Updated | Government insists security clearance was processed before appointments

Government spokesman insists senior officers had their local security clearance processed well before promotions and new security clearance requested was for officers to attend EU security meetings.

AFM commander Jeffrey Curmi
AFM commander Jeffrey Curmi

A high-level security clearance for Armed Forces commander Jeffrey Curmi and deputy commander Mark Mallia was only commenced in February 2014, two months after the official announcement of their promotion to the AFM’s top ranks in December.

But a government spokesperson has insisted that the two officers had their local security clearance processes well before the promotions – the requested high-level security clearance was for officers to attend EU security meetings.

MaltaToday has seen requests by the Malta Security Service to Maltese banks, requesting a “credit status report” in the names of Curmi and Mallia, “as part of a screening process of persons with access to classified information.”

Photo shows MSS request for banks' credit status report
Photo shows MSS request for banks' credit status report

The credit status report is necessary for Curmi and Mallia to have ‘Top Secret’ clearance so that they can have access to European Union documents and information classified ‘EU Top Secret’ in Brussels, and be privy to the same documents as their European military counterparts.
This type of clearance, as set out in a European Council decision binding all member states, demands a security investigation covering the two colonels’ 10-year financial history: information on all their financial transactions to assess their vulnerability to foreign or domestic pressure, or to discover unexplained affluence.

In fact, reacting to the news story, the government spokesperson clarified that the top security clearance request in February 2014 - which is still being processed – referred to clearance for top security at EU level. 

Such a clearance allows Maltese senior officers to be able to participate at EU security meetings.

“There is a fundamental difference between security clearance for appointment in the armed forces and a top security certification for participation at EU level.

“The officers in questions had their security certification for local purposes cleared much earlier, in Brigadier Curmi’s case in 2008 and in the case of other officers in August 2013,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson also said that this was not a unique situation since those appointed Colonels with the Armed Forces in 2007 were issued a top security clearance in 2011 and in some cases in 2012.

The credit status requests were communicated on the 18 February and 27 February for Curmi and Mallia respectively, suggesting that the two colonels did not have the highest level of security clearance required for EU classified information, at the time of their promotion in December 2013.
It also raises questions on the assurances given by the government at the time of their promotions, when in 2013 they were stepped up from majors to lieutenant colonels, to the highest rank of colonels before promotion to the AFM’s top two posts.

The Opposition has claimed the government manipulated the promotions to fill the army ranks with government supporters: in September 2013, majors Pierre Vassallo, Mark Said, as well as Curmi and Mallia, were promoted to the ranks of Lieutenant Colonel and then Colonel within the space of two weeks.

Facing off the criticism, on 24 September, home affairs and national security minister Manuel Mallia told a press conference that the four lieutenant colonels were granted security clearance by the MSS before receiving promotions.

He also said they had been selected by a board that included AFM commander Martin Xuereb, which took into consideration the criteria of merit established on the recommendation of the Defence Board. The government also claimed that the colonels had not been advanced to majors under a Nationalist administration because of political prejudices.

But on 27 September, Brigadier Martin Xuereb announced his resignation, raising questions about the drastic move so close to the recent double promotions. On 4 October 2013, Curmi was promoted to deputy commander to fill in the vacancy left by Colonel David Attard, who had resigned in 15 July 2013 – just a week after being transferred from deputy commander to commandant at the Safi detention centre for asylum seekers.

On 20 December, Curmi and Mallia were officially promoted to AFM commander and deputy commander.

Challenging court decision

One of the colonels, Pierre Vassallo, was refused security clearance in 2006 and consequently a promotion, presumably on the basis of a 1986 incident that saw the man axed from the police corps 20 years earlier. Vassallo instituted a court case to know the reasons why he was refused security clearance, because it is the practice of the Security Service not to give reasons for its decisions. He is now contesting the courts’ refusal in the European Court of Human Rights. The case is still ongoing. 

Dr David Camilleri and Dr Joseph gatt insist that till today, years later, the colonel in question has not been given an official reason why he was not security cleared. Therefore he proceeded before the national courts for such a declaration and is now pending judgement before the ECHR.

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