Staunton, October 20 – Although rights activists have succeeded in eliminating a provision of an FSB-proposed draft bill on state secrets that would have blocked the media from covering most counter-terrorist operations, another provision of this measure – one that throws the veil of secrecy over the financing of such activities – has the potential to do even more harm.
In an article in today’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Andrey Soldatov, the head of Agentura.ru and one of Moscow’s leading independent experts on Russia’s intelligence services, says that victory the media rights activists was not only partial but that they have ignored this bigger threat to the public’s Constitutional right to know (ej.ru/?a=note&id=10482).
As approved last week by the Duma’s security committee on second reading, the bill limits the activities of journalists in the collection of information on terrorism to talking with “people in the special services themselves, who officially or unofficially enter into contact with the press”
That “in practice” means that the journalists do not have any opportunity to check the information that the security services put out and thus invites those services to present to journalists only the most self-serving information, something that will reduce attention to the actions of terrorists but also to the mistakes of the security services themselves.
But the Duma committee “left without change” another part of the bill, Soldatov notes, and that provision may have even more far-reaching consequences. According to the measure, all information about the financing of anti-terrorist activities is, at the insistence of the FSB, to be classified as secret.
Soldatov argues that the arguments of the FSB on this point “were not simply weak, they did not correspond to reality.” The FSB said it had no choice but to ask for this in order not to have to reveal the payments to informers and others that the agency has made “to prevent terrorist actions.”
But such payments are already classified secret under the provisions of the law on the operations of the security services, Soldatov points out, and that suggests that “the actual goal of the new point in the law is to gain the chance to classify any data about financial flows which come from the budget for the struggle with terrorism.”
If it is passed, then people “who do not have access to state secrets – journalists, the expert community and deputies – [will not be able] to assess how the Russian special services are spending money on the struggle with terrorism” and thus to know whether budget funds are being used effectively or being wasted
That is no small thing, the Agentura.ru editor continues, pointing out that “when we speak about the financing of the struggle with terrorism, we are talking about not only the purchase of special weapons and technology for special operations and the payment of agents.” Instead, in Russia, albeit to “a lesser degree than in the US,” this involves a whole “industry.”
Two years ago, Nikolay Patrushev, then head of the National Anti-Terrorist Committee, approved a plan for the “struggle with the ideology of terrorism.” This program, which continues until 2012, involves “the production of films, the creation of websites, the holding of competitions for the best works on counter-terrorism, international conferences and festivals and even the publication of artistic literature.”
If the budget of these activities is concealed, Soldatov points out, then who are creating them is hidden as well, something that makes it extremely difficult for anyone lacking access to state secrets “to assess the effectiveness of these programs,” something they could certainly do if they knew where the funding was coming from.
Soldatov says that he personally would “very much like to hear the opinion of specialists about the directive ‘to develop and introduce into the practice of the work of specialized medical institutions complex psycho-physiological methods of identifying risk groups (‘those inclined to terrorist activity’)” for deciding on “prophylactic measures.”
It would be most interesting to learn “just what measures are being used” – those of Lombroso or a little more contemporary such as eugenics?” And it would be “especially interesting to find out just what funds have already been spent for the development and introduction of such measures.”
But what is “also curious,” Soldatov points out, “is that the media and the legal rights community have almost not turned attention to this line in the draft bill. Apparently, the problem is that in our country there have never been undertaken attempts to put under public control government spending for the force structures.”
This is the unfortunate “status quo,” he concludes, and perhaps it will seem strange to some that the powers that be are “taking away from us a right which we have never attempted to make use of.”