Accusations of espionage against Dzhyparkul Arykova, a consultant to the Kyrgyz parliamentary press service arrested on June 19, has thrown the national intelligence community into crisis. In recent days the authorities have tried to distance themselves from media reports that the case centers on Arykova’s involvement with Chinese intelligence. She allegedly passed information to a Chinese agent. In fact, the process that has unfolded since the initial facts emerged has involved confusion, speculation, and questions concerning Kyrgyz intelligence.
On June 27 a former intelligence officer warned of the potential damage to Sino-Kyrgyz relations: “I can name off-hand a dozen Kyrgyz nationals (including civil servants) who virtually openly work for various governments. The country’s leadership has been told about this once, but to no avail. I cannot understand why the intelligence agency has now suddenly become very interested in a minor civil servant. If it were necessary to detain a spy right now, I would do it without drawing public attention. Any espionage incident is to do with politics as it involves international relations.” The underlying message warned of over-reaction by the Kyrgyz authorities. Indeed, handling the aftermath of a controversial incident has not been a strong point in the recent history of Bishkek’s diplomacy; Washington reacted bitterly to the decision to deport two U.S. diplomats in 2006, while the present situation risks relations with a friendly neighbor (Delo No, June 27). The international dimension has gradually become the dominant theme in Kyrgyz security thinking.
On June 28 the confusion seemed briefly dispelled after a Kyrgyz counter-intelligence officer, speaking anonymously to Kyrgyz television, made clear the alleged link with Chinese intelligence. As a senior official of the State Committee for National Security (SCNS), the source said a Chinese citizen was involved, thought to be working for Chinese intelligence. Moreover, the source also confirmed that the special services had “unquestionable evidence” that Arykova had passed classified information to the Chinese.
Media speculation within Kyrgyzstan has focused on the rather far-fetched nature of espionage being carried out within the parliament, since parliamentary debates and related documentation would not necessarily constitute classified material. The SCNS officer asked rhetorically “Do you think that we would bring such serious charges as treason against anyone for passing on a transcript of a parliamentary session?” (Channel 5 TV, Bishkek, June 28).
By July 3 Sino-Kyrgyz relations, already at a particularly sensitive phase before the August 16 Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Bishkek, loomed large in a meeting between Marat Sultanov, Kyrgyz parliamentary speaker, and Zhang Yannian, Chinese ambassador to Kyrgyzstan. Zhang stressed that if China wanted to gather the type of information related to this case, there is nothing preventing a request through official channels. Equally, if there were no classified material involved, the information would be freely available to Chinese officials in any case.
Sultanov’s attempts to reassure Beijing pointed to the possibility that a mistake had occurred. “Perhaps, during the investigation it will become clear that it was a misunderstanding. In any case, they are confident that the court will make right conclusions, and Dzhyparkul Arykova will be acquitted by the Kyrgyz court, because the Chinese side has no data [indicating] that she could have passed any secret documents on to them,” he said.
Sultanov confirmed that in Bishkek it is normal for documents to be labeled “secret” when, in fact, they are nothing of the kind. Unfortunately, in such circumstances, an individual could technically place themselves in breach of the law, though they have not disclosed official secrets. Sultanov, far from attempting to criticize any foreign power implicated in the case, suggested that it has highlighted the need to reform the system of classification for state documentation, to avoid any embarrassing repetition of such cases in future. According to the parliamentary speaker, there was no question that the suspect in the investigation could have had access to classified material: she simply could not (Akipress News Agency, July 3).
The process of distancing the government from any potential diplomatic damage with Beijing was completed by July 5 when the SNSC’s press service issued an official denial saying that no Chinese security services were involved with the detention of a staff member of the parliamentary press service and a foreign national. Kyrgyz intelligence offered the following explanation for the apparent confusion. Media sources combined with politicians had been drawn into speculation on the nature of the case about a Kyrgyz citizen conniving and passing on secret data related to various aspects of Kyrgyzstan’s foreign and domestic policy. The question of guilt, or the identification of the foreign intelligence service implicated, could only be determined as a result of an investigation, which is still ongoing.
In this case, however, the SNSC felt duty bound to make an official statement: “The Chinese security services have nothing to do with this case. Traditionally friendly relations have developed and are maintained between the Kyrgyz and Chinese security services. Close cooperation has been established and is developing particularly in the field of fighting international terrorism and extremism. In this field with joint efforts, we have succeeded in achieving concrete results in the interests of security of the two countries and also the Central Asian region,” the SNSC press service affirmed (Kabar, July 5).
Such emphatic denials of Chinese involvement in the Arykova case, coming from Kyrgyz intelligence, suggests that Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev wants to avoid any possible risk to Sino-Kyrgyz relations. Nonetheless, it raises many unanswered questions. Not only why would a friendly power be publicly fingered for spying on its ally, but also why Kyrgyz intelligence wants to end speculation on China’s part in the saga, before concluding their investigation. Meanwhile, spy mania shows little sign of abating in Bishkek.