DATE=3/16/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=RUSSIA / MEDIA NUMBER=5-45659 BYLINE=PETER HEINLEIN DATELINE=MOSCOW CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: A Moscow newspaper specializing in hard- hitting investigative reporting has been victimized by computer hackers who destroyed the latest issue. V-O- A's Peter Heinlein in Moscow reports the apparent sabotage is the latest in a series of mysterious events that have frightened and intimidated Russian journalists. TEXT: The Novaya Gazeta newspaper failed to make it to Moscow newsstands Thursday. Computers containing the entire contents of the Thursday issue failed shortly before the paper was to go to the press, destroying everything. Deputy editor Sergei Sokolov says the computer failure was a clear case of sabotage. /// SOKOLOV ACT ONE - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says there was what he calls "an unsanctioned break-into our computer network from outside." He says somebody broke into the computer system and erased everything the newspaper was about to publish. Thursday's edition was to have carried an expose detailing funding sources for President Boris Yeltsin's 1996 election campaign and for the current campaign of Acting President Vladimir Putin. But many Moscow journalists see another possible motive behind the attack. They note that Novaya Gazeta has recently published a series of investigative articles challenging official statements made by the F-S-B, the main successor to the Soviet K- G-B spy agency F-S-B officials last September said a bomb found in an apartment building in Ryazan, 160 kilometers south of Moscow was a fake planted by security officers as a training exercise. The discovery was made just days after explosions ripped through four apartment buildings in Moscow and other cities, killing nearly 300 people. Those blasts were blamed on Chechen terrorists, prompting Russia to launch its military offensive into Chechnya. In its reports, Novaya Gazeta suggests the Ryazan bomb was real, and furthermore might indicate that Russian security services -- not Chechen terrorists -- were behind the apartment block blasts. But in a V-O-A interview, Deputy Editor Sokolov went out of his way (stressed) that he does not suspect the F-S-B was involved in the attack on his paper's computers. /// SOKOLOV ACT TWO - IN RUSSIAN - FADE UNDER /// He says, "I repeat that I do not think the F-S-B or any other security services would behave this way." He adds, "There is no need for it, and we don't even think about it." Other journalists, however, are not so sure. Matt Bivens, editor of the English-language Moscow Times newspaper, says the F-S-B must be considered a prime suspect in the computer hacking incident. /// BIVENS ACT ONE /// I think they're disingenuous if they say they don't believe the F-S-B is tied to this. They've been poundingly critical of the F-S-B for weeks, and they've been basically accusing the F-S-B of somehow being involved in blowing up the Moscow apartments, and then suddenly somebody has the will and the ability to hack into their computer system and steal everything. That's the sort of attack you can only expect from a government, and it makes perfect sense to me that it was the F-S-B. /// END ACT /// Mr. Bivens says a series of recent events, including the arrest of Radio Liberty journalist Andrei Babitsky in Chechnya and the death last week of crusading journalist Artyom Borovik in a mysterious plane crash, have introduced a new fear into reporters. /// BIVENS ACT TWO /// You don't want to be too much of a conspiracy theory hound, but when things pile up one after another after another, and at the same time the government is talking about greater control over the media, and the media will be punished if they do this and punished if they do that, then journalists get scared. /// END ACT /// Mr. Bivens says even the limited media freedom that blossomed under former President Boris Yeltsin has quickly disintegrated since former K-G-B spy Vladimir Putin came to power. /// BIVENS ACT THREE /// When Boris Yeltsin was president, a lot of the watchwords of that era were press freedom, freedom, democracy, civil liberty. And now all we ever talk about security, safety, and the state. And that's a change that has come in with Putin. /// END ACT /// Mr. Bivens says the attack on the Novaya Gazeta computer is likely to be an effective warning to other Russian journalists about the danger of challenging the government's version of the Ryazan bomb incident. The story has been covered in the Western press, but has been largely ignored by local media. Meanwhile, Russia's widely watched state-run television Thursday prominently featured reports saying investigations have positively linked Chechen terrorists to last September's apartment house bombings. A senior F-S-B investigator said quick work by security services had prevented six other explosions in Moscow. No mention was made of the Ryazan bomb incident. (Signed) NEB/PFH/JWH/KL 16-Mar-2000 14:09 PM EDT (16-Mar-2000 1909 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .