Spies Can't Spy Bombs




Following the bombings in Moscow by unknown terrorists, Russia's security services swore to prevent terrorist acts for all time to come. Incidentally, what happened in Moscow is not known in KGB parlance as "terrorism" at all. The official textbooks of the KGB always called such things simply "diversions." Terrorism only applied to such things as attempts on the lives of authorities: Politburo members, general committee secretaries and even simple little collective farm heads. Attempting to murder anyone else didn't qualify as terrorism.


This terminological miasma encapsulates the reason the KGB's successor organization, the FSB, was entirely unprepared for the blasts in Moscow and will hardly be able to prevent them in the future. The whole 80-year-long tragedy that is the history of the KGB will tell you that the KGB's fight against terrorism was nothing more than a struggle to protect the central members of the Communist Party. This is how the fight against terrorism began. And when the old generals of the KGB and the current heads of the FSB brag that they have experience fighting terrorism, they refer to nothing more than their previous employment as bodyguards to the party. Sort of an underwhelming resume when the lives of hundreds and thousands of citizens are at stake.


On the other hand, the KGB itself was a terrorist organization, which lends credence to its claims of experience. On its curriculum vitae it has the mass murders of innocent citizens of its own country, political murders abroad and the deportations of minority groups - especially the Chechens. In the KGB's jargon, though, this is also just a "diversion."


All these diversionary types worked in the second directorate of the KGB, that is to say the FSB. The influence of the spirit of terrorism in the KGB has always been so strong that even the training programs for operatives involve an element of terror. In order to pass the training, for instance, one has to display proficiency in blowing up railroad tracks. Right up to 1991, they were conducting such lessons on abandoned railroad tracks. I would bet they are doing so even now.


As such, terror was a normal occupation for the KGB. Anti-terrorism was what they called the actual bodyguarding duties for members of the Politburo. For instance, whenever former General Secretaries Leonid Brezhnev, Yury Andropov or Mikhail Gorbachev took a trip, all the way along their route would be soldiers and officers. But not only soldiers and officers. At the edge of a train platform, you might have seen a teacher, a shepherd, a Komsomol kid. All of these people were KGB agents recruited more or less off the street for the fight against terrorism. Their single task was to hang around the routes a Politburo member would be traveling and focus on suspicious activity. What came next - such as preventing that activity from becoming life-threatening - never really interested the KGB.


As such, when a bomb exploded in the Moscow metro in the 1970s, the KGB, then as now, was totally unprepared.


The KGB decided not to respond with quality, but with quantity. All young officers were made to stand guard. They were expected to look through trains, search suspicious people and sleep at Kursky Station. That is where the trains from Armenia came in, and the KGB suspected Armenians were responsible for the explosion. And not even those of us super-secret officers in intelligence were spared. I recall a few nights spent at Kursky Station, cringing from the cold.


KGB officers are office people and such physical work was too much. As the trains came in from Armenia, they were met by a uniformed army of soldiers. The Armenians getting off the trains never knew whether to laugh or cry.


As a result, the KGB caught some terrorists and they were sentenced to death. After they were dead, however, it turned out that they were the wrong guys.


The most important work in the FSB is the work of the secret agents. Everything else, including the fight against terrorism, is second class. Therefore, when Andropov created a group within the KGB in the 1970s to deal with airplane theft and other acts of terrorism, it was made an adjunct of the least prestigious KGB directorate - the seventh. Its work was the most exhausting and the least well paid. The seventh directorate's officers had the single advantage of being able to retire after thirtysomething, like ballet dancers.


The seventh directorate's anti-terrorist unit was called the "Second A Group." It later became the "Alfa" unit. And that was pretty much it for anti-terrorism to this day.


Is the FSB responsible for Moscow's latest blasts? Yes, if only because there is an FSB bureau in every region of the city. But the secret agents are concerned with the same things they have been concerned with since Soviet times: apprehending suspicious types who might turn out to be spies or dissidents. On the whole, the agents are women who work at the passport bureaus, in kindergartens, barber shops, clinics and the like. And they are entirely unsuited for searching out terrorists.


These people aren't willingly recruited, but because the FSB relies so heavily on them, there can be no talk of "experienced" agents fighting terrorism. Where indeed can such agents get experience. Unfortunately, they can only gain it now, in the wake of the bombings. So what will the FSB say after the next explosion? We did all we could?


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