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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Alleged FSK Paper Raises 'American Spy' Alarm

The specter of a resurgent counterintelligence community is haunting both Russia and the West. Domestic and foreign experts are contemplating with alarm the prospect of a return to the bad old days when spies were seen to lurk on every corner, and Russians' contacts with the outside world were strictly controlled.


The cause of the furor is an alleged document from the Federal Counterintelligence Agency, or FSK, published Jan. 10 in Nezavisimaya Gazeta. The document, appearing under the headline, "The Federal Counterintelligence Is Alarmed by the Activities of American Researchers in Russia," makes a number of charges against such respected American organizations as the Soros Foundation, the Hoover Institute and Harvard University.


"The real goal of their activity is to promote the foreign policy of the United States, which is directed at holding Russia back as a state capable of competing with the 'only superpower,'" the document says.


It also charges foreign research organizations with seeking to gather secret information for the American intelligence community by such tactics as reading the local and national press, conducting public opinion surveys and establishing business and academic contacts with Russian organizations.


"If relations between Russia and the United States worsen, we can expect that the Americans will use these contacts to create an additional network of agents that will encompass the whole of Russia."


The document recommends the creation of "an effective, statewide system of counteracting intelligence by foreign special services."


The article prompted American businessman-philanthropist George Soros to fire off a letter to Science Minister Boris Saltykov, requesting that the Russian government confirm its commitment to continuing ties with his foundation which has provided $250 million in assistance to Russia, mainly in scientific fields. A group of Russian scientists sent an impassioned defense of Soros to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.


The FSK has neither confirmed nor denied the document's authenticity and has done nothing to still the controversy. Alexander Mikhailov, spokesman for the organization, said he had not seen the document and would take no steps to establish its authenticity.


"Let them make as much noise as they want," he said. "There are more foundations in Russia now than in the whole rest of the world. And we know very well what they are up to."


Formed when the KGB was dissolved in the wake of the October 1993 uprising, the Federal Counterintelligence Service has much of the same mentality and personnel as its predecessor, according to Western specialists.


"I really don't see how this world could just disappear overnight," said Cambridge historian Christopher Andrew, who collaborated with defector Oleg Gordievsky on a history of the KGB's foreign operations. In a telephone interview, Andrew called the document "a hangover from the old conspiracy theories."


Marshall Goldman, the associate director of Harvard University's Russian Research Center, said in a phone interview: "We are back to the xenophobia and fear of the West that characterized the 19th century Slavophile/Westernizer debate." The agency, he added, "can say 'things are so bad because the West has a master plan to make them bad.'"


Goldman theorized that the document was published to intimidate Russians who have become too free in their contacts with foreigners.


"Glasnost hurt the intelligence services badly," he said. "But now the pendulum has begun to swing back."


Natalya Gevorkyan, a journalist who writes about the intelligence services for the weekly Moskovskiye Novosti, said: "This is just a continuation of the nationalist, patriotic line.


"It is always the same story. In times of crisis, we start looking for spies. Our problems must be someone else's fault.


"They can change the name of the organization as many times as they like," she said. "But it is still the same people, with the same mentality."