Aleksey Shcherbakov’s view of the Security & Intelligence scene
Politicians, the media, military officials and the intelligence community in Moscow have all been voicing their concern over recent weeks. What has upset them? The deterioration of Russia’s intelligence-gathering capability.
In a startling move, President Vladimir Putin had announced, in October last year, the closure of the main FAPSI (Federal'naya Agenstvo Pravitel'stvennoy Svayazi i Informatsii) overseas SIGINT & ELINT gathering facilities at Lourdes in Cuba and Cam Rahn bay in Vietnam.
are run jointly by the Third Directorate of the Federal Agency for Government
Communication and Information (FAPSI) and the Sixth Directorate of Russian Military Intelligence ( GRU. The facilities supplied feed to the Soviet SOUD information system - "The Integrated Information Assessment System."
The closure has left FAPSI, the Russian intelligence service equivalent of America’s NSA and Britain’s GCHQ with only North African and Baltic facilities outside of the CIS.
Not only was this a surprising move by Putin, a former KGB officer and one-time head of the FSB, it also came after denials of press reports, two months previously, by Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov, also a former KGB officer and once a Lieutenant General in the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR, that any such action was to be taken.
The chief of the general staff, Anatoly Kvashnin, said that Lourdes had been vital during the cold war. But priorities had changed, making the base's annual cost of $200m harder to justify.
"Now, the military-political situation has changed and there has been a qualitative leap in military equipment. With that money we can buy and launch 20 communication, intelligence and information satellites, and buy up to 100 sophisticated radars," General Kvashnin said.
Nevertheless the move has upset a range of interests. Both FAPSI and the SVR are displeased with a ‘thoughtless gift’ to the Americans. Cuba responded angrily to Russia's decision, saying no agreement had been reached and Moscow was ceding to U.S. pressure.
“It helped us collect up to 40 percent of all our information on the United States and the region. We lost out in the military sense.”
The feeling in Moscow is best summed up by Retired General Andrei Nikolayev, a senior State Duma deputy who heads the Duma's defense committee, who said he did not understand the logic of President Vladimir Putin's decision to dismantle the facility.
"It helped us collect up to 40 percent of all our information on the United States and the region," he said. "We lost out in the military sense."
Typically, with the sad state of the military after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the dismantling of the spy base in Cuba, originally set to begin Jan. 15, was postponed, for some weeks. Lt.-Gen. Viktor Denisov, commander of the operation, said that the departure of the three AN-124 heavylift cargo planes due to pick up radar equipment from the listening post in Lourdes, Cuba, had been delayed because the military didn't receive the money to pay for the flights on time!
THE ULTRA SECRET STATION – GRU-FAPSI RAMONA, North Korea
Lourdes and Cam Ranh Bay (** see Interfax report at end of article) are not the only former Soviet electronic intelligence bases to close down recently. In 1997 the ultra secret GRU-FAPSI station at Ramona in the PRNK ( People’s Republic of North Korea), (set up in 1985 and staffed by 80 GRU and FAPSI personnel) was closed – but not dismantled - when North Korea abrogated the 1985 treaty that set it up.
The existence of this ultra secret ELINT facility was revealed by the judge trying the career Russian diplomat, Valentin Moiseev , for spying for South Korea. When he passed verdict on the former deputy director of 1st Department of Asia of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs of Russia, to 4.5 years in gaol.
" The Court had established that Moiseev had informed the South Korean Intelligence Services that the agreement between the Russian Federation and PRNK for the operations of the ELINT facility at RAMONA in North Korea had ended in 1997. “ This was the first time that the existence of the site had been revealed in public.
However there is speculation that FAPSI might return to use the Ramona facility. Only ten months ago, in April last year, a military delegation from the PRNK arrived in Moscow for the first time for ten years, led by the head of the North Korean armed forces, vice-marshal Kim Il Chen He had negotiations with the Russian Minister of Defence, our former KGB chief Sergei Ivanov. As you say in the west: “Watch this space!”
The members of the DUMA and the Russian media should not be too concerned about the capability of the Russian Federation to gather intelligence electronically. In addition to sophisticated satellite imagery and the strength of FAPSI facilities within the borders of the C.I.S., the demise of LOURDES and CAM RAHN BAY stills leaves Russia with the FAPSI-GRU surveillance facility at the People’s Democratic Republic of Yemen’s Ras Karma Military Airbase, near QaDub on Socotra Island which lies opposite the coast of Somalia at the mouth of the Gulf of Aden in the Indian Ocean.
During the operations over Afghanistan the concentration of US and British carrier-borne battle groups (and Tomahawk-equipped Royal Navy submarines) in the vicinity - plus the air movements of USAF B1 and B52 bombers and RAF VC10s and TriStars tankers from Diego Garcia, highlighted the importance of this surveillance facility for Russia. Current rumblings over Iraq continue to stress the value of Socotra Island.
The other significant source of SIGINT and ELINT is that captured by aerial and sea assets. The old, but highly effective Tupolev Tu-142M-Z ‘Bear’ – the Beriev A-50 ‘Mainstay’ and the IL-38 ‘May’ surveillance planes operate from bases in Syria. Al Anad Air Base and Khormaksar International Airport in South Yemen, and San Antonio de Los Banos and Jose MArti airbase in Cuba. While at sea a fleet of Russian Navy ‘spy trawlers’ - Electronic Surveillance Ships or AGI (Auxiliary General Intelligence) SIGINT intelligence collection ships roam the seas wherever Russian federation interest are concerned.
Russian capability may have been cut back, but it still has awesome scope.
_________________________________________________________________** The following report from INTERFAX highlights the FAPSI removal from Cam Ranh
MOSCOW. May 2 (Interfax) - In line with international agreements, the Russian naval base in Vietnam’s Cam Ranh is to cease its existence within the next few days, aide to the Russian Navy commander-in-chief Igor Dygalo told Interfax on Thursday.
Russia completed handing over all facilities and installations at the base to Vietnam on May 2, he said.
The closure ceremony is scheduled for May 3-4. A high-ranking source with the Russian Defense Ministry in turn told Interfax that the Russian Ambassador to Vietnam Andrei Tatarinov and head of the transfer commission and chief of the Pacific Fleet administrative service Rear Adm. Alexander Ivliyev are expected to attend the ceremony.
On Thursday, the two sides signed a transfer certificate. The work on transferring the installations “was done in the traditional atmosphere of mutual understanding and absolute trust,” Dygalo said.
After all formalities are observed, the last Russian Il-76 military transport aircraft remaining at the Cam Ranh airfield will take off to head for Vladivostok.
After that, the last servicemen from the airfield personnel will board the Sakhalin-9 diesel-electric ferry which will leave Cam Ranh on May 4.
Aleksey Shcherbakov has an open-source security and intelligence digest on the authoritative Moscow-based website: http://www.agentura.ru It is also distributed to intelligence agencies, former intelligence officers and specialist journalists & writers in the CIS, North America, Europe and Australia. He can be reached at [email protected]
As George Tenet, Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, has said: “Some (recipients of the intelligence product) say that they get more out of the open press than from our intelligence reporting.”
© Copyright Alekesey Shcherbakov
(Caption 1: FAPSI-GRU base at Lourdes)
(Caption 2: CIA U2 surveillance shot of Lourdes)
(Caption 3: GRU base at Cam Rahn)
(Caption 4: Location of secret FAPSI site in North Korea)
(Caption 5: Satellite shot showing Socotra Island)
(Caption 6: Map showing location FAPSI site on Socotra)
(Caption 7: 'Balzam' Class – AGI - Electronic Surveillance Ship)
(Caption 8: Tupolev Tu-142M-Z ‘Bear’ long-range Elint aircraft)
(Caption 9: Russian Air Force Beriev A-50 ‘Mainstay’ )