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Vol 2, No 17
2 May 2000
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Csardas Stop Press Continued:
The Juszt affair

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Part two: Secrets and lies, the Miklós Lakatos confession

Click here to read part one

In the offending edition of Kriminális, Juszt reproduced documents concerning the "surveillance scandal", including a report on the activities of Pinpoint Limited and a transcript of the statement given by Mr Miklós Lakatos, a former officer in the secret service. In order to place these in context, I reproduce below a confession originally written by Lakatos in longhand, dated 19 July 1999, submitted not long afterwards to György Keleti, Chairman of the National Security Committee of the Hungarian Parliament (Nemzetbiztonsági Bizottság). It was brought to the attention of the public several months later (in October to be precise!) when Gábor Világosi (SZDSZ, Liberals) made copies available to journalists (once it had been made handed out to rank and file members of the Committee). It reads as follows:

The confession

The Committee of Enquiry set up to investigate the illegal exercise, carried out in secret, of compiling information concerning politicians, other public figures and their families during the term of office of the previous Parliament, sent me a notification indicating that it wished to hear the information I had to give in the framework of a confession.

Since I was unable to appear before the Committee at its meeting on 11 July 1999, I hereby complete my confession at the present juncture and in this form.

I forwarded a report in the public interest to the office of the MWP [Minister Without Portfolio] on 11 March 1998 in order to attain two aims. To close down Pinpoint Ltd., a company monitored very closely as a cover for the NSS [National Security Service, the secret police] and to show that the internal affairs structure of the secret services was not really suitable when it came to dealing effectively with problems affecting the upper echelons of the service.

The following series of events led me to take these steps.

One of my immediate colleagues, who was aware that I was on the lookout for supplementary sources of income, offered me an opportunity to compile information involving unlawful activity, employing the methods and instruments of the NSS and which severely damaged national security interests. I reported this invitation to the Internal Affairs Department and joined the group carrying out the illegal operations as a plant. At that stage, I already had the Internal Intelligence Department's approval to do so. This is, in essence, how my career as a secret operative - or if you prefer agent - began.

After having busted two groups responsible for illegal information-gathering at my level of the ranks, I can quite resolutely contend that this response is a mere palliative, since virtually all the problems are rooted in Pinpoint Ltd., which works within the framework of the NSS. The concept of having a firm as a cover undertaking is an inspired idea professionally, but it has deteriorated into a venue for a few high-ranking individuals within the service to earn unverifiable income. This has had a highly corrosive effect amongst the underpaid staff quite apart from the displeasure it has generated.

The rules apply to everyone without exception, although I know myself that this statement is a naive and idealistic one. Given the fact that I could not count on help within the profession in matters relating to Pinpoint Ltd. due to the sensitive nature of the whole issue, I began compiling information to be used against it under my own steam, working alone. In the course of my enquiry, it was proven beyond all shadow of a doubt that the company was being used by the NSS to satisfy the demands of civilian clients purely for purposes of material gain.

Having kept close tabs on the media, I feel that not everyone recognises - or else there is a deliberate attempt afoot to trivialise matters - how dangerous this is. It is, however, obvious that if private individuals and companies are allowed to activate a civilian secret service against other individuals and economic interests this goes way beyond the boundaries of a simple problem. By setting up a construct like Pinpoint, by creating a secret service within the secret service, the organisation made it absolutely impossible for the activities carried out there to be monitored.

This was one of the reasons why there was a widespread view within the service staff that political interests were also being served. By and large, this assumption was reinforced by the fact that the MWP responsible for monitoring the secret service had a chef de cabinet, Mr Tamás Somogyi, who had links with the leading figures in the secret service responsible for abusing their powers. In the interests of telling the whole truth, I must also mention that this construct was activated in the days of the MDF [Hungarian Democratic Forum, the first democratically elected government after the collapse of Communism, headed by József Antall] and that even then there were a good few employees of the secret service, who thought it likely that the MDF government was using the (?) [word illegible in manuscript] to obtain information on the opposition as was.

I would like to draw the Committee of Enquiry's attention to annexe one of the public interest report I sent to the MWP's office, in which an officer involved in helping out at the company speaks about the nature of the fears he harboured and which led him to break off his working relationship with Pinpoint Ltd. In his statements, he provides a faithful reflection of the prevailing trend of opinion concerning the service in this matter.

Having compiled the material, finding the appropriate and responsible place to deal with it proved a major difficulty, as sticking to any mandatory route through the normal channels was made laughable due to the nature of the problems. They affected the highest levels of the service. The contents of the material were such as to justify bypassing the NSS leadership in line with the law on national security services. I had to choose between two legal possibilities. The first, that of the MWP office, was seriously worrying because of Tamás Somogyi. The second, that of the National Security Committee, was one I shied away from because of the timing: it was a few months before the elections and this meant that it was doubtful whether Committee members delegated from amongst those whose interests would be adversely affected by the report would stick to establishing the facts of the case in an objective manner.

By precluding the likelihood of a scandal being mongered, my desire was to put an end to the irregularities. It would have been possible to force the MWP to take action had I decided to breach the rules on internal conspiracy. I had to at least weigh up following this course because of Tamás Somogyi, but ultimately I chose to stick to the rules and sent the material to the MWP office. Any further steps I might have to take would depend on the reaction. Although the ensuing reaction was favourable to putting a stop to Pinpoint, it was plain to see that the Committee formed to examine the report had only very limited opportunities open to it.

Even up to this day I have not found an acceptable explanation as to why I had to be subjected to a frisk before the hearings took place to make sure I was not concealing any recording devices in my clothing. Once I actually mentioned that if the Committee were going about its work legally then it had no need to be afraid of any recording of the proceedings that might be made. Nor can I forget that Pinpoint's activities were already suspended (even if it cost much gnashing of teeth) half way through the procedure.

A couple of questions still remain to be cleared up. In how much detail did the Committee examine the company's material, which still existed then? Was Mr György Méth called upon to speak in the course of the investigation? According to unconfirmed information this did not take place. The expression "because it was not possible" was used in conjunction with this matter.

Once the procedure closing down Pinpoint had been concluded, I gave up my role as an undercover agent. The leading figures of the former limited company and their close associates treated me with kid gloves, but they supported me in completing my official duties and I did not notice any desire for reprisals. From the moment that Pinpoint was linked to the information-gathering campaign directed against prominent figures in Fidesz and members of their families in the press, these peaceful days came to an end. A few days after the press had really got into its stride with the subject matter and came up with surprisingly accurate information about Pinpoint's activities, a peculiar game of tag began between myself and a couple of strangers.

In trade jargon we call this "demonstrative shadowing". In essence it is a kind of way of warning to "keep stumm". I may safely suppose that someone or some people reckon that I am the individual, who is supplying the journalists with information about Pinpoint. One of the main reasons why the whole thing worries me is that my "escort", who puts in an occasional appearance, was obviously made up of "outsiders", in other words of persons independent of the secret service not bound by rules on how to perform their duties. This method is effective, as I already know from my own experience. It did not take much for me to catch myself examining the car from underneath before I would get into it.

The culmination of this whole campaign of intimidation was when someone ransacked the contents of the wooden chalet in my allotment garden. I must have severely pissed someone off and had no way of knowing how far that person would dare to go. This is why I took the initiative to establish contacts in secret, inviting along MWP staff members with whom I could speak freely without breaching the rules of professional confidentiality. Károly Szadai and Dr Pál Horváth came along to the rendezvous. My aim with the interview was to persuade them to provide partial escort for my wife to and from her workplace over a limited period of time. This would have been emphatic enough to scare off the uninvited escort.

I had assumed that my public interest report had been the cause of all my troubles. As it turned out, the MWP staff were not aware of this material and they raked it out after I had come forward. No matter how I kept on about it, nothing came of the request for help; at least I never saw any sign of it. The problem was finally brought to an end when I ran out of patience, as I impressed this upon my escort very emphatically indeed. That this led to a result serves at the same time as a demonstration that I was not being singled out for serious threats; in other words, I do not believe that beyond giving a warning there was any more aggressive intent at play.

Almost six months later, on 17 May 1999, a man of around fifty came looking for me. I had never seen the individual introducing himself as László before, but he knew even the details of my date of birth. To cut a long story short, he informed me that I was in the exceptional position of being able to play a part in cleaning up the country. Before delving into the details, he indicated that if I were willing to co-operate in an appropriate manner, he could offer a solution to my housing problems in exchange. My first thought was that this person was evidently stark staring mad, and I voiced my considered opinion to that effect. The well-dressed gentleman responded by pointing out that if he were, then he would not know anything about the meeting held at my instigation during which I discussed Pinpoint with Károly Szadai.

He also indicated that I could conclude from this information that he had been charged with the task of seeking me out by an influential figure in the background. He went on to tell me that what this would basically be about Pinpoint, which had been and in essence still was in the pay of the MSZP [Socialists] and about those individuals I had fought against so hard - and yet in vain - in connection with Pinpoint. He elucidated that, from the point of view of preserving the country's stability, it would be very desirable indeed if the driving forces behind Pinpoint were to be afraid of setting up similar organisations in the future.

In order to attain this aim, my help as an expert in [covert] operations was being counted on, since, if I were willing to simulate an armed attack against my person, and if I were to identify Pinpoint and the sphere of interest surrounding it as a likely source of blame, this would give considerable impetus to the matter because the successful outcome would otherwise be in doubt if purely legal instruments were used. He announced that of course there was no wish or indeed opportunity to call anyone to account individually for the feigned attack, that this was, moreover, not the purpose of the exercise, but that the justification lay in the deed's news value, which could subsequently be used appropriately by experts in such matters.

He gave me four hours to think it over, taking his leave by saying that if I were to decide against it, this would be understood, and would not result in any disadvantages to me personally, but that should I go along with it, I could rely on further advantages beyond sorting out my housing situation. In the end, I had three and a half hours to make up my mind about what to do, which was extremely difficult. No matter how cautiously I want to phrase it, I nevertheless have to say that an individual, who professed to be intimately linked to Fidesz itself, wanted to persuade me to help out in attaining a presumably political aim on the basis of a false charge.

What can you do at times like this? As a professional member of staff, whose attention could I draw this to? Did I have even the remotest chance of proving an intention that had probably emanated from the government itself? Did I even dare to do anything at all? These are but a few of the many questions that sprang to mind. I finally decided that I have to mention this incident because if I was approached with a bribe, then others might also be approached and if libel, false charges and intimidation were to become acceptable instruments in political struggles it is no longer possible to know what depths we are willing to plumb. I decided to get involved in the matter as deeply as I could and go public with it at an appropriate moment.

The same person was waiting for me at the agreed time and place. I told him I was in. Before turning to the specific details, Mr "László" convinced himself that I had not brought along any recording equipment. Luckily for me, the device I had used in my work against Pinpoint was no longer in my possession, so I could not have used it, though this also spared me from being caught out. Having checked through my clothing, he congratulated me on having made the right decision and went on to give me the following instructions, which seem to have been formulated well in advance. I should look for a deserted stretch along the routes I usually follow, that is to say in a setting where my presence could be justified, where I could fire two or three shots at my own car at night - here I would draw attention to the fact that Mr László demonstrated knowledge of the whereabouts of my allotment, the type of car I owned, and he also knew about my having a hand gun.

He did not know, however, what type of gun, as he touched upon the problem of what to do about the spent cartridges dropped upon firing. After having fired the shots, I should drive my car into a tree or some other such natural landmark and then, leaving the engine running, should set light to the petrol pipe close to the ignition causing a fire. He dismissed my immediate protests by saying that the value of a dilapidated Trabant was a minute sacrifice compared to the price of a flat. He fixed the time at which the act was to be carried out as the night of the 21 May. I would have to disappear after the act in such a way that I could not be produced before at least the 27th.

Once I had reached a safe distance from the scene, I was to call the police, reporting the armed attack. Even at that stage I could begin referring to my suspicions against Pinpoint and its associated sphere of interest and that I was afraid and so would not come forward until I feel safe. He argued that once I had made a suitable mention of the company I would not have to lend assistance in the whole procedure, but, quoting my family and my personal safety as a motive, I could back out of it.

I told him I would only undertake the task for the following benefits: the flat offered should have a living room and one small bedroom [beyond the kitchen and bathroom] with all mod cons, the furnishings, which they should also provide, should be of medium quality and it should be located in a residential area. As a replacement for the Trabant I would have to burn, the instalments on which I had not yet paid for in full, I asked for a Lada Niva jeep. Reacting to my demands, he disclosed that he had only received an authorisation for the flat and, asking me to bear with him, took a few steps away from me and called someone on a mobile phone.

He subsequently agreed, but informed me that an injury would be expected in return for this upping of the stakes and that a surface wound from a bullet on one of my arms would do. By way of reaction to my protests he said that I could really endure a small abrasion. In the end we agreed on light burns, as I pointed out that it would be possible to see that the shot was fired at very close range and that this might arouse the suspicions of experts. At the very end, we discussed the way in which the payment would be arranged. He drew my attention to the need to let the amount of publicity and interest shown in the case die down, as it would cause trouble if someone were to start putting two and two together by linking the attack to the sudden improvement in my material fortunes.

He stated that he would also be the middleman in providing me with my reward, and would get in touch with me at the appropriate juncture. As to my insistent questions concerning guarantees, he replied that it was in their fundamental interest that I too should feel satisfied after the action. We took leave of each other agreeing that because time was pressing, I would already begin preparations the following day.

If anyone ever wants to fire shots and set fire to a car along a given stretch of roadside, it will pretty soon occur to him that there are not as few people in this country as there are usually claimed to be. Simply finding a place on the road where nobody would be able to see me, but which was also an open space so that I would not cause any damage to nature with the fire, cost me one and a half nights. There was no such place along my habitual routes, so I had to look for another one. Traffic density proved to be an equally big problem.

Vehicles passed by at 40 to 120 second intervals even very late at night and this created new difficulties: if I were only to use the amount of fuel released by tearing open the fuel pipes to start the fire, it could take up to several minutes before the fuel tank exploded. I was afraid that anyone driving past would be justified in thinking that there might be someone left inside the passenger compartment of the car burning in the roadside ditch and that the fuel tank would blow up during their rescue efforts. This risk could only be averted by a very swift and fierce fire, so, ignoring the instructions I had been given, I prepared five litres of fuel in a plastic container.

I launched the action just after midnight on the appointed day. About two to three kilometres from the place I had selected for setting the car alight I fired two shots at a secluded spot about one metre from the vehicle pointing towards the left-hand window in such a way that the right-hand window was penetrated at an angle. The window on the driver's side imploded on the first shot, though the other one remained intact. Since I was using my own weapon, it was not advisable for me to leave any traces from the bullets in the metal parts and there were holes considerably bigger than the size of my left hand in the pane of glass.

I set off in the car to the part of the road I had picked out. According to the observations I had made the previous night of traffic density, I had a better chance of a longer break after a couple of cars had passed by at one-minute intervals. I had saved a lot of time by firing the shots somewhere else. At the moment I deemed appropriate, I fired three shots into the air from my car as I drove, thinking of anyone in the area, who might actually be awake, and, with a big screech of the tyres, though otherwise driving so as not to wreck the car, I directed it towards the ditch I had chosen earlier, one covered in concrete, designed for draining away water. I had to avoid a big thud so that the fuel pipes I had already damaged would not split apart altogether.

After that I had to act very quickly. I jumped out and, leaving the door open, began pouring petrol over the front part of the car so that it would reach the fuel tank as well, having reached under the engine compartment. Because I had to work quickly, I ended up being thoroughly spattered, and my left trouser leg and arm were soaked so that I could feel it. I had not reckoned with this beforehand, but time was slipping away quickly and I couldn't really start reflecting on it there and then. Holding my right hand as far away from myself as I could, I flicked my lighter. I immediately caught fire along with the vehicle, but so fiercely that when I looked down, my hair also started burning. I put out the fire by rolling in the grass by the side of the road. The flimsy plastic container I had been holding in my hand had naturally fallen to the ground and, having shrivelled up, was burning with huge flames.

My metal lighter had also been lost somewhere near the vehicle. Within a short space of time, the fuel tank exploded in a sea of flames. By the time the first vehicle arrived, all that was to be found was a fiercely burning wreck that by then did not pose any danger. I made off up a tree-covered hillside where I had hidden a rucksack containing my gear the night before. There, I attended to the burn wounds, which I had intended to produce, though absolutely not in the way that I incurred them.

I had exceeded the few burn blisters originally planned by quite a considerable margin. I set off towards the central hills of Börzsöny, where I would have spent the time between then and the 27th. Deviating significantly from the instructions I had received, I called Károly Szadai instead of the police. Even in the preparatory stage I had decided that he should dirty his hands a little as well if I were to become famous because of Mr "László". Sticking to my concocted story as elaborated, I added a further layer: he should be the one to inform the police.

That morning it already became apparent that I would have to abandon the trip of several days, which had originally promised to be a pleasant one, a thick discharge had begun oozing out of the deeper burns and, in spite of the fact that I had a first aid kit with me, I was fearful that the wounds might become infected in the forest surroundings. I headed back and, repeating my concocted story like a parrot on my mobile phone, I let myself be persuaded to come forward. I was only able to reach the part of the road where the people from the secret service had arrived by forcing myself to march. They picked me up. Beforehand, I hid my gear again and removed the bandages I had placed on my wounds. I did, however, keep on my person the rough draft of the report I had submitted to the MWP office as well as the working material on it, which I could wave about splendidly like a bloodied sword, though it had no further significance.

At the service, they took down my concocted story in an official protocol in the course of a hastily conducted examination. The bare bones of the story were as follows: that on the road at night, the occupants of a car overtaking me opened fire on me. As a result, I ran into a ditch and, noticing that my adversary was turning to come back towards me, I escaped by setting light to the fuel leaking out of my car with the aim of misleading them. I made reference to the attack having been prepared in advance and handed over the working material I already mentioned whilst ranting against the sphere of interest surrounding Pinpoint.

Afterwards I was placed in the burns unit of a hospital, where I could finally sleep it off. Two days later, I had to be treated under anaesthetic for the wounds to my hands. At times like that, it inevitably occurs to the ordinary mortal that even though such operations are very safe, there is at the same time a statistically quantifiable risk involved. This is why I jotted down a very short set of notes before the operation, something along the lines of "The Revenge of the Agent, who Made It by the Skin of His Teeth" and I took care to activate contacts [here the author is undoubtedly referring to calling friends either to divulge the details of his story, or to warn those with whom he may have deposited information that he might not live to tell the tale himself] so that the work I had done up to then would not have been for nothing.

The absolute worst of the most improbable nightmares of a secret agent is having his name, his activities and the details of the people he busted appear before the public eye in one and the same newspaper. Well, this is exactly what happened to me and no matter how thick my skin is, it is both unpleasant and dangerous, even if, to be frank, I was on the right side. I reckon that as things are at present, I have to specify exactly what I mean by the term "the good side". Let’s change it to bring it in line with my own vantage point and understanding of what it means. I was still lying in a hospital bed, when I received a phone call telling me that I must buy a copy of "Kriminális" due to appear the next day. It was simply the last straw that the call came from the sort of people I had been working against and that their names appeared too.

It is not my role to philosophise on the subject of the ethics of journalists, so I shall stick to the end result achieved in my case, according to which only a complete incompetent should become an agent, and it wouldn't do any harm if he was brain-dead either.

The week after being discharged from hospital, Mr "László" was waiting for me near where I live. He seemed nervous. He briefly informed me that the plan had fallen through, but that I would receive my payment nevertheless, provided I was willing to accept the consequences. He did not even tell me what the problem was. It seemed fairly clear that he was afraid of our meeting being documented.

The prospect did not exactly fill me with delight, since that week I had to undergo a psychological examination, the interesting feature of which was that right at the very start they started putting out feelers about what I would say to being discharged as unfit for duty due to reasons of my health. By way of reply I indicated that I would not go quietly and that they would have to rid themselves of me in some other way. In the meantime I also had to turn up at the police where I put it on record that I set my car alight myself and that I did not wish to make any further statements for the sake of protecting myself and my family.

They were still hard at work examining my psyche when I read in the press on 9 June that Miklós L. had been officially summoned to appear before the Surveillance Committee at its meeting on the 11 June and that Dr Dénes Kosztolányi had officially mentioned my person as a possible star witness [...].

The Surveillance Committee’s notification was handed over to me on 14 June. What struck me most about it was that at its meeting of 11 May 1999, it had decided to summon me for a confession.
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In that way, making me speak out officially on 11 June provided an excellent opportunity to disclose my final activity as a secret agent, but, since they let that opportunity slip through their fingers and it is also plain to see that they are trying to bury even my memory, I have to resort to other means of making my statement.

In the meantime, a solution was found as to how to sort out the unpleasant affair surrounding my person quietly. My superiors in the service sent for me, pointing out with the greatest of courtesy that in the course of the investigation that had been set in motion, it had been established that my allegations concerning the ominous night had proven untrue. If, however, I were to resign, the proceedings that had been launched against me would have to be discontinued and I could therefore leave with a clean record and could even join the army, customs service, police, fire brigade or other such profession.

The contents of the confession did not, however, cause the kind of stir you might expect…

Gusztáv Kosztolányi, 28 April 2000

Moving on:

Next Week in Part Three: I shall examine two of the very few responses to the confession, by Péter Új and Miklós Haraszti (both printed in Népszabadság), the material reproduced in Kriminális and the reaction to the revelations it contained.


The full text of the confession may be read in the original on the SZDSZ website.


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