a CANADIAN SECURITY INTELLIGENCE SERVICE publication
For years a symbol of terror and repression, the Soviet KGB is now readjusting its position in a new Russian society. The Russian Security Ministry (or MBR)heir to the personnel and resources of the former KGB's Second Chief Directorateexercises enormous powers, over which the Russian Executive has little real control.
These questions of control of the MBR and its functions in Russian society are addressed in this issue of Commentary by Dr. Allan Kagedan, a Strategic Analyst in the Analysis and Production Branch of CSIS.
Disclaimer: Publication of an article in the COMMENTARY series does not imply CSIS authentication of the information nor CSIS endorsement of the author's views.
The highly-charged subject of Russian internal security has provoked a number of conflicts since the failed August 1991 coup, including an aborted attempt to merge the security and police agencies, a controversial effort to define the security agency's mandate and a scandal over disclosing classified information to the Americans.
That internal security should be a subject of such controversy is hardly surprising given its imposing historical presence. The first Soviet security service, Lenin's Cheka, donated the word "Chekist" to the Russian lexicon; the secret police were Stalin's weapons of mass terror; the Khruschev-to-Gorbachev KGB was the Party's "sword and shield" that "protected" Soviet society from free speech, association and expression. The KGB's heirs are spin-offs of two of its divisions: the First Chief Directorate became the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and the Second Chief Directorate became the Russian Security Ministry (MBR).
The MBR is directed by the 52-year-old Colonel General Viktor Barranikov, a career law-enforcement officer who joined the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) in 1961. Barranikov reports to the Russian Federation Security Council (established in April 1992), which meets monthly under President Yeltsin. Press reports have placed the number of MBR staff members at 137,900.
Because the KGB and its predecessors implemented Stalin's policies of terror and repression in the 1930s and ran the police state until August 1991, it will be years before Russians can discuss the MBR with anything like the composure that Western societies debate how to strike the balance between individual rights and state security. While North Americans recall internal security excesses associated with McCarthyism, or the wartime detention of ethnic Japanese, Russians remember the gulag. Given the Soviet experience, the stakes in answering civil liberties questionsone way or the otherseem infinitely higher than in the democratic West.
In December 1991, President Yeltsin issued a decree merging the MBR (then called the Federal Security Agency) with the state police agency, the MVD. The two agencies would co-exist under the name of the Ministry of Security and Internal Affairs. Howls of protest rose from liberal Russian deputies who feared a return to the bad old days when Stalin had merged the police and security functions under the NKVD, and used it to terrorize the population. Suddenly, democrat Yeltsin seemed to have donned Stalin's clothing.
The justices of the Russian Constitutional Court, an institution established by Yeltsin in the autumn of 1991, reviewed the merger decree, declared it unconstitutional and advised Yeltsin to annul it; he complied, but not before his legal adviser, Sergei Shakray, blasted the court for over-stepping its bounds by questioning an administrative decision fully within the President's authority to make. Interestingly, a Constitutional Court Justice argued that a merged security agency would be harder to monitor than two separate organizations. Although the Yeltsin camp never elaborated the counter-argumentthat unification under the right leader would permit faster reform and reduce costsYeltsin did, however, have the last word. He appointed Victor Barranikov and Viktor Yerin, the putative senior managers of the joint agency, as head of the MBR and the MVD respectively .
With the reorganization issue ostensibly settled, the MBR released its temporary statute. Far from limiting the powers of the agency, the decree casts a broad net and reads as if the MBR's leaders wrote their own song sheet.
According to the statute, the Ministry, guided by democratic principles, protects Russia's borders, upholds the Constitution, and advises the government on socio-political, economic, military and ecological threats. It also analyzes threatening foreign situations, conducts counter-intelligence and collects intelligence in co-operation with the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, monitors and protects joint economic ventures, defends the military forces and foreign establishments in Russia, as well as space, engineering, army and strategic assets.
The MBR also ensures security when "measures" are conducted of a national or international nature, and it administers states of emergency and martial law as well as war preparedness. In addition, the MBR fights terrorism, exposes corruption and interdicts drugs. It also liaises with foreign police and intelligence services.
Despite its wide mandate, the MBR receives little supervision. Although the mandate lists two potential supervisors (in addition to the President)the Procurator General and relevant bodies of the Supreme Sovietthis supervision is largely hypothetical.
In February 1992, the parliament undertook a study, to be completed by 1 July, to recommend the manner in which control over the MBR could be ensured. What form this supervision will take, and whether it would serve to restrain the MBR, is unknown. Ruslan Khasbulatov, the chairman of the Russian parliament and aspiring MBR supervisor, has alleged that "corruption has taken hold of all strata of society" and of the civil service, and has proposed a massive security campaign to root this evil out. (FBIS, 13 April).
According to the MBR temporary statute and a May 1992 Law on Operational Investigation, measures affecting the privacy of individuals can only be undertaken "with the sanction" of a prosecutor. This is cool comfort. No judicial warrant is required, and obtaining the Procurator's consent (assuming the intelligence operatives follow the rules) may prove easy. The procuracy has no history of questioning the requests of the security organs; their natural inclination is to co-operate, not obstruct.
Effectively, this leaves the President's office as the only check on the MBR's actionsand practically speaking, the most it can do is offer policy guidance rather than focused operational review of the activities of 100,000-plus security agents. The absence of any serious policy or personnel reform suggests that a "gentlemen's agreement" has been worked out between the President and the intelligence agencies: if the agencies stay out of domestic politics, the President will fund them, and let them reform themselves, at their own pace. In the interim, then, the MBR has it all, at least on paper.
For their part, MBR leaders are trying to ensure that they avoid political encroachments on their domain. Anatoliy Oleinik, the First Deputy Security Minister, has accused "short-sighted politicians" of turning Russia's security needs into a "commodity" on the "political bazaar".
Besides the MBR's broad mandate, in structure and personnel it is also the direct descendent of the Soviet KGB. Yevgeny Sevostyanov, the MBR's Moscow chief, a co-founder of the Democratic Russia movement and one of the few new faces in the agency, noted that almost no personnel had changed. "What's the use," Sevostyanov asked an interviewer, "of firing professional intelligence or counter-intelligence officers? The only thing one had to do is to explain to them which secrets they are to guard." Yevgeny Primakov, the SVR director, has voiced a similar view. Sevostyanov admitted that many officers were heavily indoctrinated and that this had to be remedied. How he expects to achieve this without personnel change is a mystery.
What, then, is new about the MBR? According to Sevostyanov and Barranikov, despite its broad mandate, the MBR does not monitor the political activity of Russian citizens. But this displeases Sevostyanov, the Yeltsin appointee. Political intelligence, he feels, is a function that the MBR could and should perform, and is a job "that some leaders would very much like us to do...".
One such is Egor Gaidar, the Russian First Vice President. Spearheading Russia's drive towards a free-market economy and bothered by newspaper articles alleging a run on cash in the banks, he ordered the MBR to investigate all the journalists who covered this story, apparently with leaked information. The MBR complied, and used its report to complain that the press law, which allowed journalists to protect their sources, had hampered their enquiries. The MBR proceeded to accuse the journalists of "increasing social instability...which may cause popular unrest.... We do not rule out some newsmen's ill intentions and deem prevention work necessary...".
In an economically deprived Russia, the subject of economic crime is on everyone's mind. But although it is common knowledge that under-the-table dealings in goods and services are going on, that firms are not paying taxes, and that foreign aid supplies disappear mysteriously before they reach their destinations, still, as Barranikov has pointed out, economic crime is poorly defined in law. This is not surprising. Under communism, virtually all free enterprise was considered criminal; now, as Russian society inches towards privatization, it has yet to define the limits of free entrepreneurship.
In tackling economic or organized crime, the MBR's problems will face institutional as well as legal hurdles. During the course of the heated merger debate, when elitist KGB staffers pledged never to serve with the lowly MVD cadre, MVD veteran Barranikov counter-punched by poking fun at the KGB's efforts to combat economic crime under its pre-coup boss, Vladimir Kriuchkov (2 Jan 1992 interview).
While the MVD had been battling economic crime for years, Barranikov related, the KGB discovered it overnight. (In fact, the KGB had established an organized crime unit in the late 1970s, disbanded it, and started up again in 1988.) "You remember how Kriuchkov declared a struggle against sabotage, and in the space of 48 hours Chekists found huge material assets...in warehouses. Pardon me, but it would be interesting to know where else they might have been." While the public thought the KGB had entered the economic sabotage field, "militia professionals were laughing..." at this staged drama. The MBR reported that in the first five months of 1992, it had launched nine anti-corruption cases and had arrested fifty influential criminals from "Russion mafia structures".
As the MBR re-tools to enter the economic crime arena, its one ace in the hole is espionage and counter-espionage. Public scandal has reached here, too, and relates to the Vadim Bakhatin, a popular reformer, Gorbachev associate and KGB head from August to December 1991. Following consultation with Gorbachev and Yeltsin, Bakhatin, as he tells it, informed US Ambassador to Russia Robert Strauss of the locations of KGB bugging devices in the US Embassy. Bakhatin, "Santa Claus" to his critics, said that the gesture was logical since the Americans knew about the bugs, and the technology in them was obsolete. This tiny gesture would cost Russia little, and buy much good will in return.
Security professionals criticized Bakhatin, labelling him a naive traitor. The admittedly aged bugs contained technology still used in other countries, and therefore were a "gift" to Western intelligence services. Furthermore, Bakhatin's offer, they alleged, will enable the Americans to improve their equipment to detect the location of bugs in other buildings. And the Americans, by knowing who produced the bugged beams and building parts, will be able to trace back those in Finland (where the parts were built) who were involved, thereby exposing people who assisted the USSR. Lt. Gen. B. Solomatin, a former deputy chief of intelligence of the KBG and a Bakhatin critic, opined that, after Bakhatin's hand-out, "It remains only to hand to the Americans the lists of intelligence and counter-intelligence personnel and the foreign agent lists, and curtail space reconaissance." (FBIS, 6 Feb. 1992).
Bakhatin has been dropped from the Russian intelligence scene, but the problems associated with re-striking a balance in the counter-espionage competition with Western countries persist. Clearly, on the one hand, the MBR feels it must continue to monitor the activities of Western governments in Russia, but it must do so in a manner than does not bite the hands of the aid-providers.
This applies to Russian foreign (SVR) operations as well. The Russian SVR's director, Yevgeny Primakov, has identified international instability, technological advances, terrorism and economic activity as key targets for intelligence collection. The agency is as yet incapable of pursuing these ends without damaging Russia's relations with its Western benefactors. In 1992, the FBI has complained publicly about Russian spying, and Russian spies have been expelled from Belgium and France. Jumping from the frying pan into the fire, the Russian SVR spokesperson brushed off these episodes as simply part of the cost of running a spy business, while another complained that the West is being hypocritical: it is demanding that Russia reduce its foreign intelligence operations, all the while increasing its own.
The MBR worries that the threat from foreign intelligence services has increased since the Soviet collapse. They perceive that, as the Russian economic situation has declined, Western intelligence opportunities to buy state secrets has risen dramatically. In 1991-92, according to the Russian media, the number of Russians who have been seeking out Western intelligence agents with offers to sell secrets for hard currency has at least doubled. Having detected a Russian approaching a Western embassy, the MBR then poses as that Western government's agent and seeks to persuade the Russian to desist. If this fails, the would-be traitor is arrested.
The MBR represents transition, not revolution. It is a re-named KGB, but only a partially re-directed one. Despite initial attempts to regulate it by law, its duties and powers remain too broad. Discouraged from entering the political world, the MBR otherwise is the heir of KGB personnel, practices and concerns. If real reform is to come to the MBR (or, for that matter, the Russian SVR), the President, the legislature and the courts of Russia must take a much more active role in its functioning. At the moment, these structures seem too distracted to do the job.
The views expressed herein are those of the author, who may be contacted by writing to :
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