This post has been updated and corrected.
Poland woke up today (Dec. 18) to news that officials from the country’s new right-wing government tried to enter NATO-affiliated counter-intelligence offices in Warsaw after midnight, using a copied key and accompanied by military police, in order to replace the head of the office.
“Perhaps in the entire history of NATO it hasn’t happened that a member state attacked a NATO facility,” Tomasz Siemoniak, former minister of defense, currently member of the political opposition, told reporters. The opposition, as well as pundits and journalists, are concerned that the move is part of a campaign by the new Law and Justice government to staff official posts with people loyal to the party.
Siemoniak called the night-time takeover an “absolute scandal.”
NATO has cooled the alarmist atmosphere in Poland, saying that last night’s events were an internal matter, underlining that the center was not “accredited” by NATO, in response to Polish TV station TVN24. (link in Polish) The center is not a NATO organ, said the organization, but an “international research center” that works with it.
Officials from the military counter-intelligence service and the ministry of defense arrived at 1:30 am at the temporary offices of NATO’s Counter-Intelligence Center of Excellence, a training hub for officers from Poland and Slovakia, leading Polish daily Gazeta Wyborcza reported (link in Polish). According to the now former head of the center, col. Krzysztof Dusza, they tried to access certain rooms in the building but because they were sealed, the military police refused to help them enter.
According to a statement from the ministry of defense, the officials brought the new interim head of the center, col. Robert Bala, into the temporary offices. The ministry offered no explanation, but according to Witold Waszczykowski, the minister of foreign affairs, the Polish representatives at the center “lost access to classified material.” They “had to be replaced by new ones, who have this sort of access,” he told Polish radio.
“Everything can be done according to the law, not under the cover of night, by breaking in the door,” said Siemoniak. “I want to apologize to Slovakia on behalf of Poland, because these are unprecedented events. We are quickly losing our credibility.”
The new Law and Justice government likes to operate by night. Poland’s President Andrzej Duda, who hails from the party, took the pledges from newly appointed constitutional court justices in the middle of the night, while a bill to reform the court was presented at 10:30 pm.
The newly proposed reform of the Constitutional Tribunal is at the centre of a massive political controversy. The new government is seeking to replace previous nominees to the court with its own candidates and change the way it functions, in a way that critics say will hinder its ability to swiftly and impartially review the legality of new laws. Fifty thousand people protested against the proposals last weekend, while the head of the EU parliament Martin Schulz said events in Poland “had the characteristics of a coup.”
This post has been updated with a response from NATO, and a stipulation that the offices are NATO-affiliated in the post and headline. It has been corrected to amend the spelling of “Siemoniak,” it previously stated “Siemioniak.”