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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FAPSI Had Hand in Phone Lines and Polling Centers

In acquiring FAPSI, the Federal Security Service is taking over one of the country's most secretive agencies and tightening control over the information that the Kremlin receives. The FSB might also gain control over the federal ballot-counting system, which will be used in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections.

President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday that the government's communications and electronic intelligence agency -- the Federal Agency for Governmental Communications and Information, or FAPSI -- will be disbanded and its staff and resources split between the FSB and Defense Ministry. Putin did not specify which resources would go to each agency.

A Defense Ministry official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the ministry expected to take over only the secure phone lines used for communications between armed forces command posts.

That would leave the FSB with the bulk of FAPSI's known assets, which include technical intelligence networks, secure government communications lines and a number of research centers across the country, Russian-language newspapers reported Wednesday.

The research centers take polls on a variety of issues -- such as the popularity of political leaders and the level of national discontent -- to keep the Kremlin in touch with public sentiment. To date, Putin largely has been relying on surveys and analytical reports from the centers as well as FSB reports to keep abreast of the national mood, political analysts said.

"This development strengthens the FSB's already important role as the supplier of information to the president," said Alexander Pikayev of the Moscow Carnegie Center.

FAPSI's web site states only that the agency is responsible with providing the Kremlin and the Cabinet with "special information that is independent of other sources."

A comparison of the country's polling agencies suggests that FAPSI has better resources then its independent counterparts. While private firms typically questioned up to 1,700 people in 30 to 50 regions for its surveys, FAPSI centers polled at least 6,000 people in more than 60 regions.

FAPSI results rarely are made public. One of the few exceptions was a poll conducted a few months before Putin was elected president in March 2000. Interestingly, the poll put Putin in third place, while other polling agencies named Putin as the leading candidate.

According to media reports, FAPSI also has been involved in the design and maintenance of the GAS-Vybory system, which the Central Election Commission uses to accumulate data from regional polling offices during national elections.

Gazeta and Vremya Novosti reported Wednesday that the FSB would take over FAPSI's responsibility of keeping GAS-Vybory up and running in State Duma elections this fall and the presidential vote next year.

FAPSI spokesman Sergei Popov strongly denied that there were any links between his agency and GAS-Vybory. "[GAS-Vybory] does not even use our communication lines, which exclusively handles government and presidential communications," he said Wednesday.

There is, however, at least one direct link between GAS-Vybory and FAPSI. The system was designed by the Moscow-based Voskhod research institute, whose chief, Alexander Kalinin, is a former KGB official who worked at FAPSI for 15 years.

Kalinin confirmed by telephone Wednesday that the system was designed by Voskhod and said it runs on lines maintained by the Communications Ministry, not FAPSI. He denied that FAPSI had any role in creating or maintaining the system.

The Central Election Commission declined to comment Wednesday.

Among its other activities, FAPSI has played an important role in the information technology and communications market.

It granted licenses to companies that design information security systems and maintain and distribute encryption systems. The agency also was in charge of certifying the encryption and security systems used by the government.

FAPSI also had business interests in companies under its jurisdiction and in closely affiliated enterprises. One of them was Atlas, which develops encryption technologies for communications networks and protects the communications systems used by the government.

In addition, FAPSI worked with mobile-phone operators and required them to provide encryption codes for their networks.

No. 1 mobile-phone operator Mobile TeleSystems said FAPSI's demise should mean less red tape. "We hope that cooperating with one agency, in this case the Federal Security Service, rather than two will be much easier," MTS spokeswoman Yeva Prokofiyeva said.

Anatoly Lebedev, president of the Lancrypto encryption company, also applauded the change.

"I see this as a necessary move, and I hope that the Defense Ministry and Federal Security Service inherit FAPSI's useful functions only," he said.

"FAPSI was created to provide security for government communications and information systems. Licensing activities in the market should not be one of its duties," he said.