TBILISI, DFWatch–In March 2016, the rector of Tbilisi State University (TSU) confirmed the presence of intelligence agents at his university. Removing the so-called ODRs was one of the students’ demands during a protest and sit-in that lasted nearly a week and later caused the rector to resign.
Students named a person they suspected of being the ODR at TSU, and said he was interfering with the election of TSU chancelor. They claimed the agent was an old classmate of the candidate for chancelor, and was trying to help him secure the election. Thanks to the students’ protest, this never happened. Instead, the spotlight was put on a three letter combination – ODR.
What are ODRs, what is the history of the practice and how does it work?
Officer in security affairs or ODR (the name originates from the Russian abbreviation – ОДР – Офицер Действующего Резерва) is a person sent from the state intelligence service to different government bodies with a special assignment. Such a person provides diverse information to the security service about ongoing events at the office or institution where he has been stationed.
To keep it anonymous, this person becomes an official employee of the body and only the head of the body knows about his secret role. He holds different posts and often the post of adviser. His mission is secret and it is hard to check what kind of information he sends back to the security service.
Officially, the agent provides information about everything of importance to national security, but human rights defenders claim that it is unclear what may be deemed to be in the interest of national security and the security services therefore have an opportunity to use the ODRs for other purposes.
Transparency International Georgia considers the ODR system a heritage of Soviet law which has been retained only in a few post-Soviet states. The organization calls for the system to be abolished.
“It means that the government abuses that institute which doesn’t have to exist at all. It is a system of totalitarian states. It is not possible to put it within legislation and cloak it under democracy,” says Lika Sajaia, Parliamentary Secretary of TI Georgia.
The ODR system was used extensively during the Saakashvili presidency (2004-2012). In 2015, when the State Security Service was separated from the Ministry of Internal Affairs, the ODR system was reformed. The new government wasn’t able to completely let go of the system, so it decided that 25 bodies ‘containing high risks’ should have a permanent intelligence presence in order to ‘protect the security regime.’ There are no education facilities on the list of 25 facilities with secret intelligence informants.
After the law was amended, parliament has never checked whether ODRs were in fact removed from facilities where they shouldn’t be. TI Georgia conducted a study and claimed in 2016 to have found that ODRs are present at the Public Broadcaster, Tbilisi City Hall and the National Communication Commission.
Sajaia points out that even though the government decided that there should be ODRs stationed in 25 facilities and TSU is not on the list, the rector claims otherwise. On March 8, 2016, then rector Vadimer Papava confirmed that there was such an agent at TSU.
Deputy chief of counterintelligence Levan Izoria also told parliament in the end of March that there were in fact ODRs at educational facilities – recently. However, Izoria claimed that the practice was phased out by the end of 2015 out of respect for university autonomy. Izoria said an employee at TSU whom students and the rector fingered as an ODR had in fact been so, but only until August 2015. After that time, he continued working at the university, but no longer carried out work for the intelligence service.