Apalachicola, February 15 – The FSB has expanded both the number of officials entitled to order the monitoring of journalists and also the basis for issuing such orders, according to a leading Moscow analyst, the clearest possible indication that the Russian security service is seeking not just to track journalists but to control them.
In an article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Andrey Soldatov, who heads the Agentura.ru portal, provides a close analysis of FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov’s Order No. 343 of July 15, 2009, a measure that attracted little attention six months ago but represents a major expansion of the FSB’s role in the media sector (www.ej.ru/?a=note&id=9882).
The July 2009 order increased as compared to the September 2007 order it replaced the number of FSB officials who are authorized to order “counter-intelligence measures which limit the constitutional rights of citizens” – including such things as interception of mail, monitoring of telephone and electronic communications, and searching places of residence.
What makes the new order’s provisions so worrisome, Soldatov points out, is that for the first time, among those who have this power are the leaders of the FSB’s Administration of Program Support, which is responsible for work with journalists, and that administration’s Center for Public Contacts.
By statutory law, the FSB is authorized to launch counter-intelligence operations for six reasons, Soldatov says, but none of those applies to journalists: the latter “are not bearers of state secrets and they can undermine the FSB’s security by publishing secrets or the names of agents only if employees of the special services or others with access to such secrets tell them.”
In February 2000, the Agentura.ru expert recalls, Aleksandr Zdanovich, the head of the FSB’s Administration for Program Support, told “Izvestiya” that his structure was not responsible for preventing leaks. Instead, other parts of the FSB focus on those who leak rather than those who may publish the leaked information.
The new order appears to change that, Soldatov says, and he notes that all the experts he questioned “said with one voice, that the Administration of Program Support apparently will use the right to monitoring it has received not for the launch of criminal cases in relation to journalists but for control.”
Up to now, the head of the Administration of Program Support would have had to ask his bosses or other administration heads to take this step, something he might have felt constrained against doing, but “now, the chief of the APS can do this independently, simply by issuing the corresponding order.”
Even in the past, the APS has been more than a press service, as its very title suggests, Soldatov notes. After all, “programs” or “operations of support” are “terms from the lexicon of foreign intelligence which replaced at the start of the 1990s the odious combination of words of the KGB ‘active measures.’”
Another way in which the APS was and remains far from the typical press service is that it is responsible for disinformation operations at the same time as it deals with the media, creating at a minimum a conflict of interest, as was highlighted in December 2008 when NATO forces in Afghanistan tried for a brief time to organize things in the same way.
But Soldatov says there is yet another “important detail” that should disturb those concerned about media freedom in Russia. When he asked the FSB whether the APS was an operational or support element, a key distinction in special services, he was told “this is regulated by our internal rules, and no one is going to tell you” which it is or whether it is not both.