Dishing Out the Dirt

Militarism and spy-mania in Russia are on the increase. The word "arrest" appears constantly in the media. Our foreign policy is heading toward isolation as we move closer toward pariah nations like Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Relations with the United States and the West have soured considerably. Domestically, civil society is under open assault. Human rights organizations and trade unions are being denied the right to register and are being closed down.

Since Vladimir Putin came to power, the security organs have been acting increasingly arrogantly. In the last year, we have seen masked police in ORT, in NTV, in the offices of the newspaper Versia. Freedom of speech, one of the only real democratic values to take hold in Russia, is under assault by a state intent on building a Pinochet-like dictatorship. But our organs do not understand that in Russia, where corruption is rampant, the absence of a free press will merely enable bureaucrats to steal with impunity. Instead of a "Chilean miracle," we will sink into total chaos.

The security organs are the primary weapon of the state against the free press. However, they often also act repressively on their own, defending their own interests. Former KGB General Oleg Kalugin, speaking at a conference late last year, declared bluntly, "If you open the so-called Nezavisimaya Gazeta or Izvestia or Rossiiskaya Gazeta, you can't help but notice that they have become dirtier. You see many silky-smooth journalists passing on 'information' that clearly came straight from the desks of the FSB [Federal Security Service] leadership."

I think that Kalugin is exactly right. Transforming opponents and critics into tools is a trick that the KGB perfected long ago and has now become the favored method of the FSB in handling the press.

I know of one journalist who writes on defense issues for a Moscow paper. In the early 1990s, he was in the vanguard of critics exposing the crimes of the Soviet KGB. After a while, though, his articles grew dull and pale. After all, he had never served in the organs and had no access to fresh information. He was reduced to repeating reports that appeared in other sources.

Eventually, he told me, he went to the press office of the FSB and pleaded, "Give me some information." That was all it took. They greeted him with open arms and started feeding him exclusive material straight from their archives. Later, he started writing commentaries on contemporary events, but they were based on "disinformation" and views that he had picked up in Lubyanka. He eventually realized what he was doing and stopped, but when he spoke to me he was amazed himself at how easily he had been taken in.

This is a well-worn tactic. The KGB used it for years in handling foreign journalists. Through Soviet journalists or other agents, they passed packets of documents that, for one reason or another, they wanted to see exposed. Often these documents "exposed" some fictional Western military aggression. Later, I believe, the same technique was used to convince the West of the impending success of "democratic reform" in Russia or to "warn" of the looming threat of nationalism and fascism here.

The FSB also tries to influence the publication of books about the KGB and the glorious past of the Russian intelligence services. Now that the security organs have come to ascendancy in the Kremlin, Russia's past is once again open to reinterpretation. Putin recently ordered the education minister to "bring order" to the chaos in Russian history textbooks. One component of the "order" will be to whitewash the Soviet period and the role of the security organs.

There are several Russian book-publishing companies that are directly controlled by Russia's intelligence and counterintelligence services. They are able to guarantee special access to state archives for authors writing for them.

The FSB dreams of someday having complete control over its own image. Luckily, this dream has not yet come true. I recently presented the manuscript to my new book, "The KGB in Japan," to 10 Moscow publishing houses, all of which rejected it in terror. In this book, I write openly, based on my own experience, about treason and fear within the KGB, about its stifling and petty bureaucracy and its pathetic attempts to create the impression that it was busy, working, fighting for the motherland.

"Do you have approval for this book from the Foreign Counterintelligence Service's press office?" the publishers asked me. I pointed out that under the law such prior approval was optional, not mandatory, and told them I had no intention of submitting my book for approval. Every one of them handed my manuscript back to me.

Only the 11th publishing house found the courage to take my book. So far at least, the security organs are not completely able to control information about them. So far.

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