Sanz Roldán, in the recent seminar on Defence of the AEJ in Toledo./Picture: Diego de la Vega.
The Diplomat. Madrid.
Today and tomorrow’s Official State Gazette will share this paradoxical cessation and appointment of the same person, Félix Sanz Roldán, for the same position –director of the National Intelligence Centre (CNI in its Spanish acronym)-. The cessation appears today because the five years of mandate granted by law to the chief of the secret services end today. The appointment is appearing tomorrow in the Official State Gazette because the Cabinet will pass the renewal in the position today.
Will this retired lieutenant general, who will turn 70 in January, stand up to another five year period at the front of the CNI? In Moncloa nobody dares to make predictions, but they are confident that he will finish what is left of term. From then on, Rajoy, or whoever succeeds him in Moncloa, will have the final say.
In 2009, this situation repeated itself when the Government of the PSOE confirmed in his position Alberto Saiz, predecessor of Sanz Roldán, but the CNI was boiling on the inside. Several mid-level officials rebelled against Saiz’s continuity and started to leak sensitive information about this politician who had arrived to The House (like the Centre is known in the jargon of its agents) by the hand of José Bono. Three months later, Saiz resigned and José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero chose the general Sanz Roldán to bring the CNI together.
When the PP came to power in December 2011, one of its first decisions was transferring the CNI from the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of the Presidency, under the command of Soraya Sáenz de Santamaría. The next surprise was that the PP’s Executive kept the general in his position against what was expected. In time, Sanz Roldán has become the only senior official of Zapatero’s period who still continues with Mariano Rajoy.
As well as calming the secret services, Sanz Roldán has professionalized the CNI with the passing of a Statute for the 3,500 people appearing on its payroll.
Among his achievements, the accurate analysis that the secret services developed about ETA’s irreversible final, facing the opinion of the Civil Guard or the Police Forces that questioned the final cessation of violence that the terrorist group announced in October 2011.
Moncloa believes that there are many open flanks to change the director of the intelligence services
Besides, the CNI has been able to put an end to the kidnapping of Spanish journalists and voluntary workers happening during the last years in the area of the Sahel and, more recently, in Syria.
Their most compromising moment took place last year with the so called case Snowden, since the CNI had transferred thousands of data to the National Security Agency (NSA) where the computer expert who run away to Hong-Kong, and then to Russia, used to work. Sanz Roldán had to appear before the commission of official secrets of the Congress of Deputies and calmed down your lordships with two arguments: the information transferred respected the fundamental rights of the Spanish citizens for being communications intercepted in operation areas such as Afghanistan or Mali.
Besides, The House has started to sign collaboration agreements in the period of Sanz Roldán and to finance courses in universities such as the Rey Juan Carlos or the Carlos III –both of them located in Madrid-, which allows contacting with prestigious professionals that, in some cases, end up being part of the CNI.
In Moncloa the renewal of the mandate of Sanz Roldán is justified for not being the political waters calm: the change in the Leadership of the State just happened, the PSOE is at a crossroads after the fall of Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba and the incursion of an outsider such as the party Podemos, whereas the Catalonian secessionist challenge is around the corner with the referendum of 9 November already on the horizon. Rajoy must have thought there were too many open flanks to change the head of the spies now.
Finally, the National Council of Cyber Defence has been set in motion during the mandate of Sanz Roldán, but not the System of Economic Intelligence, some kind of economic CNI that did not please him, because it was going to be out of his reach for having its headquarters in Moncloa.
However, he has always emphasized the need for companies to invest more in economic intelligence and to knock on the CNI’s door every time they need it. “The security of a nation is attached to its economy –Sanz Roldán warned in a conference-, which guarantees the stability of the country, the wellbeing of its citizens and the exercise of their freedom, and contributes the necessary resources to defend their integrity, independence and sovereignty”.
The economic intelligence gained special importance in 2012, especially in July and August, when the risk premium rose above 600 basic points and Spain was close to being bailed out. The Government tried to find out who were those behind the attacks to the public debt then and if it was true that the uncertainty about the Spanish economy was caused by speculators.