The Wrong Sorts of Security

With the blast at Pushkin Square Aug. 8, which killed 11 and wounded dozens of others, the Chechen war has come to Moscow.

But, alas, the nation does not have the wherewithal for fighting terrorism, although the security services have enormous manpower at their disposal. The police, along with armed Interior Ministry units, number about 1 million; the Federal Security Service employs tens of thousands of personnel. But they dont seem to be of much use. The police are corrupt and incompetent and the FSB does not have experience in fighting terrorism. Nevertheless, the security services are compensating for their lack of ability through a campaign of nationalist, anti-Chechen rhetoric.

Last Tuesdays blast happened in central Moscow, not far from the Kremlin, an area of town always full of police dozens of both uniformed and plainclothes officers. Their job is to nab thieves and make sure that no one leaves a bag lying around that might contain a bomb.

Click here to read our Special Report on the bombings.

But this huge force discovered its impotence on the day of the blast. And this is the contingent on which President Vladimir Putin has placed hopes for effecting reforms in the countrys economic and political life, for instituting some kind of "order." But Im sure the security organs will remain just as ineffective in this instance. As usual, theres something they wont do or forget to do.

The Aug. 8 blast occurred very near the site of last years blast, in the downtown shopping center right by the Kremlin. In light of this fact, we should reevaluate the blasts of last year, including the explosions in two Moscow apartment buildings.

A year has elapsed, and not a single new word has been added to the initial investigation into those blasts. The Chechens were blamed for those bombings, too, although without supporting evidence. As a former intelligence officer, I am wary of the fact that the investigation has no informational basis. Over the last year, the authorities have demonstrated a desire to be silent about the investigation. And readers will remember the strange incident that occurred last September in Ryazan: The local FSB either found sacks with explosives in an apartment building in Ryazan a city not far from Moscow or they themselves put them there. It was also reported that sacks with explosives were found at a military base near Ryazan; the explosives were similar to those used in the September apartment building bombings. This, of course, led many to think that the bombings were not the work of the Chechens, but of highly placed bureaucrats in Moscow, who may have wanted to buttress Putins popularity and fuel anti-Chechen sentiment.

Many sources assert that highly placed generals in the Defense Ministry had an interest in reigniting the war in Chechnya and that they could convince Putin of their ability to deal with the Chechen fighters through powerful military pressure. But would this have been wise of Putin? After all, those in the KGB are not well-disposed to the army. The KGB continually followed the armys moves, knew all its weaknesses and was informed about the incompetence of certain generals and their tendency toward corruption. If Putin bowed to the generals, that indicates he is a weak, rather than strong, leader.

In the days after the Pushkin Square bombing, the press showed its lack of independence. This was evident on some TV news programs, which have become mouthpieces for militarist propaganda. Commentators intoned, "Criminal investigators in the FSB think. " Their announcement was delivered with a note of respect that made the uninformed listener understand that FSB criminal investigators would surely solve everything.

This, though, made me laugh after all, the criminal investigative units of the FSB are its Achilles heel. Why? Because the KGB, the FSBs predecessor, was never engaged in such criminal investigations. The KGB sent unfortunate souls to prison without any evidence of their criminality, which at the time, of course, was completely unnecessary. Again, the FSB has no experience with criminal investigations, just as it has no experience in fighting terrorism.

The FSBs compensation for its lack of experience in this area was made clear when it alluded to the "clearly Caucasian appearance" of the alleged perpetrators a propaganda attempt at inflaming nationalist hysteria. But what does that description "clearly Caucasian appearance" mean? There are hundreds of peoples who live in the Caucasus, and many of them have red hair and blue eyes. But theres another issue at stake here: The FSB knows that real Chechen terrorists use ethnic Russians, Ukrainians and other Slavs to carry out terrorist acts. And if thats the case, then our nations security services are signaling beforehand that they wont be able to find the perpetrators of the Aug. 8 attack.

So now Moscow finds itself at the mercy of Chechen terrorists. The Aug. 8 blast was probably a test. If the war in Chechnya continues, explosions in Moscow will also continue. Isnt it better to stop the war and sit down at the negotiating table? I hope the Aug. 8 explosion will serve as the beginning of a massive anti-war movement in Russia.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky is a retired KGB colonel. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times. Click here to read our Special Report on the bombings.