Table of Contents
BY NICK FIELDING
OR MORE THAN a decade the Web site Agentura.ru, with content written and edited by the authors of this book, has consistently covered one of the most difficult and dangerous beats in world journalism: the Russian intelligence services. Difficult because the Russian services in all their multifarious forms are notoriously secretive and jealously protect their activities. Dangerous because they have little tolerance for criticism.
In February 2010, for example, the Web site revealed that the same FSB press office that issues official accreditation to journalists in Moscow was now officially authorized to monitor and surveil them. As Andrei Soldatov revealed in
Index on Censorship
, Order no. 343, signed by FSB director Alexander Bortnikov on July 15, 2009, expanded the list of FSB generals allowed to “initiate a petition to conduct counterintelligence measures that restrict the constitutional rights of citizens.”The list now includes the FSB’s Directorate for Assistance Programs, the same one that is in charge of relations with journalists and which includes the Center for Public Communications—the FSB’s press office.
Intrusive surveillance, however, has not stopped physical attacks on journalists: Seventeen Russian journalists have been murdered in mysterious circumstances since 2000. In only one case has there been a successful prosecution.
In a comment that appeared on the Agentura.ru Web site recently, Soldatov summed up the present state of affairs: “Russian news media are pulling back on investigations, cutting budgets, and trimming staff. In the course of the past decade, experienced investigative reporters have been dismissed and investigation desks shut down. The situation has been worsened by a gradual closing of the public domain—even the doors of agency press offices have been slammed shut. By the mid-2000s the Federal Protective Service allowed only photo ops inside the Kremlin; the military intelligence directorate, Russia’s largest intelligence agency, has no press office at all; the Foreign Intelligence Service has refused to comment on any of its activities after 1961; and the Center for Public Communications at the FSB does not answer media requests.”
Both Soldatov and co-author Irina Borogan have themselves been the focus of FSB interest on many occasions during the past decade as they sought to tread the precarious path between revelation and retribution. They covered with distinction the school siege at Beslan and the Moscow theater siege, revealing major shortcomings in the way both tragedies were dealt with by the Russian intelligence services.
But more important, they have continued to shine a light into some of the deepest recesses of the Russian state. The obsession with Kremlin watching that characterized Western intelligence activity during the Cold War all but disappeared with the collapse of the Soviet Union, with the emphasis shifting to the so-called “war on terrorism” and the West’s preoccupation with radical Islam. Russia itself was in chaos in the immediate aftermath of the collapse. No one could predict where things would go and whether or not the former Eastern bloc would move toward democracy or despotism.
For four years—between the 1991 dissolution of the KGB and 1995, when the FSB was created—there was an interregnum. But as the Russian state came to terms with a post-Communist existence, it consolidated itself and its security apparatus. President Boris Yeltsin’s appointment of Vladimir Putin, a former KGB officer, to head up the FSB in 1998 marks the beginning of a new era. By 2000, as soon as he became president, Putin began to rebuild the intelligence services and to concentrate power in their hands. While the FSB’s predecessor had been a “state within a state,” subservient to the Communist Party, the FSB has in many ways become the state itself—its officers now directly responsible to the president, and its former members owning and controlling the commanding heights of the economy.
During Putin’s decade in power the FSB was strengthened immeasurably. It took back powers that had been removed, and it expanded into new areas. The FSB developed an ethos of guardian-ship toward the state that more than echoes the attitude of the old Tsarist bureaucracy. The title of this book,
The New Nobility
, spells out just how far things have reverted. Most important, the intelligence bureaucracy now considers itself above criticism, impervious to the demands of democracy. There are few signs now of the short-lived efforts to build a civil society that briefly flourished under the stewardship of President Yeltsin.
Little of note has been published on the Russian intelligence services in the past decade. And never before has anything like this been written by Russian journalists for publication in English. For anyone who wants to know the ins and outs of Russia’s secret service, explained by two people with an encyclopedic knowledge of the subject, this book is highly recommended.
THE FSB REGAINS POWER
VER THE LAST decade in Russia, the Federal Security Service (FSB), the modern successor of the Soviet secret police (KGB), has been granted the role of the new elite, enjoying expanded responsibilities and immunity from public oversight or parliamentary control. For eight years, a veteran of its own ranks, Vladimir Putin, held power in the Kremlin as the Russian president, and in the years following, his influence was felt as prime minister. The FSB’s budget is not published; the total number of officers is undisclosed. But according to even cautious estimates, FSB personnel total more than 200,000. Putin made the FSB the main security service in Russia, permitting it to absorb many of the former parts of the KGB and granting it the right to operate abroad, collect information, and carry out special operations. Under Putin, former and current security service agents permeated the ranks of business and government structures, and the FSB resurrected as models old KGB idols: the founder of the early Soviet secret police, the CheKa, Felix Dzerzhinsky; and the most prominent of the KGB bosses, Yuri Andropov.
When Putin was elected president in 2000, the Russian secret services were in an extremely difficult situation. They had been left behind in the pell-mell rush toward market reforms and democracy of the 1990s. Their ranks had been thinned by the lure of big money that the best of them could make in Russia’s turbulent and often violent new capitalism. For those who remained, there were daunting new challenges on fronts they had never faced before: the festering war in Chechnya, the increased frequency of hostage taking, and the rise of terrorism spawned by the war in Moscow and other cities far from the Chechen battlefield. The FSB faced pressures of corruption that far exceeded what could have been imagined in Soviet times. It suffered, too, from deep public distrust, a legacy of both the Soviet KGB’s activity and the chaotic first decade of Russia’s post-Soviet experience. It struggled with turf wars and open rivalry for power and resources with former KGB colleagues, now in other, separate organizations, all vying for power and limited resources from the state. On top of all this, Putin gave the FSB a new, even riskier role. The FSB was charged with protecting the stability of the political regime—Putin’s own rule—and the country.
These changes must not be mistaken for a revival of the Soviet KGB, although many former dissidents, journalists, and even the security services themselves have characterized it as such. The Soviet KGB was all-powerful, but it was also under the control of the political structure: The Communist Party presided over every KGB section, department, and division. It was no coincidence that the KGB was officially described as an “advance regiment” of the party.
In contrast, the FSB is a remarkably independent entity, free of party control and parliamentary oversight. If the FSB has an ideology, it is the goal of stability and order. FSB officers now regard themselves as heirs not only to the KGB but also to the secret police that the Tsars deployed to battle political terrorism.
At the end of 2000, Nikolai Patrushev, who succeeded Putin as FSB director, gave his traditional interview to mark the holiday celebrating the founding of the CheKa, the Bolshevik secret police. Patrushev described the FSB’s personnel as follows:
I don’t want to give a fancy speech, but our best colleagues, the honor and pride of the FSB, don’t do their work for the money. When I give government awards to our people, I scrutinize their faces. There are the highbrow intellectual analysts, the broad-shouldered, weatherbeaten special forces men, the taciturn explosives specialists, exacting investigators, and the discreet counter-espionage operational officers. . . . They all look different, but there is one very special characteristic that unites all these people, and it is a very important quality: It is their sense of service. They are, if you like, our new “nobility.”
The goal of this book is to reveal the ways this “new nobility” has grown and performed in the last decade. The security services see themselves as the only forces capable of saving the country from internal and external enemies, the saviors of a nation sundered by the upheaval and chaos of the 1990s. Perhaps it is a legacy of old Soviet propaganda films, in which KGB officers were portrayed as the intellectual elite, that FSB officers today refer to themselves as the best and the brightest. The reality is far more complex. The security services have been given a high pedestal in Russia, but faced with the challenges of terrorism and corruption they have become something very different from either the Soviet secret services or the intelligence community in Western countries. In some ways the FSB most closely resembles the ruthless
, the secret police of the Arab world: devoted to protection of authoritarian regimes, answering only to those in power, impenetrable, thoroughly corrupted, and unopposed to employing brutal methods against individuals and groups suspected of terrorism or dissent. The FSB has failed to become a paragon of the rule of law, and Russia is still a long way from true democracy.
One particularly notable development under Putin was the expansion of the FSB’s reach into foreign territory. While the effectiveness of foreign operations remains open to question, Russia’s security services have clearly extended their range, with the full support of the state.