Putin’s Powerful Security Service

Putin’s Powerful Security Service


From Orders to Kill by Amy Knight. Russia’s FSB is more powerful than the KGB it replaced:

The Federal’naia sluzhba bezopasnosti (Federal Security Service or FSB), the most powerful of Russia’s security agencies, was established in 1995, after various reorganizations of the old KGB. Although the foreign intelligence service and the government guard agency are not under the FSB, as was the case with the KGB, the FSB is by law authorized to conduct its own intelligence operations both at home and abroad, which has opened up a whole range of opportunities. It is a formi­dable organization, numbering an estimated 350,000 employees. Its functions include counterintelligence, counterterrorism, combating economic crimes, guarding the borders, protecting government com­munications, and ensuring the security of nuclear materials and in­stallations. In the words of Russian security experts Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan: ‘Rather than a revival of the Soviet KGB, the FSB had evolved into something more powerful and more frightening, an agency whose scope, under the aegis of a veteran KGB officer, ex­tended well beyond the bounds of its predecessor.’ In Soviet days, the KGB was controlled by the Politburo and did not take important initiatives without the concurrence of this Communist Party leader­ship body. Now there are no formal mechanisms of control over the FSB, except Putin and his closest allies.

“The FSB has extensive powers of surveillance, including that of the Internet, that far surpass those of similar agencies in the West. According to Soldatov and Borogan, the FSB, through a special system called SORM, monitors ’emails, Internet usage, Skype, cell phone calls, text messages and social networks. It [SORM] is one of the world’s most intrusive listening devices.’ In 2014, the Russian parliament passed a law requiring social media websites to keep their servers in Russia and hold data on users for six months. Security au­thorities also use a broad interpretation of the ‘anti-extremism’ laws to block websites at their will. This became especially noticeable after democratic opposition protests erupted in Russia in 2011-12.

“More recently, in November 2016, Russian authorities blocked the professional networking site Linkedin, because it did not trans­fer user data to servers in Russia. And in April 2017, apparently partly in response to the widespread street protests at this time, the Kremlin shut down Zello, an app with 400,000 followers that has been instrumental in organizing Russia’s truckers. The FSB is also proposing changes to the Russian Criminal Code that would intro­duce harsh sentences for ‘causing damage to or threatening the crit­ical information infrastructure of the Russian Federation,’ i.e. the internet. This new law would be another weapon in the FSB’s arse­nal as it tries to rein in the internet.

“A prominent member of Putin’s patronage network is Nikolai Patru­shev, the president’s closest ally, aside perhaps from Igor Sechin — who is a former deputy prime minister and now the CEO of Rosneft, the Russian state petroleum company — and Viktor Zolotov, the head of the recently created National Guard. Patrushev was FSB chief from 1999 to 2008 and since then has been head of the president’s Security Council. Putin consults him on all key issues, and Patrushev has a loyal deputy, Aleksandr Bortnikov, in charge of the FSB, so we can assume he still has considerable control over the agency.

“The ties between Patrushev and Putin go back to their days together in the St. Petersburg (then Leningrad) KGB during the 1970s. Putin himself acknowledged their deep friendship in his autobio­graphical book, First Person, noting that ‘Kolya’ [diminutive for Nikolai] was one of the people whom he especially trusted.”

Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder
author: Amy Knight
title: Orders to Kill: The Putin Regime and Political Murder
publisher: St. Martin’s Press
date: Copyright 2017 by Amy Knight
page(s): 35-36


Mary Wessling