Academy of Spyences

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Over the last year, Russia has taken one step after another in the direction of becoming a police state. President Vladimir Putin has led an assault on freedom of the press; he has strained relations with the West and pursued a course of increased international isolation.

The latest move in this campaign to isolate Russia and its citizens is a grave assault on the freedom to exchange ideas and information. The recent decision by the presidium of the Academy of Sciences ordering all members to report any contacts with foreigners to the Federal Security Service, or FSB, will lead to nothing less than the destruction of Russia's academic intelligentsia.

Initially, I was surprised by this development. It seemed to me entirely superfluous since I know the academy is already completely under the control of the FSB and military counterintelligence. Their officers have free reign of the academy and access to any information they desire. The overwhelming majority of academy members can rightly be considered intelligence agents, having long ago been co-opted by the KGB. From sheer force of habit, they are ready to report what is expected of them.

Communist China is the only country in the world that has an Academy of Sciences similar to ours. It was created as an arm of the KGB with the exclusive purpose of keeping track of scientists and preventing their defection to the West. It also developed into a powerful tool of scientific-technological intelligence gathering. Many important Western scientific discoveries and inventions were acquired by agents within the academy.

Over the years of communist power, the academy developed into a full-fledged branch of the KGB. In terms of its penetration by KGB operatives, the academy was second only to the State Committee on Religion of the Council of Ministers of the Soviet Union, which was almost entirely staffed by intelligence agents.

That committee was abolished in 1991, and the priests of the Russian Orthodox Church have breathed considerably easier since throwing off the KGB. But this process never occurred with the academy. Although the scientific community of Russia is less than half as large as was that of the Soviet Union, the number of intelligence officers working within its institutes has hardly changed over the last decade. The layman can identify them by the fact that they travel to the West far more frequently than their untainted colleagues, proudly representing the "impoverished Russian scientific community."

In the wake of the mass exodus of the younger generation from academics generally, these agents are struggling to justify their existence. The presidium order that scientists must report their foreign contacts seems like a reflex mechanism, cynically resurrecting the spirit of Stalinist repression. During Stalin's rule, the scientific community suffered perhaps more than any other segment of society. As this mood filters through the academy, its members will grow increasingly afraid and, no doubt, begin obediently filing reports on one another. As was the case with their parents' generation, they will soon divide into two groups: those that report and those who are the subject of their reports. And both groups will be victims.

Peering out from behind today's FSB, one increasingly recognizes the familiar face of the KGB's Fifth Directorate, which was charged with combating domestic dissent. In all the countries of the former socialist camp Ч except Russia Ч the officers of such directorates have been dismissed from service. Here, they have remained and are now occupying leading positions.

Many may be shocked by my claim that the majority of academy members are intelligence agents. However, I know what I'm talking about. I worked on the research staff of the head of KGB scientific-technological intelligence and I read countless dossiers prepared with the assistance of globally respected academicians. This was the very department whose task was to use our gray-haired researchers to ferret out the West's scientific secrets.

These days, the academy is full of senior citizens. Many of them continue to pursue important research. These scientists are motivated now solely by enthusiasm and the thirst for discovery. Many of them earn less than $100 a month.

The FSB officers within the academy earn a bit more than $100 a month, but, alas, only a bit more. In this regard, Putin is following in the footsteps of his idol, Yury Andropov. When Andropov left the KGB to become the general secretary of the Soviet Communist Party, the intelligence community rejoiced, thinking they would begin to live like kings.

But this did not happen. In fact, only two days after leaving the KGB, Andropov gave a speech in which he criticized the poor work of Soviet intelligence. Putin now is following the same pattern and for this reason he is far from universally admired within the FSB.

They recognize, of course, that he has elevated the organization's prestige and appointed many of its leaders to important government posts. However, in making such appointments, Putin has been highly selective, choosing only those in which he has absolute trust. The rest of the FSB has received remarkably little from the Putin administration. On the contrary, FSB officers are now faced with the prospect that they may be sent to Chechnya at any moment, since Putin put the organization in charge of the hopeless "counter-terrorist" operation there. Since FSB agents are civilians, the prospect of being shot at by Chechen rebels is particularly frightening.

Obviously, it is a lot easier to tighten the screws on academicians. After all, unlike Chechen rebels, scientists Ч with rather little persuasion Ч will line up to report on themselves and their colleagues. Every time an academy member complies with the regulation, he or she merely opens up an opportunity for an alert officer to justify his salary and his position. And he doesn't even have to leave his office: His victims will make appointments and sit patiently in his reception area.

For centuries, the donos, or report, has been an integral feature of Russian life. Over that time, we have learned it is a weapon not merely against those mentioned in the report, but against those who filed it. The KGB had a golden rule: "Investigating a report begins with an investigation of the reporter." The FSB has inherited this mentality, its agents sending case after case to the prosecutor's office without even getting up from their desks.

In recent months, much has been written about the cases of the diplomat Valentin Moiseyev and the researcher Igor Sutyagin. Both of these men conscientiously reported their contacts with foreigners to the FSB. Now they are in prison, held on flimsy charges of espionage.

Putin's Russia is choosing the China model. An economy with features of capitalism, but a totalitarian control over all aspects of civil life. But this model cannot work here. The economy is riddled with elements of socialism, giving rise to a powerful state-criminal mafia. That mafia holds the reigns of civil society, making discussion, criticism and exposure impossible. The results of this dreadful phenomenon are becoming increasingly plain with each new day.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a retired KGB lieutenant colonel. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.