From The Moscow Times:
Monday, August 7, 2006. Issue 3469. Page 8.
Security Service Surfing
By Richard Lourie
I have added the FSB's web site to my favorites. That the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, even has a web site is something of a marvel in itself. At first glance, it's a bit like Samuel Johnson's remark about a talking dog -- it's not what it says that matters, but the very fact that it speaks. And yet in the case of the FSB's web site both its existence and its content are important.
The FSB, like the two-headed eagle symbolizing post-Soviet Russia, looks both forward into the future and back into the past to define its new role. In a speech on the 90th anniversary of the birth of Yury Andropov, who was head of the KGB from 1965-82 and of the Soviet Union from 1982-84, current FSB chief Nikolai Patrushev said: "In the Andropov era, an organization unique in the world of intelligence services was created: the KGB press office." So, the roots of the FSB's web site reach back to Andropov, the archetype of the intelligence chief who becomes national leader, and are thus hallowed as well as progressive.
The United States' FBI and CIA and Britain's MI5 have their own web sites, so why shouldn't the FSB? You can't be really in 21st century without one.
The New York Times recently reported that even the British MI6, "the secret intelligence service, which once denied its own existence, opened a web site to advertise for recruits."
Web sites reflect their country's culture. The FBI's has a children's page with fun interactive games: "Can you help Special Agent Bobby Bureau get in disguise for his undercover assignment? He's counting on you." The color scheme features a lot of red, white and blue.
The pages of the FSB's web site are in shades of dark blue that seem the very color of secrecy, yet the content of those pages reveals a lot about the minds of those inside today's Lubyanka. Aside from the information and propaganda sides, there is also a public service aspect to the web site. Four pages are dedicated to tips for surviving if you're taken hostage by terrorists. "Personal bravado" is not recommended. Don't grab any weapons dropped by terrorists. That could confuse the special forces, for whom what matters is "the life of the hostages, and not their own." There's precious little information, however, on how to survive the rescue operation, which, judging by the Dubrovka theater and Beslan school tragedies, is where the true danger lies.
The FSB is supposed to protect the state against its enemies, both foreign and domestic. Since Russia is now a democratic country, the reasoning goes, the FSB also protects Russia's nascent rights and freedoms. Terrorism, as a threat to both security and freedom, is, of course, the FSB's principal target. But today's Russia has other enemies than Chechen separatists and the international jihadists who support them. Intelligence gathering by foreign agencies did not end with the Cold War. It could even be argued that the new Russia needs more protection than the closed society of Soviet times. The new Russian society is more penetrable by foreign intelligence agencies working under the cover of businesses and NGOs. With all of these Orange Revolutions and Soros Foundations, who's kidding whom?
But the FSB has found a modern and efficient means of fighting back. It's not so much the traditional idea of the sword and shield as the web site and the hotline. One announcement, a Gogolesque mishmash of Soviet and post-Soviet elements, states: "Russian citizens, collaborating with foreign intelligence agencies, can make contact with the FSB on a secure line in order to become double agents. In that event, these people can keep in full any financial remuneration received from foreign intelligence services, and they will be able to work with top-notch FSB agents. Anonymity and confidentiality guaranteed."
The number is 914-2222. Operators, presumably, are standing by.
Richard Lourie is the author of "The Autobiography of Joseph Stalin" and "Sakharov: A Biography."