Fidesz-flagship Magyar Nemzet pushes a nonstory to mislead readers and secret services
A six-part report in the Magyar Nemzet political daily, characterised as ‘investigative’ and presented with great uproar in allied media, could be just another day at the office. But the quality of the report is that of a kompromat, severely falling short of the however lowly regular standars of the Fidesz-friendly propaganda machinery. Events surrounding the report show a strong similarity with a 2018 incident where foreign elements meddled in the Hungarian political sphere. Magyar Nemzet’s ‘investigation’ seems to be the latest scene in the hidden conflict between Viktor Orbán’s spin doctors and the national intelligence community.
‘This series of reports, by the way of facts and documents, unmasks the mechanism by which [George] Soros and his circles meddle in Hungarian politics through the European Parliament, the European Commission, Western-European media and Hungarian NGOs’ — explained László Néző, central editor-in-chief for the Médiaworks publishing company about a six-part series of articles about ‘The conductor of the Soros network’ that were printed during September in Magyar Nemzet, the leading political daily in Mediaworks’s ownership.
Zsolt Bayer, a Magyar Nemzet columnist and a founding member of the ruling Fidesz party explained further: ‘we’re putting a Soros agent on display, who’s been lobbying against Hungary for years all over the world, but mainly in Brussels, in the European Union’. This man, according to Magyar Nemzet, is one Gerald Knaus. Néző and Bayer were speaking at a talk show on Hír TV, also controlled by Mediaworks. Indeed, the main messages of the articles were being repeated ad nauseam for more than a month now in news reports, opinion pages, and various interviews appearing in print and online news media, as well as on radio and television friendly with Fidesz.
Gerald Knaus, an Austrian citizen leads Europäische Stabilitäts-Initiative (ESI), which is a think tank, registered as an NGO in Berlin. They try to suggest various intitiatives to a number of European decisionmakers, so they’re registered as lobbyists with the EU. As a nonprofit, they also try and secure the financial suppport of various donors for their activites.
The most important supporters of ESI are a German and an Austrian foundation. In addition, organisations with ties to the Swedish or the Dutch states, or to Soros count amongst the more important supporters. The support of the latter amounted to about 15-20 percent of ESI’s budget, according to Knaus. The series of articles in Magyar Nemzet argues that ESI and Knaus personally isn’t simply one of the many know-it-alls in and around Brussels politics, but an avowed enemy of Hungary as a ‘conductor’ of a secret network of George Soros.
It’s pretty easy to judge the validity of the story about ‘Soros’s conductor’. In 2016, more than 2500 documents pertaining to Soros, or his Open Society Fundations were published on a website named DCLeaks. According to cybersecurity firms and a US indictment, hackers of GRU — Russian military intelligence — were responsible for the leak. These documents are well-known in Fidesz friendly media: two opinion pieces accompanying the reporting of Magyar Nemzet refer to their content.
If Knaus were, as one of these columns writes, ‘one of Soros’s most important men’, then his name would be all over these files. But Knaus is only mentioned three times in the documents, amongst them loads of memos, reports, calendars and such. Of these, two times he is mentioned as an author of a report referenced in the files, and only once as someone participating in a meeting about migration.
Thus is it unlikely that Knaus would be one of the most important men of Soros or OSF.
We tried to substantiate several claims made by the six-part ‘investigation’. We found that it is very weakly sourced, as it mixes inexplicably overreported nonevents with absolutely unverifiable claims by anonymous sources, which in itself wouldn’t be huge digression from the regular reporting standards set by Magyar Nemzet.
Double entendre in a spy affair
The series however have attained a new level of gravitas as on 28 September the front page of Magyar Nemzet read:
‘counterintelligence agency now investigates Soros’s conductor’
But the factual contents of the article itself, which was a follow-up by the paper’s reporter on the security beat to the otherwise anonymous series, failed to substantiate all elements of the claim included in the title.
Of the claims included in Magyar Nemzet’s reporting, we could independently verify that István Tényi, a private person who had sent an email to Viktor Orbán’s office informing the PM of the contents of the newspapers ‘investigation’, did indeed later receive a reply from the Interior Ministry (IM), telling him that his email was forwarded to Alkotmányvédelmi Hivatal, or AH. AH is the Hungarian agency responsible for counterintelligence.
The article also quoted an anonymous source with insight on the matter saying ‘the investigative series of Magyar Nemzet are now looked at by counterintellegence professionals of AH… neither the Interior Ministry, nor AH does not share more information on the case”.
This escalation of the matter in this context means nearly surely one thing: that it was not Gerald Knaus who was in the focus of Hungarian national security agency. If he had been, IM and AH would have obviously kept the whole thing secret instead of emailing it to Tényi.
“Details of current counterintelligence operations in Hungary do not leak in the press, as they officially constitute secrets” wrote formerly Szabolcs Panyi, an investigative reporter on the case of ‘KGBéla’. András Dezső, another reporter who reported meticulously on the Russian connections of the former politician Béla Kovács, put it this way: ‘you don’t catch a spy with a newspaper, you catch him in the act’.
To cath a spy with a newspaper
‘KGBéla’, a former politican with the Jobbik party, has recently been acquitted of the charge of spying (though prosecutor is believed to have appealed). Ferenc Katrein, a former director of operations at AH, was quoted as believing the investigation against Kovács to have gone awry when the ‘processing phase was turned into a non-secret proceeding. Necessary steps in such cases, such as the making of arrests, house searches and document seizures did not happen. Noone was caught red-handed’.
The general public suspected nothing of Kovács, who used to be a member of the European Parliament (EP), up until in 2014 Magyar Nemzet — a longtime media ally of Fidesz — reported on the spy case. András Dezső wrote that before Magyar Nemzet’s reporting, AH’s investigation was cut short by the government. According to Dezső, the reason for this was that a proper, secret case against an agent would have meant problems in the relations with Russia, as opposed to the public hullabaloo that Fidesz could use against Jobbik in the upcoming EP-elections.
These reasons do not apply in the current case, as there are no elections on the horizon and Fidesz is obviously not very keen on making overtures to Soros. But Knaus have also clearly not been arrested. So why all the publicity? The reasonable answer to this question is that AH was not investigating Knaus, but maybe someone or something else related to the six-part series — probably the characters and events in the background of Magyar Nemzet’s reporting.
Before the 2018 general elections in Hungary, Zsolt Bayer wrote a series of articles for Magyar Idők that was intended to unmask the leaders, aims etc. of the so-called ‘Soros network’ with the help of sound recordings Bayer purportedly received from an ‘undercover investigative reporter’. As it later transpired, the recordings were made by people employed by Black Cube, an Israeli private intelligence firm.
Black Cube employed secret intel gathering methods against their targets, several leaders of Hungarian NGOs, one of whom notified AH at the first contact.
Dezső wrote that after Hungarian intelligence realised that the trail of the investigation after the client of Black Cube would lead through Bayer, a popular columnist who is a member of Fidesz, the whole thing was cut short.
According to his anonymous sources in national security, ‘politicians with oversight of the secret services had no incentive for the operations started by the counterintelligence to be let to find their target’. According to Dezső, the powers that be didn’t want Hungarian intelligence to investigate who hired Black Cube. But a few things could be deduced.
‘They didn’t have as much information the intelligence services, as the decisionmakers do. Consequently, they can be found amongst people close to the government who have sway in matters of communication, but are formally not members of the cabinet’.
In the new series of articles in Magyar Nemzet about Gerald Knaus, Átlátszó found several signs that the ‘investigation’ is not the independent work of a Hungarian reporter.
1. All six parts of the original ‘investigation’ are anonymous. The bylines read ‘from our reporter’. In an email, we’ve asked Mediaworks to tell us who the reporter was, and how they could be contacted, but we’ve received no reply.
2. Several anomalies pertaining to tranlations of English into Hungarian can be witnessed through the series, the most obvious of which is a translation of an expression Knaus uses in an interview given to Euronews, which reads ‘put an end to it definitively’. Magyar Nemzet translates this expression as ‘Final Solution’ in Hungarian, and makes it clear they believe it to be a reference to the historical term used by Nazis. Such an obvious error should have only had happened, if the Hungarian articles in question were written by a not-so-good English speaker working from pre-translated material.
3. In the series of articles, a part of a document is used as illustration twice without a reference to its source and its exact nature, aside from an anonymous Twitter-account where it has surfaced before. The background of this cutting can also point to the foreign background from where Magyar Nemzet’s ‘reporter’ might have gotten their stuff.
A French ex-spy in Budapest
The cuttings, highlighted in yellow, pertain to a story some years ago in which several European politicians came under the suspicion of corruption along the lines of their connections to states such as Azerbaijan or Russia.
In this series of events, which started when Gerald Knaus and ESI publicised their allegations against the politicians, another institute, named ESISC came into play when it released two reports detailing information of questionable importance regarding Knaus, and Soros for example. ESISC were later found to had previously been involved in the observation of elections in Azerbaijan, where they had observed no irregularities.
The head of ESISC is Claude Moniquet, a former spy of French intelligence service DGSE, who has good contacts throughout the Eastern half of Europe. Various ties also seem to connect Moniquet to the anonymous Twitter profile that formerly tweeted the cutting.
Surprisingly, Claude Moniquet himself visited Budapest in late 2019 as a speaker at a conference on terrorism. His invitation is somewhat inexplicable, as the story of the ESISC reports now constitute a spot on his track record. Also, Honvédségi Szemle, the journal of the Hungarian armed forces, has published an article a few years ago in which Moniquet appears in questionable light with regards to certain Moroccan events.
Moniquet’s appearance in Budapest could have hardly escaped the scrutiny of AH, as the Hungarian intelligence élite were also at the conference: speakers included the military intelligence director general, a section leader of foreign intelligence etc.
The conference in question was organised by the Migration Research Institute, an organisation established by Matthias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) and the Századvég foundation in 2015.
MCC is a private institution geared towards educating future Fidesz politicans and leaders. Its founder and curator is András Tombor, a national security advisor of Orbán during his first term, now considered a businessman close to power, with a keen interest in media. The Századvég group was recently reported by 444 to have been under the clout of Árpád Habony for several years. Habony is an unofficial communications advisor to Orbán, who, after the 2019 municipal elections was reportedly asked back by the PM, ‘to put government communication and Századvég in order’.
The two men are close to each other, as the spin doctor did receive a personal loan from Tombor, who was considered to be the right-hand man of Habony, according to 444. Another common element in their background is that probably neither of them passed a national security background check. Habony has never wielded a public office where this would have been needed, and in the case of Tombor, minister for interior Sándor Pintér, replying to a question in 2016, has said that he didn’t go through the process.
After the conference on terrorism in 2019, two interview signalled that Moniquet is of interest to Fidesz-friendly media circles.
One appeared at Mandiner, a political weekly published by Mediaworks, which in its former iteration as an opinion site used to be owned by Tombor. The other was published by Neokohn, a news site with a particular neoconservative / Jewish focus, which at the time was in the sphere of influence of EMIH. Egységes Magyar Izraelita Hitközség, or EMIH, is a Jewish organisation that received the rare ‘recognised church’ status from the Orbán government, and has been a staunch ally of Fidesz ever since.
According to Átlátszó’s information, elements around EMIH took part in the leadup before the Black Cube recordings appearing in Magyar Idők. But the Mandiner interview is even more fascinating: it shows that the publisher of Magyar Nemzet had contact with Moniquet.
Whatever the background of the articles in Magyar Nemzet, key characters of Mediaworks made uncanny statements right after the first piece of the series was published on 7 September. At the talk show ‘Sajtóklub’, already quoted at the beginning of this article, Zsolt Bayer, with the assistance of central editor-in-chief László Néző, promised to notify the intelligence services himself, by which he seemed to believe to gather some sort of clear evidence of the official kind against Knaus.
Néző: ‘When this series of articles are published, and the official authorities of the Hungarian state take notice, I believe nothing else will be left, there will be no choice for the Hungarian government but to ban [Gerald Knaus from entering Hungary].
Bayer: ‘Let’s make a vow that after all six parts have been published, in the Sajtóklub afterwards, we even ask the competent authorities to take notice and ban Gerald… As it will be made clear in black and white, that he literally constitutes a threat to the national security of Hungary’.
Trouble in the spy nest
But the revered media people didn’t have to resort to reporting Magyar Nemzet’s articles to the intelligence services, as István Tényi has sent his email by 12 September, Saturday. In about one and a half day, the Hungarian Gazette published that Zoltán Kiss, the former director general of AH, is to be fired by Viktor Orbán, on Sándor Pintér’s recommendation, effective near immediately. No replacement was named then.
András Dezső wrote that according to his sources, Kiss wanted to ‘leave the position for a long while, and the scandals could have only fortified his decision’. Dezső added, that the relationship between the government and the counterintelligence service has been problematic for some time, and mentioned the Black Cube-affair as one that genberated tension between AH and the cabinet.
The national security reporter of Magyar Nemzet wrote that ‘the fact that they didn’t appoint even a temporary director signals that [Kiss’s] release was induced by some extraordinary event’, and later that the reason ‘was either a personal conflict, or the loss of trust on the part of a leading government figure’.
As Magyar Nemzet put it, ‘the general public will never know that exactly what was the reason for the release of the general’ .
It remains a fact however, that the answer to Tényi’s email, which uncovered Alkotmányvédelmi Hivatal’s interest in the Magyar Nemzet articles was sent during a time when AH had no leader. Pintér’s candidate for the new director general — who since received his official appointment — was only named and introduced to the parliamentary national security committee on 29 September, only a day after the daily reported on AH’s involvement in the case.
Written by Márton Sarkadi Nagy. Original Hungarian was also written by Márton Sarkadi Nagy for Átlátszó. Cover photo: Magyar Nemzet.