The way in which the Russian intelligence services operate 

Commentary:  Certainly no country can currently afford a concentration of power as the one resulting from a single intelligence service. Especially the kleptocratic ruling classes or, as often happens in the West, the completely incompetent ones. Or both.

Photo: Bigstock

Obviously the security system of the Russian Federation was made up of the remains of the KGB, which had been deliberately and perhaps unreasonably disbanded in 1991.

A large part of the "Committee" was destroyed without any plan and then some KGB elements were redistributed in other agencies or even in other non-intelligence offices, by always trying to put the offices and the security apparatus in competition with each other. 

A reasonable idea, but to be used in a non-exclusive way.

It should be noted, however, that after the Cold War the Russian Security Services were rebuilt and changed on the basis of the American model. 

Not because the United States had won the "Cold War", but because it still had as many as 17 different services in operation - and this is was a mistake also there.

Nevertheless, even before 1989, the end of the global confrontation had already weakened and marginalized the Western structures.

The political intelligence unit in the United States was abolished in 1985, as was the General Intelligence Division of the FBI.

In Great Britain the unit against "subversive activities", known as F Branch, shifted from MI5 to counter-terrorism. The basic criterion there - which seems questionable today - was to operate counter-espionage only domestically and espionage only abroad. The divide and rule strategy of politicians over the intelligence services. But also a guarantee of inefficiency and information "holes" one after the other. 

Post-communist Russia, however, did the same: the KGB was dismantled, with the Border Troops assigned to another ad hoc Agency and the communication troops to FAPSI, another new Agency, while the secret bunkers were largely removed or assigned to a simple office of the Presidential Administration.

However, the system born of the KGB's disintegration imposed authoritatively lasted until 1998.

In 1991 Yeltsin also tried to establish a single Ministry for Security and Internal Affairs - an old reform that had been started by Stalin in 1953 before the Constitutional Court stopping it. 

Certainly no country can currently afford such a concentration of power as the one resulting from a Single Service. Especially the kleptocratic ruling classes or, as often happens in the West, the completely incompetent ones. Or both.

In this case, the long war between the ruling classes and the intelligence Services would be won by the latter.

It is not necessarily always a bad thing. 

The threats to Russia, however, were not particularly strong in the early 1990s - hence the Russian intelligence Service could be changed quite radically, albeit with the due bureaucratic slowness. And without too much damage, except for the lack of news about the relationship between the operators of the klepto-liberal transformation of the economy and the ruling class. It is not strange since it was exactly the goal it was intended to be achieved. 

The "liberalization" of the post-Soviet Russian economy was the aim, while the mandatory silence of the intelligence Services or their participation in the klepto-system was the means.

Most of the KGB, especially the section related to counter-espionage, was rebuilt as Federal Security Service (FSB).

The First Central Directorate, dealing with foreign operations and espionage, became the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR).

The 6th and 8th Chief Directorates of the KGB, already operating in electronic and signal intelligence, were merged and reorganized into a new Agency, the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI), based on the explicit model of the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA). 

The 15th Chief Directorate of the KGB became the Presidential Directorate for Special Programs, responsible for the protection of the country's most secret and sensitive infrastructure, while the First Directorate for Security, i.e. the 9th Chief Directorate of the old KGB, was aimed at protecting the country's most important personalities.

As noted above, the Border Troops became an autonomous administration.

Yeltsin himself made sure there was maximum competition between the intelligence Services and Agencies, also to prevent his Ministers from knowing about matters before, only or better than him. But the problem lies in understanding, not "having information before the others". If the statesman does not succeed in understanding, there is nothing that can make him perceive a new idea, initiative or operation from a note of the intelligence Service. Nothing. 

There are those who are born councillors for traffic, while there are those who are born statesmen. And we have far too many of the former ones, even second-rank ones. 

The SVR competed even with the GRU (the Military Service) and the FSB, which then really rivalled with FAPSI. 

Within the Presidency, there were also the Services that Russia called "sociological": the GAS to monitor the socio-political (and economic) situation in the regions farthest away from Moscow; the Vybory ("elections"), which served precisely to monitor the electoral processes; the networks in charge of monitoring administrative costs. Efficient even today.

In 1993, the system of internal competition within the intelligence Services was even strengthened. In fact, in 1993 the Tax Police was also established, competing directly with the FSB's Department for Economic Security.

In Putin's hands those structures, but above all the Tax Office, became the main, but very selective tool against the "oligarchs". Friendly oligarchs were chosen, while the others were forced into exile or into a few visits to Siberia. 

Such a rational and practical choice not to destroy the system, which would have been fatal, and a way to remain in power.

Excessive competition between the intelligence Services, however, can lead to dangerous infighting for State stability and, above all, for information reliability. Hence the Presidency tried to put a limit to this "blame and killing game" as well.

In 1998, in fact, the idea of putting back together all the numerous pieces into which the old KGB had been shattered was revived, so as to prevent the excessive competition between the Structures from destroying the very function of intelligence. 

It was only in 2003, however, that - after rising to power - Putin abolished the Federal Tax Police Service, as well as FAPSI and finally the Federal Agency for Border Troops and some other offices.

Instead, the "State Committee for combating Illegal Drug Trafficking and Trade" was created. The Border Troops became part of the FSB and FAPSI was once again divided between the FSB and the Federal Security Service, which had remained intact in the midst of the various and often very complex "reforms".

The FSB was immediately given full and almost direct control over the Interior Ministry.

Nevertheless, once again the reconstruction-fragmentation of the Russian intelligence services partly spared the 5th Chief Directorate of the KGB, led and invented by Yuri Andropov, dealing with "political investigations".

As Andropov himself used to say, the 5th Chief Directorate had been created to "fight ideological subversion inspired by Soviet enemies abroad". Just think that when he became Secretary of the CPSU, some slovenly Italian daily newspapers told about his "passion for jazz" and "modern art". Nothing forbids it, of course, but Andropov would not hesitate for a moment to send certain artists to the cold Siberia.

The 1st Department of the 5th Chief Directorate was specialized in the infiltration and control of trade unions; the 2nd one operated against the domestic and foreign centres which supported Soviet dissidents abroad; the 3rd one operated within the student world. There were as many as 15 Departments only within the 5th Chief Directorate, with the 14th Department responsible for controlling foreign journalists, the 13th one for keeping an eye on punks and spontaneous groups and the 8th one for Jews. All of them employed as many as 2,500 people.

With a view to "cleaning up" the image of the 5th Chief Directorate, in 1989 it was renamed "Chief Directorate for defending Constitutional Order", but it was formally eliminated in August 1991.

After seven years, in 1998, the new Chief Directorate for protecting the Constitution was established within the FSB.

As the Russian Presidency maintained, it operated in the "socio-political sphere" against "internal sedition" which - as Yeltsin said - had always been "more dangerous than external invasions".

Later that Department was merged into the one for "Combating Terrorism". Correctly, the Russian intelligence Services have always separated "terrorism" from "subversion" - a sign that their political analysis is subtler and more refined than the Western one.

In 2002, however, again for fear of concentrating too much power in one single Service, the Counter-Terrorism Service was divided in two. 

It is incredible how an Intelligence Agency could have worked with this continuous institutional fragmentation.

The BT Service, i.e. the Counter-Terrorism Service, was incorporated again into the FSB but with a new name, i.e. the SZOKS and the BPeh, i.e. the "Service for protecting the Foundations of the Constitutional System" and the "Service for combating Political Extremism", respectively. 

It should be noted that the fight against terrorism was always separate from the one for "protecting the Constitution".

In those years, a new Russian need emerged, i.e. the control of neighboring foreign countries, namely the CIS.

The Russia-Belarus Federation, which we currently see actually in operation, was developed in 1999. 

In 2005, however, the need arose for the FSB to carry out serious operations also beyond the neighboring foreign countries, for example in Europe and North America.

From that moment on, the Russian Services have been above all very careful not to let the color revolutions - typical of the Western Services’ current approach to the destabilization/isolation of the Russian Federation - break out in their "buffer zone". All this started -in the Serbian "democratic" transformation - with the OTPOR network, organized in the U.S. Embassy to Hungary, as well as in the U.S. foundations’ networks and - long live the unaware powerlessness - even in the European ones.

Meanwhile, also against the color revolutions, the FSB became a real old-style intelligence agency, with its brand new "Directorate for the Coordination of Current Information" (UKOI) and the "Directorate for strategic planning, analysis and forecasting" (DAPSP) that both became the most important and powerful bodies of the Service. 

Pending Putin’s rise to power and his first years of government, also the GRU and the SVR resumed their former function as real intelligence agencies.

In 2005, however, in the post-Soviet elite’s enthusiasm for new names, the structure that organized relations with the CIS countries, within the FSB, was again renamed as "Current Information Service".

As mentioned above, in 2003 the Border Troops had been definitively brought back into the FSB. 

The Russian Federation always remained a "police state" and there were two other bodies that dealt with borders and were not led by the Kremlin.

They were the "Counter-Terrorism Centre of CIS countries" and the internal control system of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). 

In 2006, the Duma also approved the establishment of a special Service for eliminating terrorists abroad. I wrote "eliminating" since a Service also has to do with certain phases of life.

We were always in the sensitive and long phase of the handover between Yeltsin and Putin, namely in 2000 - the year when Vladimir Putin placed part of the FSB within the Armed Forces, a stronghold of the excellent GRU which was never significantly manipulated by politicking.

The FSB immediately organized a "Directorate for the North Caucasus" and for military counterintelligence in that region. That was the geographical and strategic objective. The Service’s modus operandi also changed: from 2003 onwards, the FSB and the SVR not only disclosed the confidential information they collected, but also interpreted it - something that the old KGB would never have dared to do.

The "KGB" was excellent, like all the Services that have a real State behind them (a current issue for Italy to meditate and reflect), especially for operations abroad and for penetration in other regions of the world - as in Italy, for example - but it never dared to interpret the data it collected, thus hopelessly waiting for the para-Marxist and ossified blah-blah of the Kremlin. 

Given the pseudo-Marxist chatter, those working for the KGB did as they pleased. Good old days.

Hence information arrived, almost without being processed, but only on the desk of the Director of the KGB (and then, for a while, also of the FSB) and he was the only one to select the data he deemed important.

The data collected by the Service was then sent to the various departments of the Central Committee and - reading between the lines - that was the Party's control over the KGB.

In the 1990s, other Directorates were added to the Lubjanka, such as the Psychological Service, which was interested in mass phenomena and counterpropaganda.

The open source analysis, which is currently so important for all intelligence Services, did not exist as such at the time. Neither before nor after the fall of the Soviet regime.

There was, if anything, the study of errors and exact evaluations made by the Service in previous years and for similar cases. Too little.

There was also the new campaign, organized through the many complacent Western channels, to create the "myth" of the FSB - as years before that was dome for the KGB, certainly a very good Service, but not as extraordinary as the propaganda, including the Western one, let us believe.

For a Service, however, propaganda must always be well organized and supported, unlike what happens in Italy, where it seems that the intelligence Services are mainly represented by the militants of the extreme left organization known as "Avanguardia Operaia". 

Just to make an example, one of those old militants was also Interior Minister for a right-wing party. 

With great irritation and anger of former President Francesco Cossiga, who voted an individual motion of no confidence against that political leader.

Still today, the Soviet Services - albeit excellent and efficient (especially from an operational viewpoint) - are born from this long odyssey between uncertain ruling classes, sectoral and often "biased" evaluations, incompetent politicians. Currently a fundamental role is played by Putin, who has revived competition between the Agencies, although in a more complex and Kremlin-controlled way. After Vladimir Vladimirovic’s leadership - and this is certainly one of the aims of current Western operations - the Russian Services will be plunged again into the chaos resulting from an often para-criminal political polyarchy.

 

Professor Valori is President of the International World Group

You might be interested also

U.S. Embassy Abu Dhabi photo by Omar Fawzy/ Public Domain

The Oslo C agreement

The expected agreements with Bahrain and Abu Dhabi constitute "Oslo C" – another stake for the foundation of a Palestinian state. Like Rabin who began the process, Netanyahu is continuing it by selling territory for economic gain. Normalization is the new Oslo. A commentary