Croatian Intelligence Agencies can be traced back to the Croatian War of Independence of the early 1990s. Initially, the Croatian State Security Service of the Yugoslav Republic of Croatia’s Ministry of the Interior was established in April 1991. This organisation was tasked with identifying ‘enemies of the state’. As the Croatian War of Independence waged on, the Croatian Intelligence system became increasingly complex. Multiple attempts at Intelligence reforms throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s were short-lived and unsuccessful [source].
However, in 2006, the Croatian Intelligence community underwent a significant change. This was the culmination of many years of post-conflict military transformation [source]. In this year, the Croatian Parliament and the President of the Republic of Croatia passed the Security Intelligence System of the Republic of Croatia [source]. In this act, the modern Croatian Intelligence agencies were formally established under law as solely responsible for national Intelligence.
This was done through the unification of foreign Intelligence Agency and Counterintelligence agency – creating one unified civilian Intelligence agency, named the SOA [source]. Similarly, the Military intelligence agency, the VSOA, was established.
Organisation & Doctrine
Ultimately, the Croatian Intelligence agencies are answerable to the Parliament, President, and Prime Minister of Croatia. The National Security Council oversees the actions of the Croatian Intelligence agencies.
Military Security and Intelligence Agency (VSOA)
The Vojna Sigurnosno-Obavještajna Agencija (VSOA) is responsible for military security and intelligence tasks. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Analysis of information on armies and defence systems of other countries
- Assessment of external pressures
- Assessment of International activities directed against Croatian defence security
As such, it is a unit of the Croatian Ministry of Defence.
Security and Intelligence Agency (SOA)
The Sigurnosno-Obavještajna Agencija (SOA) is responsible for all non-military security and intelligence. This includes domestic and international intelligence, and counterintelligence. This includes the collection of all manner of relevant political, economic, scientific, technological, and security related information relevant to national security [source]. The SOA’s budget is approximately €55 million annually [source].
Legislation surrounding the SOA is vague, owing to the secret nature of their operations. However, SOA agents can legally gather information through a variety of publicly available information, agency databases, but also through “secret procedures and measures” [source]. This includes, but is not limited to:
- Covert surveillance of telecommunications
- Covert surveillance of locations of targets
- Postal censorship
- Covert monitoring of persons in open and public spaces
- Covert purchase of documents and objects pertaining to investigations
The work of the two main intelligence agencies of Croatia (the VSOA and the SOA), is supported by:
- The Office of the National Security Council (UVNS) – Performs administrative tasks for the National Security Council.
- The Information Systems Security Bureau (ZSIS) – Performs technical tasks related to information and network security.
- The Operational-Technical Centre for Telecommunications Surveillance (OTC) – Manages the covert collection of telecommunications data.
The Croatian Intelligence Agencies regularly partake in international initiatives. Since 2016, Croatia has been working with Slovenia, Hungary, and Bulgaria, under the direction of the UN. The aim of such collaboration is to assist with fighting terrorism throughout Northern Africa and the Mediterranean region [source].
The SOA publishes an annual public report on intelligence and security within Croatia. This report analyses regional threats and potential issues for national security. In 2021, the SOA stated that Croatia is a stable and safe democracy. However, it did note that misinformation surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic had fostered an environment in which people were more susceptible to conspiracy theories and related extremism [source]. As a result, the SOA declared Croatia to have a low, but existing terrorist threat.
Since its conception in 2006, Croatian intelligence agencies have been involved in several high profile controversies.
- In 2015, local Slovenian media reported that the Croatian SOA had wiretapped a Slovenian judge during a government hearing regarding costal disputes between the two countries. Recordings of the hearing surfaced anonymously in July 2015, though analysts have been unable to confirm who recorded the proceedings. This resulted in a lengthy political and legal battle between the two countries [source].
- In March 2016, the VSOA came under investigation for a €17.6 million deal with Ukrainian state-owned arms company Ukrspecexport. The deal allowed Ukrspecexport to repair seven USSR MiG-21 jets, as well as the sale for 5 additional jets. However, the deal was seen as highly suspicious by Croatian press outlets as the new jets were not from Jordan as originally stated. This led to the uncovering of potentially fraudulent documentation on part of the VSOA and Ukrspecexport [source].
- In 2016, Serbian authorities announced that it had captured what it believed to be a Croatian SOA agent, working as a spy in Serbia. This was later proven to be false, although the incident led to increased tensions between the two countries [source].
- In April 2019, further accusations surfaced of SOA agents working within Slovenia. In light of already high political tensions, Slovenia recalled its national ambassador from Croatia [source].
- Bosnian ministers claimed that the Croatian SOA started a misinformation claim against the country to portray Bosnia as a home for the Wahhabi movement in 2019. Bosnian officials allege that the SOA aimed to portray Bosnian authorities as complaint with Islamic extremists. Croatian authorities have repeatedly rejected this claim [source].
Croatia formalised their modern Intelligence Agencies relatively recently compared to that of other national apparatus. However, the agencies have widespread responsibilities and access to a wide variety of information to perform its clandestine activities.