Serbia’s New Intelligence Service Chief Will Guard Vucic’s ‘Captured’ State

The appointment of a ruling party apparatchik as head of the powerful Security Information Agency suggests the intelligence service will remain a loyal servant of Serbia’s president.
The Serbian public was informed last week that the National Security Council, NSC, chaired by President Aleksandar Vucic, had approved the appointment of Vladimir Orlic, an official of the ruling Serbian Progressive Party, as the new director of the Security Information Agency, BIA.

The following day, the government issued the formal decision to appoint Orlic as director. While this news attracted attention, it did not come as a big surprise to those familiar with Serbia’s security institutions. Since coming to power in 2012, the Progressive Party has established a practice of appointing people to head the BIA and other state institutions based not on expertise and professionalism but on their loyalty to Vucic.

This is evident from the fact that it was announced that the NSC, led by Vucic, had given its approval for Orlic’s appointment – even though by law the NSC provides only a non-binding opinion in appointing the BIA’s director; the government is the institution that appoints and dismisses the head of the BIA. The move was aimed at signaling that Vucic personally stands behind Orlic’s appointment.

Orlic proved his loyalty to Vucic and the ruling party as president of Serbia’s National Assembly from 2022 to 2024, when he compared the political opposition to Hitler, Goebbels and other fascists, and labelled them thieves and scum. He used similar derogatory names for professional media critical of the Serbian Progressive Party government.

Like his five predecessors, as director of the BIA, he will effectively promote President Vucic’s will within the agency, protecting and increasing Vucic’s power and authority, as well as the power and wealth of those close to him.

This task has been made easier for him by the fact that, under his predecessors, the BIA was structured to serve these purposes. Within the agency, a situation centre has been established to collect critical information, staffed with young cadres from the ruling party. From the year the Serbian Progressive Party came to power to 2018, the agency hired 250 new people, and many more agents have been hired since then.

Furthermore, the BIA’s budget was nearly doubled between 2016 and 2023. This enabled the technical modernisation of the agency, including the purchase of spyware, including programmes for secret surveillance of mobile phones such as Predator, and buying the loyalty of BIA employees through significant salary increases and the provision of newly-built apartments at favourable prices.

In 2023, an armed unit was (re)established within the BIA, specialising in secret arrests, reminiscent of the time of Slobodan Milosevic’s rule during the 1990s when the state security’s Special Operations Unit acted as the regime’s iron fist against its enemies.

These changes were accompanied by a clear redefinition of the BIA’s main tasks, which was announced in 2018 by Marko Parezanovic, a high-ranking agency operative at the time. Parezanovic emphasised that the biggest threat to Serbia’s security was the covert actions of foreign factors through opposition parties, media, non-governmental organisations and unions.

The impact of these changes is evident from the BIA’s activities over the past five years, characterised by monitoring the political opposition and critical individuals and journalists, spreading disinformation in pro-government media to discredit them, detaining protest initiators and critics of the government, and even physically assaulting some of them for activities such as posting on the social network X or honouring the fallen in the Kosovo war.

The Agency’s recent agenda has also included the persecution of Russian liberal exiles in Serbia and patrolling the streets of Belgrade with armed and uniformed BIA members following a terrorist attack in Moscow.

Alleged organised crime connections

Reports by the New York Times and other media outlets have claimed that the Agency has used criminal structures for various tasks beneficial to the current regime – from providing security at Progressive Party gatherings to dispersing fan groups that were chanting derogatory slogans against Vucic at matches.

This alleged deployment of criminal elements by the BIA has caused journalists and former and current members of security institutions to claim that since the Progressive Party came to power, the borderline between organised crime and the state has become blurred.

In the future, continuity in the BIA’s work can be expected in terms of international cooperation; Orlic will consistently implement Vucic’s policy of scaremongering and stability. This involves simultaneously playing on other countries’ fears while offering Serbia’s security institutions as useful partners in addressing them.

While the West is concerned about irregular migration, Islamist extremism and terrorism and organised crime, the BIA is likely to provide field data on these issues.

Russia, on the other hand, is concerned about both Islamist terrorism as well as so-called ‘colour’ (pro-Western) revolutions, as well as ‘enemies’ represented by the Russian liberal, democratic and anti-war opposition in exile. Therefore, the BIA will likely continue to persecute Russian liberals in Serbia.

Although Orlic takes over an agency that is well oiled to protect the regime, his tenure at the BIA will not be plain sailing. After 12 years of Progressive Party rule, Serbia is divided and polarised, with state institutions ‘captured’ by Vucic and his loyalists preventing the institutional expression of dissent and the desire for a change of government.

This situation, coupled with widespread poverty and political, social and economic stratification, leads to regular public protests, which Vucic’s regime treats as a threat to national security.

The situation is further complicated by the thawing of ‘frozen’ conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia, and the government’s advocacy of Serbian unity in the region through the concept of the ‘Serbian World’.

In these conditions, two major projects need to be realised. One is the 2.5-billion-euro Jadar Project to mine lithium and boron from under the river Jadar, which is expected to annually boost Serbia’s budget by about 10 billion euros, employ many workers, and garner support from the West. The other is EXPO 2027, worth a colossal 17 billion euros, which is expected to provide immense material and financial benefits to the government and its allies.

Besides securing Vucic’s rule, Orlic needs to ensure that the opposition does not politically jeopardise these projects – as well as make sure that they are not threatened by factional conflicts over the division of spoils within and around Vucic’s government.

Check Also

How Kyiv Drove Russia’s Fleet Out Of Crimea – Analysis

A significant development in the war in Ukraine is not getting much attention. The last …