. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

New Tricks, Old KGB

The so-called power structures proved incapable of reforming themselves during President Boris Yeltsin's first term. The situation in the army has changed little since the fall of the Soviet Union, and it is now experiencing a deep crisis. Similarly, the country's secret service, whose leaders are largely left over from the former KGB, has proven resistant to change. But the intelligence service will be forced to adapt to the political and economic changes that Russia continues to undergo as Yeltsin's second term in office begins.


One change the Federal Security Service, or FSB, must make is in the way it carries out its work against its former friends in Eastern Europe. During the Soviet period, the secret services of East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Hungary and a few other countries were all united under the KGB. All important, secret information that was gathered by them was sent on to Moscow. Their work was coordinated by the numerous KGB representatives who acted under legal diplomatic covers. And the level of information that was exchanged was normally quite high.


Today, the majority of these countries are getting ready to enter NATO and several have adopted an unfriendly stance toward Russia. This will undoubtedly result in the FSB becoming involved in more active intelligence work in these countries. But this will also mean greater efforts will be needed than in the past. Despite the fact that many of the KGB's former friends have risen to important positions in the new intelligence services in Eastern Europe, they now show outright hostility toward their Russian counterparts. One of the reasons for this animosity is that when communism was collapsing in Eastern Europe, the local secret services felt that Moscow had turned its back on them. There was much discussion at the time about lending them support, but the KGB nonetheless failed to preserve its close contacts.


The intelligence service will probably also find its role in carrying out industrial espionage greatly diminished. In the Soviet period, industrial espionage was done exclusively by the government. Today, however, with the development of private industry in Russia, companies are unlikely to turn to the government with orders for finding new technologies. With its highly bureaucratic structure, the FSB is ill-equipped to meet the demands of businesses that require fast decisions.


Moreover, private companies understand that collaborating with the FSB is not without risks to the firms themselves. There is nothing preventing the FSB, for example, from gathering information about the company itself rather than its Western competitors. The former scientific and technical agents who have gone to work for private firms understand this very well. This is why companies have created their own security services that are free from the enormous hierarchical structure of intelligence directors.


Almost every private Russian company is either willingly or unwillingly in contact with the mafia. This widely known characteristic of contemporary Russian business is another reason private companies seek to avoid direct contact with the secret service. But the question must be asked whether the current intelligence service is capable of fighting the mafia, which poses threats not only to Russia but to countries well beyond its borders.


The KGB has no tradition of fighting organized crime. When it enlisted agents from industry and scientific institutes, the KGB explained to its new recruits: "We are not policemen, and therefore we are not concerned with the financial misdeeds of the company management. The only things that interest us are the political statements of your co-workers and the number of foreign spies among them." It has always been characteristic of the intelligence officers to keep their distance from such dirty and dangerous work as uncovering financial corruption. When the presence of the mafia was finally officially recognized at the end of the Gorbachev period, it was the militsia that informed the KGB about the mafia and not the other way around.


Over the next four years, the Russian intelligence service will become more involved in the fight against international and Russian mafia. But it will be forced to start this work from scratch.


The same can be said about the fight against international terrorism. Soviet intelligence not only had no experience in countering terrorism but quite often lent it support. And the typical Russian agent himself is not trained for combatting terrorism. In fact, most of his day is spent sitting at his desk writing reports.


At the same time, Russian intelligence could play a consultative role in the international fight against terrorism. It could use its vast experience in Afghanistan, as well as its friendly ties with Libya and other Arab countries engaged in terrorism, to help in the fight against it.


Of all the aspects of the secret service, only counterintelligence will not undergo any changes. And this should come as no surprise. It is the only branch of intelligence work whose task has remained the same -- providing security for the secret service itself and recruiting agents from other countries. It will thus remain the most stable part of the intelligence service.


The KGB had a tradition of drawing its leaders from counterintelligence officers abroad, since they were considered the most reliable. This tradition has apparently been preserved to this day. These people can be characterized by their very conservative outlook. It is namely these officers who are most likely to adhere to communist or national socialist ideology. This gives all the more reason to believe that during Yeltsin's second term, the Russian intelligence service will hardly be a bulwark of freedom and democracy in Russia.





Konstantin Preobrazhensky, a former KGB lieutenant colonel, writes on intelligence matters for Moskovskiye Novosti. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.