Well Kept Army Secret

Many outside observers tend to view Russia's present security forces -- those of the Federal Security Service, army, Interior Ministry and other departments that have recently arisen -- as separate entities. And they are all in fact independent, with the exception of the FSB and the army, which form a single body. These two forces are inseparable, literally Siamese twins, sharing a common secret service, which is known to only a few specialists on the KGB.

About a third of all officers in the Russian army are FSB informants. Army officers readily agree to enlist in the FSB, sometimes for no other reason than to gain some kind of defense against the arbitrary rule of their superiors. Officers in the Russian Army are entirely without rights, and military law offers very little opportunity for complaints or protests. But registering grievances with the secret service often does produce results.

While still serving in the KGB, I read about an incident describing the recruitment process in the department's very secret journal, Sbornik KGB, in a section entitled "Stories from Our Agents." In one article, an officer who had served in the Soviet army in Germany wrote: "In a fit of anger, my commanding officer said I would be transferred back home. This would have meant a sharp decrease in living conditions. My comrades' efforts to dissuade the commanding officer were useless. It was only when Captain N of the special department of the KGB intervened that he was persuaded not to follow through with the transfer. And at that time, my daughter was ill. When I returned home, I was surprised to meet Captain N who had brought us some West German medicine which was then in short supply. Of course, I agreed to become an agent of the KGB without hesitation, and I collaborate [with it] to this day."

There are cases, however, when officers first refuse out of a sense of honor to be recruited and have to be coaxed or coerced. But an officer's code of honor is not very widespread in the Russian army.

The means that are used by military counterintelligence to recruit officers are unlike those of other divisions of the secret service. Knowing the importance of military rank, the FSB sends some kind of general to do the recruiting, whose arguments can seldom be opposed by lower ranking officers. In Moscow, there is a special staff of generals in the military counterintelligence service who are charged with this job. The secret service in the army has far more discretion than in civilian life. Its recruiting methods are also cruder and more decisive, especially during times of war.

The FSB recruits not only officers but soldiers on a large scale. And recruiting soldiers truly doesn't cost much: They too are in no position to argue with their officers. Many soldiers who come from the countryside do not even realize that they are signing up with the intelligence service. Several of them think that it is just one of the many bureaucratic agreements that every soldier is obliged to sign.

It is strange that almost no one talks about the FSB's widespread recruitment in the army. Paradoxically, military counterintelligence -- one of the most active and largest divisions of the FSB -- remains the least known branch of activity. This is most likely because it does not involve scientists or journalists but most often the simplest of people who end up as soldiers.

It is namely through the army that intelligence agents from the rural and working classes are enlisted. Former KGB chief Vladimir Kryuchkov tried to create a pro-communist workers' movement from such agents at the start of the 1990s to oppose the democratic movement. But nothing came of this enterprise, since these proletarian agents turned out to be socially passive and did not want to recall their tedious soldiers' existence.

Military counterintelligence work is carried out by what was formerly called the Third Directorate of the KGB. This division of the intelligence service is also referred to as a special department and its workers are known as osobisty or specialists. Osobisty often feel uncomfortable and isolated both in the FSB and in the army. For intelligence agents, military counter-intelligence officers are extremely crude and simple-minded. For many army officers, on the contrary, they are seen as being too clever and dangerous. This circumstance leaves the osobist with a constant sense of resentment.

Specialists in the army come across unexpected difficulties that their counterparts do not find in their work among civilians. Even receiving their wages can become a delicate problem. One might think that the captain of a torpedo boat, to take one example, would receive the highest wages. But in fact the best-paid sailor on such a vessel is the secret agent. The intelligence service's pay is about a third higher than the military. But the ship's crew must not be made aware of this inequality. The osobist must therefore come to some agreement with the officer in charge of finances so that he does not inform anyone of the secret service wages. And what does keeping a secret with a special department officer entail for the financial officer? It means he too will most likely end up an agent.

The army in Russia provides the country with security and the FSB looks after its political trustworthiness. The special departments of the intelligence service recall the NKVD of the Stalinist period in their unfettered, decisive and severe methods. If a military coup were to take place or the communists were to return to power, it would not be long before they would make known their manner of working throughout the country.

Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a former KGB lieutenant colonel, is a correspondent for Moskovskiye Novosti. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.