Bilateral agreements consolidate mechanisms to maintain and exchange classified information.
By Linda Karadaku for the Southeast European Times in Pristina -- 21/11/12
The exchange of classified information is an important step in building national security structures, experts say. [AFP]
Kosovo and Albania signed an agreement to exchange and protect classified information earlier this month in Tirana, and security experts said the move is an important step in building national security structures based on NATO standards.
"We are in the initial phases of filling in the institutions, but also in meeting the required standards," Bajram Rexhepi, Kosovo interior minister, said.
The agreement defines the basic standards for the exchange of classified information, defined as such by a law approved in the Kosovo parliament, according to Fisnik Rexhepi, political adviser to Kosovo's ministry of interior.
In July 2010, Kosovo approved the Law on Classified Information and Clearance Verification, which calls for a punishment of up to 12 years in prison for leaking confidential, secret or top secret information.
"Any information that gets into the frame of this definition should be treated, exchanged and preserved based on the standards defined in that agreement," Rexhepi told SETimes.
The agreement also defines the procedures for obtaining a security clearance in both countries, a process which recently began in Kosovo.
A main requirement of the new agreement is for the country receiving classified information not to pass it to third parties without the prior written approval of the providing country.
"These standards are required by NATO, of which Albania is a member. We have fulfilled all the security standards for the classified information, be it of NATO or international organisations or other countries with which we co-operate," Shyqyri Dekavelli, Albania's director of the classified information directorate, said. Albania has signed classified information exchange agreements with 12 countries including Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Croatia and Slovenia.
Security experts said these agreements provide a framework for the protection of classified information, and enhance regional security.
"Regional collective security indispensably requires exchange of classified information, based on mutual bilateral agreements. This improves the agenda to fight transnational crime," Burim Ramadani, MP in Kosovo's parliament, told SETimes.
The agreements are an indication of the high level of trust between regional countries, according to Andreja Bogdanovski, a security research fellow at Analytica, a think tank in Skopje.
"Today's threats to security are diverse and go beyond the borders of a single state. The agreements facilitate more prompt exchange of information dealing with different security risks, ultimately resulting in better preparedness for tackling a particular security threat on the other side," Bogdanovski told SETimes.
Bogdanovski said the agreement framework promotes good governance and accountability standards by eliminating the need to obtain classified data on an ad-hoc basis or through informal channels.
Macedonia has concluded bilateral agreements with Albania, Croatia, Slovenia and Bulgaria, and it is currently working on concluding agreements with Montenegro and Serbia.
The agreements are a step beyond regular co-operation between two countries, Marko Savkovic, a researcher for the Centre for Security Policy in Belgrade, told SETimes.
"You may decide to establish a close working relationship with another country because there is a common threat you wish to address. In order for these agreements to be implemented, both countries need to have laws and mechanisms regulating confidentiality in place," Savkovic told SETimes.