|(W:) Reflections on Policing in Post-Communist Europe
Reshaping of Elites and the Privatization of Security: The Case of Poland
Using the example of Poland, this article examines the central role of secret services in the regime transformation and new elites’ formation. It traces strategic processes of dispersal and privatization of the communist security apparatus and analyzes the strategic value of the new private security sector. Its multifaceted linkages as well as its involvement in crime, marketing of fear, tying surveillance with prestige and amassing potentially useful information are examined. This sector’s vital role in shaping new definitions of (dis)order and providing new risk management strategies is discussed within a changing, global context.
The 1980s in Poland were a peculiar and momentous period in the history of communism. It was a time when the inherent contradictions of that regime reached their final paroxysmal stage, with communist principles of ruling simultaneously intensifying and disintegrating in myriad of overt and covert ways. The decade witnessed a strange sequence of decadent power excesses, wide-ranging covert operations and a frantic transfer of property rights from the state to the nomenklatura actors, both corporate and individual. This process included a notable emancipation of secret services and their nascent privatization that eventually included their goals, functions, resources and know-how.
In a book I co-authored with Andrzej Zybertowicz, we offered a thorough analysis of the process of police state privatization in the post-communist Poland1. That book documents a complex, and largely covert, process, which encompassed the following undertakings: converting certain police state functions into private operations; the private appropriation and selective destruction of the contents of secret services’ archives; active role of secret services in private capture of the state economy and the infiltration and manipulation of various agendas of the new state. Based on our research, we concluded that this process was not extemporaneous but largely organized and coordinated:
“A combination of pre-planned and carefully executed strategies, a relative unity of interests and the ability – due to superior resources and information – to respond coherently to unexpected developments, enabled the party/police state elite to become the authors and principal beneficiaries of the state’s massive privatization”2.
In the present article, I look at selected aspects of the privatization of the state security apparatus and the process of elite positioning and reconfiguration before and following the systemic change of 1989. These developments go far beyond the efforts to secure “soft landing” (economic endowment) for the former nomenklatura and include a merger of former party and secret services elites as well as privatization and managed dispersal of such key functions of the state as intelligence gathering, security and the monopoly over legitimate uses of coercion.
Emancipation of secret services in the 1980s
The emergence in 1980 of the mass opposition movement Solidarity called for escalation of secret infiltration of society and an extraordinary mobilization of the military and civilian secret services. Additionally, the Soviet, East German and other communist intelligence services, alarmed by the Solidarity movement’s potential influence, rapidly expanded their clandestine presence in Poland3. The Martial Law imposition, in December 1981, set the stage for a structural shift of power from the Party to the security complex, which encompassed military and civilian intelligence and counter-intelligence, the political police and various special forces. At least 8000 military commissioners were dispatched to numerous state institutions and enterprises4. The entire state administration was increasingly staffed with military and secret services functionaries and the overall command of the country was taken by a military council headed by Army General Wojciech Jaruzelski.
The 1980s saw also an increased power of the security sector in the Soviet Union, where Gorbachev launched his perestroika under the protective umbrella of the KGB, the only major institution exempt from his reforms. As Waller argues in his book on the KGB in post-communist Russia:
“Gorbachev enjoyed the strong support of the KGB leadership and vice versa. His was a conscious policy to strengthen the KGB while attempting to create the conditions for Soviet society to become more creative and dynamic (p. 2). Gorbachev inherited the chekist system in toto and instead of marking it for reform, he insulated it from the publicity of glastnost and the structural changes of perestroika. Under Boris Yeltsin the Russian Federation maintained the cultural continuum … (p. 5, 7). Instead of starting anew and ridding itself of the chekist legacy… the Russian government chose to embrace it and rely on it as a pillar of stability and a starting point for future society5”.
While in Russia this process resulted eventually, under Vladimir Putin, in a blatant take over of the state by the secret services’ interests and mentality, the developments in Poland and other Central European states have been more subtle and hidden. What needs to be stressed, however, is the fact that contrary to the common claim that the last decade of communism was marked by its softening and liberalization, both the Soviet Union and Poland experienced in the 1980s considerable strengthening of the structures, status and size of secret services. Their gradual self-elevation was paralleled by a relative decline in the position of the Party. With the communist ideology and economy waning, the Party elite looked to the security apparatus for a way out.
Reforms and the elite reconfiguration in the 1980s
In the book I wrote with Andrzej Zybertowicz, we argued that the increase in the relative power of secret services entailed significant changes in their role. No longer expected to act in the name of defunct ideology, they could engage in innovative political and economic strategies to advance pragmatic, long-term interests of the communist elites, of which they became a prominent and vital division.
The second part of the 1980s was the time when a new type of economic reform emerged in Poland, which no longer aimed at salvaging the ideological pretence of the superiority of the state economy. It was pushed forward by the most dynamic Party/police elites, whose concept of “restructuring” the economy and the state involved laying the legal framework for their privatization “from within.” These elites spearheaded the marketization of the indolent economy by using their legislative power, secret services’ networks, intelligence and protection as well as the second economy/organized crime connections and schemes.
As it has been well documented, under Edward Gierek’s reform program in the 1970s, the Party elite went on a rampage of corrupt pseudo-privatization of the economy through elaborate second economy schemes, assisted by foreign credits6. Less known is the fact that major scams were also carried out abroad by the intelligence services, who initiated a number of criminal enrichment ventures under the cloak of intelligence operations. They involved burglary, fraud, smuggling and other forms of organized crime7. These criminal operations were designed to supplement the services’ already oversized budget, but much of the loot ended up in private hands8.
The subsequent economic reforms, in the 1980s, enabled a formal legitimation of the nomenklatura’s informal property rights acquired in the earlier period9. A slew of new laws led to the proliferation of officially registered joint-stock companies and partnerships formed on the basis of state economy units. By the time the first semi-democratic elections were held, in June 1989, there were already 3000 joint-stock companies in Poland. In 75 percent of cases they were created on the basis of the 1700 largest state enterprises10 and, generally, involved party/secret services elites. A preferred business arrangement was based on the, so-called, hybrid property11, where profits were appropriated privately, while costs and liabilities were covered by the “mother” state enterprise. This created a new reality of a future-oriented restructuring of the economy, which laid a foundation for the smooth transformation of these elites into the new post-communist ruling class. What was rarely noticed by economists, however, was the reality that this new legal framework also enabled the private take over of certain aspects of the state, including establishment of private detective agencies – a striking development within the context of a militarized police state of the post-Martial Law era. The first security company was founded as early as 198612, but it was with the passage of the Economic Activity Act of December 1988 that the door was wide open for the emergence of a versatile and rapidly expanding private security sector.
While many functionaries got opportunistically involved in new, semi-legal money-making ventures, it is possible now to reconstruct a more complex picture of interests, designs and plots, going beyond the individual greed. At stake in these processes were long-term interests of communist elites, not only nationally but also internationally. The latter aspect was coordinated by the KGB, whereby the directives for collaborative, private economic ventures were apparently coming from the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party, whose cadres consisted mostly of employees of the First Directorate of the KGB13.
Domestically, it was crucial to coordinate actions of two types of key elites: the political nomenklatura, which included members of the apparatus of both the Party and the secret services, and the economic nomenklatura comprised of the communist managerial elite. Although their roles and concerns overlapped, the two types of elite were sufficiently distinct to necessitate their careful harmonization in order to maximize the effectiveness of the transformation process. While the, so-called, endowment of the economic nomenklatura became quite visible and came to symbolize the systemic transition, the more powerful political nomenklatura was the true controlling force behind the transformation. It relied on largely covert operational strategies, which led to the ultimate merger of the networks connected to the Party and secret services. Unlike the 1970s, when the criminal enrichment schemes of the Party elites and secret services elites seemed relatively unconnected, the late 1980s witnessed their rapid blending.
The final period of communism in Poland was marked by intense factional struggle within the Party and the security apparatus, which expedited the advancement of those individuals and networks that were the most viable and dynamic candidates for class conversion. The new political class consisted of generally younger men, well traveled and educated, with ties to military or civilian security agencies and/or their informal networks. Many of their personal relationships developed during their early career stages in the apparatus of Communist Youth organizations. Cynical about ideology, they managed these organizations more like private enterprises, deriving from them various types of profit and capital (including social capital). For many of them, it was an opportunity to hone their entrepreneurial or managerial skills. They frequently traveled abroad, on foreign scholarships or through their involvement with secret services. Their links to secret services, and especially military intelligence14 expanded greatly their prospects and indelibly marked their group ethos15.
Through their travels and missions, these new cosmopolitans forged many useful friendships and established valuable contacts with academic and business circles in the West. Back in Poland, however, their careers and ambitions were closely tied to their advancement within the Party apparatus and/or the secret services, which, in turn, was contingent on their good relations with the Soviet embassy and its KGB contingent16. Close social ties between the Party elite and the embassy personnel were part of the standard code of conduct for ambitious apparatchiks. The last communist Prime Minister, Mieczyslaw Rakowski, commented on this in a 1996 interview, stating that the advancement in the Party depended on the support from Moscow and good relations with the Soviet Embassy were instrumental to securing it were17.
The first non-communist Interior minister Krzysztof Kozlowski made a similar comment in 1996, reacting to the public disclosure of a friendship between a KGB man and the sitting Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, a former Communist Party official.18 According to Kozlowski,
“[Oleksy] seems not to have noticed that in 1989 Poland became a sovereign state and, by the same token, the contacts that in the 1980s were not de facto treated as spying have now changed their meaning… Formerly, nobody in the Party saw anything wrong with them. On the contrary, for the Party activists it was a chance to speed up their career”19.
These contacts assumed a new significance in the late 1980s, when the Soviet intelligence services intensified their activities in order to ensure the continuous collaboration of the elites in the anticipation of major institutional changes in Poland. These efforts became even more intense after the Interior Ministry was passed to Kozlowski in 1990.
“Until the spring of 1990, Soviet comrades were daily visitors in the offices of the Interior Ministry20… [Then] the situation changed radically… From that point, the Russians began constructing a regular intelligence net... This net does not consist exclusively of typical agents, the Russians have also sought to include personalities from various elites to be used as trustworthy sources of information…”21.
Despite their privileged status and abundant opportunities for enrichment, the rejuvenated and ruthlessly ambitious communist elites perceived the structural limits of the old system as an exasperating barrier to their aspirations. They realized that if they played their cards well, they could fashion for themselves a much brighter future under pseudo-capitalist conditions.
Securing the long term interests of political elites
For communist elites it was imperative to design alternative ways of exercising control over the transforming society and ensure the hold on power in the event of the old regime’s collapse. This called for a comprehensive engagement of secret services in securing alternative forms of surveillance and active control in the politically, economically and technologically changing reality. To be ready for every contingency, it was vital to prepare a private take over of strategic sectors by informal communist elite networks. These sectors included security, justice system, banking, .the mass media and new electronic communication systems (among them the emerging field of Internet access provision and surveillance). To ensure success in this endeavour, it was also vital to consolidate the unity of the key elites involved. Given that these strategic domains were already heavily controlled by the secret services, they became a natural and best informed force in this process. Moreover, acting through a network of secret collaborators, they could ensure a low profile of their efforts, crucial for the preparation stage. In order to placate the emerging alternative elites, a new strategy was devised in the second half of the 1980s, which deployed intricate covert operations to infiltrate, divide, mould and harness the opposition22. A blueprint for this strategy (including the Round Table talks) was prepared for General Jaruzelski, in secrecy, by the, so-called, group of three. The group consisted of the chief of the Intelligence and Counterintelligence, General Pozoga, a Politburo member, Stanislaw Ciosek and a governmental port parole and eminence grise, Jerzy Urban23.
The Round Table talks were directly and actively coordinated behind the scenes by Interior Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak, who also headed the communist side at the talks and presided over the process. His unlikely metamorphosis from a symbol of repression into a peacemaker can be explained by the fact that the Round Table talks were conceived as a centerpiece of a series of operations surrounding the reform process and it was crucial to give a new image to the dreaded secret police. Kiszczak’s new, benevolent persona detracted from the fact that he was responsible for ongoing repressions, organized the ‘operational protection’ of the Round Table talks, had direct access to surveillance data on the opposition and was able to influence the selection of the Solidarity representatives to ensure the inclusion of a certain number of undercover secret service functionaries and secret collaborators24.
The Round Table talks were not only a momentous political event, it was also a forum where various covert associates of the secret services were publicly validated as oppositionists25 and where early signs of merging of elites were overtly displayed26. Following the Communists’ dismal showing in the semi-democratic elections in June 1989, the “good will” created during the talks facilitated the retention by Communists of the key ministries within the new Solidarity government (including General Kiszczak as the Interior minister) and the installment of General Jaruzelski as the President of Poland.
Securing the financial back-up for political aspirations
The Party’s inner circle realized early that it was vital to secure long-term funding for an uninterrupted exercise of power in the event the Communist Party (PUWP) is politically displaced. In the late 1980s, the Party assets were in part liquidated; funds27 were surreptitiously exported abroad and/or invested in a myriad of complicated financial ventures and foundations28. Their connection to the Party was effectively erased through skillful maneuvering and the speed, with which they were launched, dissolved, converted and multiplied29. The secret services’ know-how, the protection they provided and the agencies they ran in foreign countries were all instrumental in carrying out these schemes. When the Communist Party disbanded itself voluntarily, in January 1990, there was a recognizable, close-knit group of activists behind the push for its dissolution. In a well orchestrated maneuver, they turned the Communist Party’s funeral into a founding ceremony of their new political party, the Social Democracy of Poland (SdRP). As it was later revealed, they were assisted in doing so by a special loan from the KGB30.
The principals of the founding group were a future Interior minister and eventually Prime Minister (Leszek Miller) and a future President of Poland (Aleksander Kwasniewski).31 The new party’s leaders presented themselves as continuators of the Communist Party’s reformist wing, thereby laying claim to the old Party’s organizational structure, operational resources and material wealth32. The failure of protracted legal efforts to return the Party’s estate to the people of Poland only shows the depth and strength on the new party elite’s influence. By taking over the Communist Party’s wealth, its hidden foreign bank accounts and its sizeable shares in numerous private ventures33, the SdRP automatically gained an immense advantage over other parties. When, eventually, in February 1991, a new law was promulgated that nationalized the Party’s assets, the SdRP declared that its bank accounts were empty and all the burgeoning ventures turned suddenly into failing operations34. A series of staged bankruptcies helped further to muddle the origins of the wealth of the SdRP’s political network and, ultimately, forestall any attempts at expropriation or prosecution35. The same purpose was served by the party’s move to rename itself as the Union of Democratic Left (SLD).
As of 2005, the group behind these maneuvers has been in power for eight out of 15 post-communist years. The key of their success lied in their foresight, founded on the secret services’ intelligence. Their comprehensive but flexible management of the transition process was made possible by a combination of knowledge, skills and operational resources of the united political (Party/secret services/army) elite that allowed a swift take over of both the economy and the strategic power/information/financial sectors.
The role of former secret services in economic scandals of the post-communist era
The scale of participation of secret services networks in the criminal economic schemes is becoming increasingly recognized as the years go by. Much of the relevant information can be gleaned from various reports authored by or leaked from various control agencies and/or journalistic investigations. There is no room here to elaborate on this issue, but it is important to note that the ever growing evidence suggests that no serious economic scam would have been possible without an active presence and often the leading role of former secret service operatives and their secret collaborators. This includes such major scandals as those related to FOZZ, BIG, Orlen and PZU.36 Given that all major criminal economic plots have been at least to some extent international in scope, the former services’ logistical support, intelligence and contacts were of critical importance. Their ability to privatize Export/Import companies and other agencies formerly controlled by the communist services provided a fitting foundation for internationally ramified ventures. Moreover, the active involvement of former Soviet Bloc secret services in creating and/or supporting various organized crime networks also facilitated their own economic schemes.
Based on his recent research, Zybertowicz has concluded that one of the key mechanisms behind the success and impunity of current criminal economic schemes – some of them truly gigantic in scale – has been the “triple hook-up principle” (zasada trojwarstwowego podczepienia). This mechanism depends on: (1) association with some important and preferably international activities conducted by high status state bodies, (2) involvement in covert operations authorized by these bodies, and (3) engagement in hidden activities aiming at illegal conversion of public resources into private ones. This type of arrangement assures that illegal activities are doubly sheltered from scrutiny - by the prestige of their overt structural framework and the classified nature of their key operations37. Indeed, the criminal justice system has repeatedly been paralyzed by the alleged security risks posed by the evidence needed for prosecution of major criminal affairs.
A managed commercialization of the means of coercion and surveillance
As demonstrated elsewhere38, “post-communist privatization was envisioned from the beginning as reaching beyond the economic sector and into the core of the secret control apparatus” (p. 185). This represented immense resources of a strategic importance, including intelligence, skilled human resources, nets of secret agents, surveillance technology, operational resources, international contacts including those with foreign intelligence agencies/agents, as well as connections to organized crime. With the state’s transition towards democracy, the old police structures had to be downsized, refurbished and vetted39. Preparations for such an eventuality started early, with police state resources being channeled into the emerging private security market, controlled and staffed by former secret services’ functionaries.
The new security sector involved property and personal protection companies, detective services, information, lobbying and public relations services (including professional “dirt diggers) as well as economic intelligence agencies. Some of these companies have branches in different regions of Poland and some are international in nature. As a rule, they have been created by police and secret services functionaries, sometimes on the basis of the police sport clubs. The owners include many generals, communist and post-communist chief commanders of the police and services, Interior ministers, heads of relevant departments and various other powerful figures in the field of civilian and military intelligence and security. An influential figure in shaping the new sector was the founder and chief of the dreaded communist anti-terrorist brigades (ZOMO), deployed conspicuously and bloodily during the Martial Law. It has been estimated that in the early 2000s, protection/security companies40 employed approximately 200 000 people, while detective companies employed around 4 000 people.41 When they were first created, many prominent companies had recognizable origins in specific services, such as civilian intelligence, the economic crime section in the Police Headquarters, anti-terrorist brigades or the criminal branch of the police42.
Given the simultaneous and rapid emergence of private security services in all post-communist countries, it is vital to consider a possible role of the Soviet/Russian intelligence services in their creation. According to Antoni Macierewicz, the Interior minister in 1991-92, the creation of the detective and security companies was initiated and at least in part directed by the Soviet/Russian intelligence services as an alternative surveillance apparatus to replace the old one, which had been fully integrated with the Soviet services. He commented on the private security industry: “The Russians organized it, shaped it into an organizational structure, penetrated it and maintained it, apparently for information gathering purposes”43.
One of the early organizers of the private security sector, President of the Association of Security and Detective Companies, was actually exposed in 1991 and convicted of spying for the Soviet and later Russian military intelligence (GRU). In the mid 1980s, he was a member of Interior Minister Kiszczak’s team of advisers44. As the Association President, he collected detailed information about the member companies and expected them to send reports about their activities, contacts and any attempts at penetration by Western intelligence45. Simultaneously, he was providing GRU with information about the new Ministry of the Interior and with the names of potential candidates for GRU spies.
An important aspect of the reorganization and verification of the secret services after the regime change in 1989 was an outright exemption of the military services from any such procedures. The military intelligence and counterintelligence - a vital component of the Warsaw Pact system, whose members were regularly trained in the Soviet Union – have been allowed to continue in the same shape, with the same personnel, old nets of informers and no civilian oversight of any sort. The assumption was that these sensitive services will reform themselves without any external intrusion. From scattered but persistent evidence, it appears that the military secret services have provided needed support and protection to many key post-communist players. They have constituted a ramified formation that is in effect untouchable, because – to use the words of one journalist – it “ties together too many important people in Poland, too many issues and interests”46.
In the late 1980s, when private security companies were being set up based on the Economic Activity Act, they were treated as any other economic activity and were not screened, licensed or regulated in any special way, despite their use of weapons, sensitive information and sophisticated surveillance equipment. Even with the regime change in 1989, there was a remarkable reluctance to interfere with the private security sector’s development. The first attempt to establish a form of oversight was a decision, in 1991, to grant the Interior Ministry the right to supervise protection/security companies47. It was only in 1993, however, that the Ministry established an office entrusted with carrying out this task. It was headed by a former communist secret service agent, had only eight members of staff and had no computerized information system48. The first law on Protection of Property and People was passed in 199749 and came into effect in 1998, almost ten years after the system change. Significantly, the law did not cover detective agencies.50 Moreover, it allowed the industry a two year period for meeting the new legal requirements. It introduced screening and licensing procedures for both companies and their staff, whereby the regional police chiefs were authorized to use their discretion, practically with no accountability and supervision. What is also worthy of note is that the bill – prepared by the SLD government –considerably broadened demand for private security by making it compulsory for a whole range of state and private establishments to retain professional security/protection services. This was an enormous boost to the industry. Private security workers were authorized to use a huge range of instruments of coercion, including handcuffs, police batons, dogs, gas pistols, electric paralyzers and, in justified circumstances, firearms. Characteristically, the new law was vague as to the range of services allowed and the limits to the use of intrusive means and violence51. While it granted private security agencies the powers akin to those given to the police, it did not provide formal safeguards to prevent human rights abuses or deployment of these services in political struggles.
A bill regulating private detective services, including economic intelligence services, was eventually passed by the parliament in 200152 and was promulgated in 200253. It introduced special procedures for licensing both detective companies and the individual detectives. Licenses to the former were to be granted by the Interior Minister, and the latter by examination commissions formed by regional police chiefs.
In addition to detective and security companies that make their services available to various clients, larger businesses build their own security/intelligence departments. The dependence of business on former and current secret services operatives is considerable, but it remains unregulated and intelligence freely crosses the public/private divide. Winning contract bids, choosing wisely business partners, the ability to undermine credibility of competitors, all depend on access to the information and skills possessed by secret services, private security sector and/or intelligence workers retained on continuous basis by the business in question. Upon leaving state agencies, operatives are permitted to enter the private security sector without any “quarantine” period. Nothing prevents them from treating secret information gained in their former employment as their private capital54. The telecommunications sector is known to have especially close ties to former (and also current) senior members of secret services and to employ a virtual army of security/espionage experts. To quote a journalist’s comment: “If you gathered all the heads of their security departments in one hall, it would look like a secret meeting of the Office of the State Security”55.
The amount of information possessed by private security and intelligence sector represents a pool of knowledge that can easily be translated into political and/or economic power. The impact of secret information on the political realm can be seen in a number of high level scandals, when leaks or deliberate disclosures by secret services –who often use the private sector or the media as intermediaries – have led to the fall of top politicians, including three Prime Ministers and a Deputy Prime Minister. The more recent scandals56 illustrate the role of the secret and strategic information in the maintenance of an illicit web of connections between the public and private economic sectors that involves top levels of political hierarchy. In effect, the state has been torn by unremitting fighting among groups that seem to be mutually bound by relations built on an intricate complex of the secret knowledge and mutual blackmail. The creation of a loosely regulated, private security sector has allowed for the continuous pervasive influence of the former police states power/knowledge on the new structures of the formally democratic state. In Poland, as in other post-communist states, the common phenomena of late modernity – such as the “surveillant assemblage”57 – have coalesced with both the traditions of the police state and their private reincarnation in the new security/intelligence industry.
The private security industry and crime
While some politicians, including members of the parliamentary commission for secret services have commented that the private security sector poses a potential threat to the national security58, there is not enough direct evidence to allow a systematic analysis of the conspiratorial designs behind its inception and development. What have been better documented, although not systematically studied, are its involvement in crime and its role in undermining the status of the state police.
The security sector’s links to the organized crime have been noted when, especially in recent years, many mobsters from major gangs have been prosecuted based on testimony of their associates turned police informers. According to these witnesses, the huge organized crime revenues have been routinely invested in legal ventures, such as security companies, restaurants, real estate and sport clubs. The gangs as a rule hire outsiders to run these businesses for them, either as money laundering venues and pure fronts for organized crime or as information gathering and contact-making places, sometimes of international dimensions59. Given that some Polish mafia figures have become secret informers for Western intelligence agencies, they need information to satisfy their protectors. Foreign services appear to be interested above all in the intelligence on Russian and other “Eastern” mafias, and a number of Polish gangsters as well as former secret services operatives have secured foreign citizenship, such as Austrian, Israeli and American, in exchange for their collaboration in this area60.
Private security services have from the beginning attracted much media interest, because of numerous spectacular criminal incidents involving them. Their brutal methods of debt collection, protection rackets, bloody turf wars, insurance frauds and collaboration with organized crime became early on an integral part of their image. By August 1995, the Interior Ministry inspected 219 security companies and in 43 cases revoked their business concessions61. Many companies were found to employ people with serious criminal records, but none of them was disqualified for doing so62. With the growing negative publicity, the Supreme Chamber of Control (NIK) undertook, in 1996, an eight months probe of the industry. Many unlawful activities were exposed, largely corroborating earlier inquiries and media reports. The NIK documented how various companies were involved in prostitution, extortion, arson (as a means of intimidation or in connection with insurance frauds), defrauding organizations that hired them, bloody turf wars with competing businesses and the illegal employment of state police, State Security Agency (UOP), state fire brigades and Border Guard functionaries, as well as people with criminal records63.
While the private security sector fulfils a variety of important needs in the changing social and economic landscape and many firms are professional and reliable, the industry’s criminal image persists because of continuous predatory activities that can be traced to its members. Their employment in guarding financial and economic institutions, their services related to installation of security systems, their involvement in information gathering, all create huge opportunities for criminal abuse of trust. In addition to crimes that involve illegal services, where the client explicitly or implicitly expects the company to use criminal means, for example, to get rid of a competitor, recoup debt or use illegal surveillance, employees of security companies often use the information gained through their employment in their own predatory schemes.
Security sector employees have been identified in numerous bank robberies, vanishing security vans transporting large sums of money, hostage-takings and kidnappings. These crimes are often executed by security guards donning their uniforms and using deception by pretending they are on duty. One particularly bloody incident involved a group of security guards, who robbed a bank and killed three of its female employees and a fellow security guard, who unwittingly let them in, when the bank was closed64. They were part of a larger gang specializing in bank robberies that were executed on the basis of information and contacts gained through their work. The police confirmed that it is common for private security personnel to exchange information about different establishments, their security systems, cash held on the premises and other relevant features65. In the case of this particular gang, its members deliberately moved from one security firm to another every few months in order to make contacts and get insight into the working of different agencies. In keeping with the 1997 law, they were all licensed and passed required tests66.
It has been noted that those security workers, who are arrested for major crimes often show little remorse. Some give an impression that they treat the agency that employs them as akin to a criminal gang, where one has to prove one’s toughness and earn respect by committing daring crimes67. The prosecutors in the above mentioned bank robbery case commented publicly on the way the suspects recounted the details of their crime as if it were a fascinating detective movie68. Whether the specific criminal decisions are made by the company board or its employees, the owners are likely to partake in the earnings. The illicit profits are invested heavily in legitimate businesses and real estate. This is where many threads of the post-communist power networks crisscross and reinforce the web of socially destructive relationships.
In order to understand the process of privatizing the communist police state, it is important to acknowledge that it was not limited to secret services’ personnel, inside (secret) knowledge, know-how and technical resources. The privatization process included also the mentality and cultural legacy predicated on secrecy, pursuit of anti-social goals, exemption from responsibility and suspension of morality. These features appear to have been reproduced both in the post-communist politics and in various private ventures and sectors surreptitiously transplanted from the previous regime. This privatized legacy has facilitated and solidified an intricate fusion of interests of political, business and security elites.
The private security industry and the police
Both the state police and secret services, dwarfed by the huge private security sector, maintain close ties with their private counterparts. This relationship is mutually beneficial, even if largely illegal. Selling information to both detective and protection companies is believed to be routine. “The police force provides its members with a salary, insurance benefits, bonuses, nets of informers and equipment, but they earn real money by selling information”69. For example, the police who specialize in investigating car theft have been known to have standing arrangements with private detectives, specializing in stolen car recovery (for both the victims and insurance companies), to sell them tips as to the whereabouts of the stolen vehicles. They may also sell information about the owners of stolen vehicles to enable the company to offer them its services. Even more important than illegal tips related to specific offences is illegal transfer of a larger body of classified information, which private agencies gather for their own data banks and information files. The amount and scope of information held by some of the private detective and intelligence companies for undisclosed purposes is believed to be staggering.
Given the large number of former policemen, their relatives and friends working in or owning firms in the private security sector, it is not surprising that the border between these two security domains have become blurred. Many police officers regularly moonlight in private agencies and refer to them crime victims. Various police stations have been known to involve their sport clubs in provision of private security services, lease office space in their buildings to private security companies, organize joint training for the police and private security agents and illegally subcontract various tasks to the private sector. In some cases, the illegal merger between the two sectors has been taken so far that the police and private agents are jointly involved in routine forms of policing, including patrolling streets together in either police or private agencies’ vehicles70. Judging by media reports and a sizable number of prosecuted cases, the police also participate in criminal schemes together with their private partners.
Moreover, in their roles related to licensing, issuing firearms permits, making recommendations for certain strategic security contracts and exercising oversight over the industry, regional and central police functionaries and their networks are in a unique position to shape the industry according to their own private ties and interests71.
Risk, fear and security
The security industry, whose business depends on trust, seems to be rather inept in its efforts to establish itself as trustworthy and reliable. Some attempts at repairing their image have emerged in popular TV serials and other types of entertainment, featuring kindly, heroic or glamorous private security agents, either fictional or modeled on real-life figures, such as a maverick detective, ex-militiaman, Krzysztof Rutkowski72.
Part of the problem lies undoubtedly in this sector’s inherited mentality and the perception that illegal gains and murky connections can be far more profitable than their legitimate day-to-day business. Yet there is also a perverse market relationship between the image of rampant crime and lawlessness and the demand for security services. By contributing to the overall level of insecurity, these “merchants of fear” – as they are often called in the media – gain both notoriety and business. They are simultaneously feared and indispensable. This relationship is reinforced by the new “responsibilization” philosophy, promoted by politicians, police and private sector, which centers on citizens’ ability to defend themselves.73 By both elevating fear and making people responsible for their own safety, this approach gives them a stake in normalizing the security industry as a vital source of protection.
A police inspector and editor-in-chief of the Police Gazette wrote in her introduction to the catalogue of the 1994 National Exhibition of Security Systems ‘Garda 1994’: “We live in an atmosphere of fearfulness. It is not only in the streets that danger lurks, it invades our homes. It ravages our lives”74. Fear of crime has both a market dimension and political dimension. It is a particularly useful commodity in transition countries, where the apparatus of police state is being dispersed and politicians can no longer rely on the earlier totalitarian politics of fear. As I have shown elsewhere, in the process of systemic transition, fear of the state has been transformed into fear of crime and gave a new lease of life to the kinds of knowledge (and power techniques bound up with them) that had been strategic under the former regime75.
Fear has become a dominant factor in the real estate market, which is evident, for example, in its monthly publication. For example, an article advertising the international construction and development company SKANSKA, starts with selective statistical information about crimes that are on the rise, understaffing of the police and their poor crime solving rates in Warsaw. Then, the article points out that in addition to the crime-ridden Warsaw, where home invasions and burglary are rampant, there is “another Warsaw – modern and European,” where office buildings, supermarkets and upscale housing are set in a safe and exclusive environment. Finally, we learn that SKANSKA is part of this Warsaw and its residential complexes provide the highest levels of security by using suitable security companies, comprehensive camera surveillance systems and numerous other technologies of interior and exterior monitoring. Interestingly – probably to address public apprehension about security companies – the article underlines that SKANSKA also implements multiple control procedures over the security agents it employs76.
In a housing-starved society, the construction boom that followed the regime change has created a unique opportunity for the coupling of the notion of status with that of surveillance. Rapid processes of risk privatization and proliferation of risk-management strategies were part of the technological revolution that came with the opening to the West. Moreover, the new consumerism and increased ownership of automobiles, houses, summer cottages and sophisticated appliances have created new needs for insurance and security. Potential buyers learned to include the price of security when calculating purchase costs77. “Gated” communities, secure buildings, alarm and surveillance systems and cellular phones have quickly emerged as desired security features, symbolizing success and initiative. The editor-in-chief of the real estate monthly points that even a superficial perusal of housing ads in the press suggests that luxury is becoming synonymous with “a high fence, locked gate, security guard and secure parking”78. Thus expensive security arrangements have become in themselves signs of ownership and exclusivity and the subjection to routine surveillance is being transformed into a status symbol.
As they re-emerged as a private security sector, the former secret services have quickly become the primary providers of risk definitions and risk-management technologies. Unlike the communist security forces that protected the state and state property, the new sector’s definitions of risk pertain in large part to protection of private property and profits. By simultaneously contributing to social insecurity, defining risks and supplying expensive and intrusive means to address them, this sector has worked to shape a new risk mentality that generates mushrooming demand for its own product and services. It also shapes new status hierarchies and their cultural corollaries as the quest for security is driven by an ingenious combination of fear and status.
Private policing in the global context
Private security/policing emerged in Poland and other formerly communist countries simultaneously with the privatization and marketization of the national economy. Historically, in the West, gradual development of capitalist economy was accompanied by the emergence of modern public policing that epitomized the trend toward monopolization of means of coercion and order-maintenance by the sovereign state. In contrast, the formation of capitalist economy in post-communist countries has been characterized by a rapid de-centralization and dispersion of means of coercion. Given the basically totalitarian nature of policing under the former regime, its de-monopolization was bound to lead to the diffusion of the police state mentality, methods and patterns of operation.
The post-1989 attempts to build the “law-based state” were, somewhat incongruently, paralleled by oblique processes of privatization and dispersion of the former security apparatus. With the systemic change, came the need for a new notion of order and it is important to inquiry about the grid of institutions, groups or “nodes” (to use Shearing’s concept79) that have influenced this process. In addition to political change, the sudden emergence of substantial private spaces, both open and those that are closed to the public, created opportunities for novel forms of order and normative regulation.
There is a superficial similarity between the development of private security companies in post-communist countries and a sustained trend in Western post-industrial states towards privatization of important state functions. Yet the latter appears to have been triggered by a very different reality of “the crisis or overextension of the welfare state”80, with all its fiscal, ideological and structural corollaries. Another factor linked with increased reliance on private policing and security is the massive expansion of privately-owned spaces, such as shopping malls and entertainment complexes, which admit the public and often depend on it for profits81. It is safe to assume that with changes in property relations and diversification of property forms, the relationships linking various forms of security also change82. Finally, it has been noted that with technological and economic changes, many jobs that fulfilled secondary controlling functions, such as bus conductors or concierges, have disappeared over the years, creating greater need for formal surveillance mechanisms83. While all these interpretations are to some extent applicable to the situation in post-communist countries, apparent similarities should not be taken at their face value.
The partial privatization of the police state’s secret apparatus has to be treated as a distinct process requiring proper historical contextualization. Nevertheless, some lessons can be learned from Western inquiries into privatization of mechanisms that were formerly part of state control. Firstly, it appears unlikely that privatizing control can contribute to a reduction in its scope and intrusiveness84. Secondly, it should not be assumed that introduction of parallel private policing only implies divided responsibility for maintaining order and does not influence the very production of definitions of order. As Shearing and Stenning discovered in their pioneering work on private policing:
“What we are witnessing through the growth of private policing is not merely a reshuffling of responsibility for policing public order but the emergence of privately defined orders, policed by privately employed agents that are in some cases inconsistent with, or even in conflict with, the public order proclaimed by the state”85.
While, in principle, a diversification of the process of social construction of order can be viewed as a sound development, the origins, nature and linkages of various systems of regulation need to be carefully scrutinized in any assessment of their contribution to the normative pluralism and democratic development.
Thirdly, the description of private security as private has to be deconstructated in a specific historical context. It is vital to explore the multiple connotations of the private in post-communist societies, comprehensible only in relation to the on-going social re-construction of meanings of space, civil society, the individual, corporate interests, community, market and so forth. The liberal conceptual traditions – such as conceiving of civil society in terms of market and private economy, seeing space in terms of private-public dichotomy and representing corporations as “individuals”86, have been blamed by Western researchers for de-politicizing the capitalist reality and obscuring the structural and cultural kinship between corporations and the state. Although the liberal ideology has played a prominent role in the realm of post-communism, it has been reframed as an antidote against the former regime’s ideology and reality and can only be understood within the context of a wholesale normative reconstruction of these societies. Moreover, given the contest between the post-communist and post-Solidarity elites, this reformulation has assumed in Poland quite unique forms and shades. Control of the strategic - overt and covert, private and public - tools of social control has been crucial in this contest and it is surprising that it attracted so little research and academic attention.
Fourthly, a clear distinction between private and public security sectors is not sustainable. Researchers have repeatedly pointed to their merging and interweaving in the process of pluralization of policing87. New theories emerge that situate this process within a multi-site model of governance, where multiple “nodes” related to the state, the market, the voluntary sector, globalization and so forth, constitute together a complex realm of regulation, prevention and enforcement of security88.
This is a useful framework for further research. Yet the specificity of the post-communist states has to be always kept in mind. Their distinct feature is that private security/intelligence industry has sprung from the police state infrastructure and is permeated by its mentality and traditions. Privatization meant more than the loss of state monopoly of the use of coercion; more crucially the new state has practically given up control over the vast, privatized legacy of the former police state. Moreover, all these happened in a period of rapid technological change and accelerated globalization.
The information age rewards skills related to surreptitious information gathering. Given that the global market needs locally based professional intelligence, it is not surprising that former communist police state operatives have been sought by various international players, from intelligence services to business corporations to criminal organizations. Ironically, their knowledge, expertise and experience have appreciated with the collapse of the former regime. Unlike the employees of old communist bureaucracy and industries, whose skills became largely obsolete, the strategic knowledge and skills of secret apparatus networks have catapulted them to the centre of the new geo-political universe and legitimated them internationally as bona fide elite.
In a remarkable twist of fate, global technological changes shifted the centre of economic activity to the areas where former secret service operatives and younger, cosmopolitan nomenklatura activists could capitalize on their experience and expertise in such fields as (dis)information technologies, communications, image-(re)making, (in)security, foreign banking, economic and technological espionage, market intelligence, surveillance, conspiracy and arms trade. The private security/surveillance/intelligence industry is located at the core of this field and represents a strategic sector of an immense political and economic value.
University of Ottawa