FBI to open an office in Hungary

The FBI coming to Hungary in order to control the Internet would not be a far-fetched idea

In what is perhaps the final act in the complete victory of the US over Russia in Central and Eastern Europe, the FBI is planning to open an office in Budapest, Hungary. This office will be staffed by four full-time American FBI agents.

While most people responded apathetically to the announcement, some were vocal in their opposition to the plan. Both the Worker's Party and the Hungary Truth and Life Party (MIEP) consider the planned office a threat to the country's independence. According to Gyula Thurmer, leader of the Worker's party, Hungary is not the 52nd state of the US; thus, the country should solve its own problems with its own police. Thurmer has even demanded the government to make public who had negotiated the plan and granted permission for the establishment of the FBI office.

It often happens that support for the right cause is based on the wrong reasons. What is more, in Hungary it tends to bring the fringes on both sides of the political spectrum close together. Hence, as with their opposition to Hungary's membership in NATO, both the far left (Worker's Party) and the far right (MIEP) oppose the idea of letting the FBI establish a presence in Hungary.

As for the general public, people are too busy with other things than to bother with the question of the FBI operating on Hungarian soil. Moreover, coming on the heels of the cyanide spill which poisoned the Tisza river, the focus of civic discourse is understandably elsewhere.

What is not fully understandable is why the FBI wants to open its own office in Budapest. What has some people worried is the FBI agents will operate as if a law unto themselves. They will be allowed to carry firearms, but Hungarian authorities insist that this is for self-protection only. In addition to this, assurances were given that the agents will operate under Hungarian law.

The official reason given for the FBI in Hungary was that they would assist the Hungarian authorities in their fight against the Russian mafia. This would entail not only intelligence gathering activities, but would also mean the establishment of an informer network. Such reasons seem a little spurious. Why would the FBI be so concerned now about the mafia when it has been a problem for the past ten years? Indeed, the recent establishment of a Hungarian Bureau of Investigation, modelled on the FBI and staffed with American "advisors", was supposedly established for this reason. What is more, the government had announced not long ago that the rate of crime had actually declined by 20% last year.

For the historiographically conscious, the presence of the FBI in Hungary represents perhaps the final stage in the replacement of one foreign power (Soviet communism) with another (American capitalism). The hallmarks of this neo-imperialism is not based on simply raw military power, as in the past, but on various extraneous methods of social control, including language (English has been clearly more successful than Russian in this respect), economics (COMECON versus globalisation), and external police surveillance (first the KGB, now the FBI).

In searching for a reason why, one can't help but wonder if there isn't actually some connection between the establishment of the FBI office in Hungary and the hackers who had temporarily paralysed leading web sites in the US. The idea of the FBI coming to Hungary to set up a base of operations in order to control the Internet is actually not that far-fetched of an idea. DoS attacks have been a common occurrence over the past few years (check out the CERT Coordination Center advisories), and law enforcement has always been waiting for an opportunity for a full scale shakedown.

While it may seem the FBI doesn't have anything better to do than track down a couple of hackers in order to protect us from anarchy, e-commerce is definitely the driving force behind the increased concern over "cyber-vandals". With so much of the American economy tied up in the successful implementation of a virtual marketplace, anything that may cause this "new economy" to flounder must be stopped, otherwise the wheel of fortune driving the casino economy will grind to an ignominous halt.

The real reason why the FBI is in Hungary will no doubt come out in due course. Either we will end up seeing a lot of Russians behind bars, or downloading warez stuff from Central and Eastern European sites, which until now has been a haven for free software of all sorts, may suddenly become risky business. (John Horvath)