other organizations.

Frontier Guards

In 1989 the Frontier Guards included about 7,000 troops organized into battalion-sized formations. Although organized strictly along military lines, the Frontier Guards were subordinate to the Ministry of Internal Affairs until its abolition in April 1991 when they were subordinated to the Ministry of People's Defense. The mission of the Frontier Guards was to protect state borders and to prevent criminals, smugglers, or other infiltrators from crossing them. In the process, they were also charged with stopping Albanians from leaving the country illegally. They were effective in enforcing its closed borders, although some Albanians still managed to escape. During the period of Albania's greatest isolation from its neighbors, the lack of open border crossing points simplified border control. For example, in 1985 Albania opened its first border crossing point with Greece, fourteen years after it had reestablished diplomatic relations with Athens. In 1990, however the Frontier Guards were increasingly less able to prevent illegal crossings by well-armed citizens, who frequently sought refuge in Greece and Yugoslavia.

People's Police

In 1989, the People's Police had five branches:

Police for Economic Objectives
The Police for Economic Objectives served as a guard force for state buildings, factories, construction projects, and similar enterprises.
Communications Police
The Communications Police guarded Albania's lines of communication including bridges, railroads, and the telephone and telegraph network.
Fire Police
Firefighting was also considered a police function and was carried out by the Fire Police.
Detention Police
The Detention Police served as prison and labor camp guards.
General Police
The General Police corresponded to the local or municipal police in other countries and attended to traffic regulation and criminal investigations.

Source: Library of Congress Country Studies

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