General Meeting

Program time:
Speaker: Alexandro Legein
CHÂTEAU MALOU - Allée Pierre Levie 2, 1200 Woluwe-Saint-Lambert

Several espionage affairs made the headlines in Belgium. The partly state-owned telecom company Belgacom (now Proximus), the Belgian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Prime Minister’s Office have all been hacked. Actually, that doesn’t really come as a big surprise, as since the Cold War, Brussels is one of the world’s hot spots for espionage. The intelligence archives of Berlin, Budapest, Bucharest, Prague, Sofia and Warsaw reveal the 007 dimension of Europe’s capital. (Article published by Kristof Clerix, 27/09/2013 who works as a journalist for the Belgian weekly news magazine Knack. He specializes in security reporting and long-term investigative projects.) 

The foregoing is the world in which our Speaker, Alexandro Legein worked. He will start his talk with a general overview of the security in international institutions, its importance and the risk management principles that govern it. 

The second part will cover the danger of espionage and interference against common interests (this is especially acute in view of recent international and internal national developments), and the risks posed by social media in this area. 

His career: As a journalist in the mid-1970s, Alexandro Legein developed the investigative instincts and eye for detail that are now the tools of his trade. Swapping his pen and note pad for a gun and warrant card, he joined the Belgian Maritime Police in 1978 and specialized in narcotics and fraud investigation. In 1985, he moved to the Directorate of Public Security where, as an Inspector in the Bureau of State Security, he was introduced to the demi-monde of counterintelligence, counterterrorism, and diplomatic protection. Next came three years at Federal Express and two at DHL, where he led operations in Europe and Africa. Next, he was employed by Swift as Security Chief, followed by TNT where he was Group Security Director Worldwide and finally in 2008 as the Director of the Security Office of the Council of the European Union. (Part of this description was published by the magazine Creative Writing by Sean Martin.) 

A Belgian national, born in Spain, he grew up in Spain, Belgium and the Netherlands. His studies included economics and journalism. His various professional qualifications are in strategic management (Insead), financial, police and criminal justice management.

Image by Basilica9718, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

A Review
by Larisa Doctorow

Since the days of the Cold War, Brussels has been and remains one of the world‘s hot spots for espionage. Our speaker, Alexandro Legein, is a Belgian national. He was born in Spain and grew up there, in Belgium and the Netherlands. His studies included economics and journalism. As a journalist, in the mid-1970’s he developed investigative instincts and an eye for detail. Swapping his pen and note pad for a gun and warrant card, in 1978 he joined the Belgium Maritime Police and specialised in narcotics and fraud investigation. In 1985, he moved to the Directorate of Public Security where, as an Inspector in the Bureau of State Security, he was introduced to the demi-monde of counterintelligence, counterterrorism and protection of diplomats. In 2008, he became the Director of the Security Office of the Council of the European Union. 

In 1972, Brussels witnessed angry farmers’ demonstrations. Politicians realised that they had to do something against such events and in 1975 the Security Office was inaugurated. According to the protocol, host states are responsible for the safety of people inside the buildings and forvisiting heads of state. After 9/11 and the Iraq war, it became obvious that bullet proof glass had to be installed instead of ordinary windows. During bombings, it is broken glass that accounts for 60% of injuries. In our economy, the markets are very important. If people are attacked, the markets go down. So, countermeasures were implemented not just to protect people but also the economy. The EU exchanges security related information with other countries, including Israel and Russia. The Security Office always evaluates risk, which is the combination of the probability of an event and its consequences. There are cross cutting risks, like espionage affecting the essential interests of the EU. Among basic risks are security of personnel, legal and institutional reputation, physical installations, security of information. If there is an information leak, it will have an impact on the objectives of the organization. There is a scale of managing risks from routine, unlikely to almost certain. If you don’t provide security, you can be sued. It is possible to avoid risks by hiring more people, bodyguards or to change glass. The background of most Security Office agents is in police, security and/or counter-intelligence work, but also in engineering, architecture, logistics, translating, and policy development.

The lecturer showed on the screen the photos of people who were spies and told us some exciting stories about them. They were followed, caught and condemned. A Swedish diplomat with the code name Silvester provided information on COREU and information he received during discussions with other EU diplomats. Alexandro Legein added that for ten years he was sitting next to him during meetings. Estonian NSA Herman Simm, member of the EU and NATO security committees was arrested for spying for Russia. In May 2012 the foreign ministry official Raymond Poeteray was sentenced for 12 years imprisonment for passing EUCI to his Russian controllers. In May 2012 an international policy professor at Copenhagen university was arrested for having given the SVR information on his students, amongst whom were EU diplomats, against payment between 2005 and 2010. The lecturer underlined an important fact – the difference between information gathering and espionage. Information gathering is a legitimate activity undertaken by governments, organisations and individuals to explain their decisions. Most diplomatic activity falls into that category. Espionage or spying involves cultivating or recruiting civil servants to illicitly obtain information to which one normally would not have access. At the early stage, it is difficult to distinguish between the two. Spies typically look for political, economic or commercial information. 

EU is a big power organisation, with a lot of activities going on, involving many countries, governments and issues. Alexandro Legein gave us an example from the negotiations with Morocco for renting a piece of their huge seacoast. During the negotiations, someone was feeding the other side information about the talks, thus putting the EU in a bad situation. Economic espionage is important because it can pose risks to civil servants and their families. Electronic attacks can cause havoc in the whole EU system. For example, before the EU headquarter building was handed over by Belgium to the EU the whole building was wired bysomebody with hidden microphones. Who spies on us? The lecturer gave us a hypothetical question. The answer is: everybody who wants to get classified information, including the USA, China, Russia and Israel. 

What are the modern methods for collecting important information? They are many, but the preferred method is recruitment of secret agents. Communications interception and eavesdropping, malicious software and hacking are also used. To recruit a secret agent, you need to learn a lot about him. Before it used to take six months. Now one day is enough. People use media platforms like Facebook, where they tell everything about themselves. Personal information helped in one case to recruit a Russian. Why do people become spies? Alexandro stressed that motivations are always the same: fear, sex, flattery, money, friendship. Who is targeted? For the short term, it is EU civil servants, PerRep staff with access to current information and its potential influence on EU decision making. For the long term: permanent representative staff. They will become big bosses and we will remind them that they worked for us.

THE BRUSSELS RISKS The risk of espionage here is greater than in many other places, such as New York or Geneva, because of a big concentration of diplomats and lobbyists. Here we have the largest number of diplomats in the world after New York and Geneva. There are 279 diplomatic representations, 5000 accredited diplomats and 60 000 international civil servants. The number of lobbyists is about 15 000-20 000. 1000 journalists are accredited to the EU. 

The lecturer gave us a number of intelligence ‘agents’ in Brussels. 

• Russia has 266 (156 diplomats plus 110 dependents) 

• China has 128 (112 diplomats plus 16 dependents) 

• Iran has 29 diplomats. 

Alexandro told us his personal story of finding a listening device in his apartment – two concrete boxes. When the EU Council received its building from Belgium, it was full of secret listening devices, and the other side already knew about preparations for the war in Iraq. Obviously, countries opposing the war were involved in installing the devices. There are people who want to upset EU meetings. This is one of the tasks of the Intelligence service- not to let them do it. Alexandro Legein gave us an example of Green Peace activities. During the Obama visit to Brussels, a white Mercedes – the same as Obama’s, mixed in his convoy and passed into the security area around the building and was stopped only at the door. Luckily, they were not terrorists, and this car did not have explosives, otherwise it could have been terrible.

Coming Up

ISG Picks