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Chief of Staff criticises plan to reform secret services

The armed forces chief of staff, Hans-Ulrich Scherrer, has criticised the recommendation by a government-appointed commission that the secret services should be professionalised and placed under civilian control.

This content was published on February 25, 2000 - 14:01

The armed forces chief of staff, Hans-Ulrich Scherrer, has criticised the recommendation by a government-appointed commission that the secret services should be professionalised and placed under civilian control.

Scherrer told a news conference in Berne on Friday that the work they did was invaluable and was used as a base for Switzerland's general view and knowledge about the world.

"But our people are neither spies nor snoopers," he said. Scherrer added there had been a lot of unreasonable treatment of the role of the army in the intelligence services in recent weeks.

The chief of staff said the media had given the general public the impression that anyone from the armed forces who worked in the intelligence service was a spy, and that they even had orders to gather information on their own firms. Scherrer said the term "spy" was totally inappropriate, and that most of their work was carried out by regular members of the armed forces in offices or on military bases.

He pointed out that, as the Swiss army was organised according to militia principles, it was unavoidable that any involvement the army had in the intelligence services would also rely on the militia. The Swiss army consists of a small professional core of around 3,000 soldiers, the rest of the force being raised from the civilian population.

Last week, a commission headed by the former state secretary, Edouard Brunner, made a series of recommendations on reforming the secret service, including placing it under the defence ministry rather than the military. The review was ordered following a secret service scandal last year, in which an auditor allegedly embezzled nearly SFr9 million.

From staff and wire reports

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