Bivol: Thank you Mr. Stein for this interview for Bivol. The main topic is, of course, the article you wrote in Congressional Quarterly in 2007 about Bulgarian politician, Boyko Borisov, which was very badly accepted in Bulgarian media and by Bulgarian politicians, who said that such allegations are not friendly, and those were just speculations about Borisov’s past and so on.
So what triggered and provoked you interest in Boyko Borisov, who was then not a known politician, but a new raising star?
JS: Very simple. I was presented with this massive investigative file on Borisov. I had no prior interest in Borisov. I didn’t know who he was and I knew very little about Bulgaria. Of course, I knew about Bulgaria because I am a specialist in international relations and US foreign and military policy, but beyond that I had no current special interest and knowledge about Bulgaria or Borisov in particular. I have never heard of him before this information was presented to me.
Bivol: I see, so this is the main source of information you got, this file, 3-inches thick, which is written for a Swiss bank, a Swiss financial institution? Did you use other sources of information too?
JS: Well, I cite some other sources in that story. I talked to former Deputy Director of CIA, John McLaughlin, and others, including a high-ranking Bulgarian official, and I supplemented my knowledge of Bulgaria with those interviews, who confirmed in general terms the information in the investigative report.
Bivol: After this publication in Congressional Quarterly, Borisov responded that the Bulgarian Socialist Party or the former Communists paid for this report with the goal do discredit him. What would you say about this?
JS: Rubbish! It is rubbish, as someone commented in the Bulgarian media, the idea that a Bulgarian political party or politician would reach across the Atlantic Ocean and pay an American journalist, who has no connections with Bulgaria to start with, to write a report… It is just absurd, but the official answer, my personal official answer is NO, no one paid me to do this, and no one has ever paid me to do any story ever!
Bivol: Let’s come to the US cables from the US Embassy in Sofia, released by Wikileaks. They mention Borisov directly. Have you read those cables and if yes, what do you think about the information they contain?
JS: I have not read the original cables; I have only red the quotations cited in other media, so I have not studied them. I assume those media reports are true, meaning they are accurate in quoting the cables.
The cables are important; they shed light on a situation. They are assigned by the Ambassador, but are prepared by people under him, who are experts on the local situation; they are probably political officers or economic specialists and so on, and they are very carefully prepared, I might say, so they are a very good snapshot of thinking on a situation at that moment when they are written.
Bivol: Yes, that is the case exactly with a cable, created in May 2006, which was approved by the ambassador, but was drafted by a political officer and is cleared by the DCM, I suppose it is a military officer, political officer, and RSO which I suppose means security officer? This exactly the case as you explained it, because in this cable we read the following about Borisov:
“Accusations in years past have linked Borisov to oil-siphoning scandals, illegal deals involving LUKoil and
major traffic in methamphetamines. Information from SIMO tends to substantiate these allegations.”
And so on… The text of the cable is very harsh. Do you think this report from 2006 could be related to the report you used, which you say was 15-month-old when you wrote the article in 2007, which means the report you have consulted was written in 2006… Could it be the same source of information about Borisov’s alleged criminal past?
JS: The Embassy might have obtained that report and used it as a source of information, although I have no reason to believe that they did. I have no facts to say that they have obtained that report. I think it is just a coincidence that they were both written about the same time. Lots of things were happening in Bulgarian-US relations at that time because of the US pursuit of Al Qaeda, and also continuing interest in drug smuggling. Also, Bulgaria was under investigation by the EU for EU and NATO membership, so for all these reasons it was under close scrutiny by many American and international organizations and all of them were coming to the same conclusion. I may add that I am no expert on Bulgaria at all, but everyone I talked to, former military, former intelligence officials, named and unnamed, all said: you know this very common knowledge about Borisov; this is no secret, so it is not surprising that politicians and media organizations friendly to Borisov or scared of him, who feared him, were lying to support him. That is part of the problem in Bulgaria.
Bivol: Right, yes, media are afraid to write against him. This was written in the cable – that journalists have complained that he is threatening them.
JS: I will say that one journalist, who had pretty good reputation for me; other people who were familiar with this journalist spoke highly of this person, asked me for copies of the files that I had obtained and I sent them. I faxed them, but they were never used by the newspaper…
Bivol: You mean the copy of this 3-ingch thick report?
JS: I remember, late at night, I was faxing; it was very difficult to get a good fax connection and I was faxing maybe 35 to 50 pages of this report…
Bivol: To a Bulgarian journalist?
JS: To a Bulgarian journalist, and HER paper never printed, used them, or quoted from them.
Bivol: Do you remember the name of this newspaper?
JS: I am just not going to say anything further about that.
To be continued…
Who is Jeff Stein?
Jeff Stein is the SpyTalk columnist and blogger at the Washington Post. Previously, he was the SpyTalk columnist and National Security Editor for Congressional Quarterly‘s website, CQ Politics, from 2002-2009. He specializes in U.S. intelligence, military, and foreign policy issues. In addition to his work for CQ, he has written three books and authored hundreds of news articles, opinion pieces and book reviews. He also has made numerous television and radio appearances. In 2007 he published an article about the shady past of Boyko Borissov in Congressional Quarterly.
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