The state security services are ready to get back to the work of protecting the country from industrial and economic espionage by countries like China and Russia, De Tijd reports.
The security services’ responsibilities, in addition to guarding against political and military espionage, also cover what is known as the country’s ‘scientific and economic potential’.
However, while there was a section of the service devoted to that area in the past, the increased threat from terrorism has seen personnel and resources diverted to that threat.
The newspaper’s sources report that there has been no personnel on the ground since September 2016 for the protection from economic espionage.
And when the subject comes up, ministers are tight-lipped. When former justice minister Koen Geens (CD&V) was asked in parliament earlier this year how many staff the security service had detailed to the growing problem of industrial espionage from China and Russia, Geens took refuge behind the secrecy of national security.
“For security reasons it is not possible to publicise that information,” he replied.
His successor, Vincent Van Quickenborne (Open VLD) was faced with the same question this week, this time from Anneleen Van Bossuyt (N-VA). What resources were devoted to industrial espionage from China?
“You know I absolutely cannot answer that,” Van Quickenborne said.
“At the moment that we are discussing this question, there are others who are listening.”
He did, however, agree with Van Bossuyt that Chinese espionage is “very topical and real”.
Now the newspaper has learned that the service is to allocate more personnel and resources to protect the scientific and economic potential.
“At one point, fewer resources were deployed – because of terrorism – and we want to bring in more,” said spokesperson Ingrid Van Daele.
“We have of course not turned a blind eye to crucial files and have continued to work on them. We have also always continued to raise awareness. But we know we need to do more and we want to.”
This week Jaak Raes, administrator-general of the state security service, called in on Van Quickenborne to state his case for more resources. The minister reassured him that the investments in justice promised by the new government will also concern state security.
“I am conscious of the importance of that organisation for the security of our country,” he said.