Circling the Lion's Den

Under cover

The impact of reforms to security and law enforcement agencies

Andrei Soldatov www.agentura.ru special to Versiya, March 17, 2003 /

THE MOST EXTENSIVE REFORMS TO THE SPECIAL SERVICES IN A DECADE MAY WELL LEAD TO THE PRESIDENT COMPLETELY LOSING HIS ABILITY TO MONITOR THE STATE OF THE NATION. PUTIN HAS SUCH CONFIDENCE IN FSB DIRECTOR NIKOLAI PATRUSHEV THAT HE HAS ESSENTIALLY MADE HIMSELF DEPENDENT ON THE FSB.

President Putin's March 11 decrees merged the Federal Border Guard Service (FBGS) with the Federal Security Service (FSB), while abolishing the Federal Tax Police Service (FTPS) and the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI) as independent agencies. The resources and equipment of the FTPS have been transferred to the new state committee for countering the illegal turnover of narcotics and psychotropic substances. The FAPSI will be

distributed between the Defense Ministry and the FSB.

WHAT THE INTERIOR MINISTRY GAINS

The police have gained the semblance of a monopoly on investigating economic crimes; the role of the directorates for countering economic crime (UBEP) and their influence within the Interior Ministry will increase dramatically. True, this monopoly will not be complete: the FSB's economic security department and the Financial Monitoring Service remain outside the Interior Ministry's control. And the Interior Ministry has lost its main directorate for countering the illegal turnover of narcotics (GUBNON), which will be used as the basis for the new agency headed by Viktor Cherkesov: the state committee for countering the illegal turnover of narcotics and psychotropic substances. It is still completely unclear what the regional structure of this new agency will be like; at present, the regional subdivisions of the GUBNON are part of the Crime Police Service and take the form of departments within regional branches of the Interior Ministry. Now it appears that they will all require new premises, since the premises formerly at the disposal of the FTPS are clearly insufficient for operative investigation work; they will also require extra funding from Moscow.

WHAT THE FSB GAINS

Counter-intelligence has not only gained some new structures, but moved onto a qualitatively new level. By absorbing the FBGS, the FSB has gained the right to monitor entry to and exit from Russia. Now the question of whether any specific person should be detained at the border will no longer be decided by the heads of several agencies, but by a simple telephone call from the head of a directorate: in other words, these decisions will be made within the FSB. There's no need to explain what that involves.

By absorbing the FAPSI, the FSB has, for the first time, gained the right and the ability to intervene in national politics: primarily during elections. Let's not forget who created the GAS-Vybory automated vote-counting system for the Central Election Commission. Neither let us forget that the nation's most extensive social monitoring system is in the hands of the FAPSI. Until now, it has been the responsibility of the main directorate for information systems (GUIS); according to the agency's official regulations, the GUIS performs the following services for government bodies: "providing materials on specific issues (forecasts, analytical surveys, background checks); carrying out content analysis of materials from national and regional media; taking part in producing, implementing, and delivering to users a range of reference, multimedia, and issue- specific databases and databanks". Now the GUIS will become part of the FSB.

Meanwhile, the vague formulation of the president's decree makes it impossible to understand where a certain FAPSI subdivision will be transferred - to the FSB or the Defense Ministry. That subdivision is the main directorate for radio-electronic intelligence communications (GURRSS): Russia's radio-electronic foreign intelligence service, the counterpart to the NSA in the United States. If it becomes part of the FSB, then the FSB will become our third intelligence agency, after the Foreign Intelligence Service and the General Staff's main intelligence directorate. Actually, the FSB has already become an intelligence service: the intelligence-gathering divisions of the FBGS will now be part of the FSB.

WHAT THE PRESIDENT GAINS

Thus far, it is clear that by abolishing the FAPSI and FTPS as separate structures, Putin has practically lost his ability to check up on the FSB. The existence of a separate agency which provided communications for the government guaranteed the nation's leaders access to information independently of other special services, and thus the ability to monitor national events. In "Kontrol", a recent novel by Viktor Suvorov, the central plot element is the "control block" - an automated communications management system which is an extrapolation of the equipment currently in use at the FAPSI second main directorate, also known as the main directorate for government communications (GUPS). Now it appears that this directorate will also become part of the FSB.

The structure of Russia's special services, copied from the Americans in the early 1990s, had a perfectly clear rationale. For example, the FSB chief has direct access to the president; but so did the FAPSI director, who reported on the state of the nation based on his own agency's analysis of the situation, independently from the FSB. Actually, the president also received other forms of information from the FAPSI; it should not be forgotten that FAPSI specialists set up communications systems for the FSB.

The tax police had exactly the same kind of function. Against the backdrop of increasing FSB intervention in the economy and big business, cross-monitoring by such a powerful agency as the FTPS provided some kind of guarantee that the FSB's appetites would be restrained.

Our president has violated the principle followed by Napoleon, who had four police services that all maintained surveillance over each other. Putin has such confidence in FSB director Nikolai Patrushev that he has essentially made himself dependent on the FSB.

(Translated by Arina Yevtikhova)