January 29, 2018

History Casts Light on Present: Case For FSB

Due to many political changes in the late stages of the First World War current time is full of centennial celebrations.

In late 2017 the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) was celebrating its 100th anniversary. Close to this date the chief of FSB Alexandr Bortnikov gave a long interview and a week later three Cold War-era training manuals of FSB’s predecessor KGB were published online. These materials provide food for thinking not only about past but also present and future.

General Bortnikov’s some remarks on whitewashing FSB-s predecessor NKVD for its part in mass repressions have already received some attention in western media. His main claims – that on show trials of 1930ies the collected evidence was accurate or that “The nations who had won WWI were working on plans to attack the Soviet Union already in 1920ies.” – have been wide circulated in the West already since the book of 1946 by Michael Sayers and Albert E. Kahn “The Great Conspiracy: The Secret War against Soviet Russia.” Although discarded by historians, seems the myth of wide conspiracy against Russia has a long tradition and is appreciated again by Russian leadership. Bortnikov is probably honest when in his interview in describing effectiveness as the most important virtue of a secret service. Unfortunately for Russian people values like rule of law and respect for human rights might sometimes be incombatable with organizational effectiveness…

While FSB itself has not learned much form history there is likely great value for West from the three published KGB training manuals. The .pdf format files were first published online by The Daily Beast. The materials were allegedly “passed to The Daily Beast several weeks ago by a European security service.” Despite the mystery surrounding their origin, based on comparison with the materials of former KGB I have seen in the archives of the Baltic States and Ukraine, I suggest the material is authentic (the same has been suggested by specialists I have contacted).

The documents are classified as “secret” (not “top secret”) and therefore do not contain any identities of agents or officers. However, there wouldn’t be much to do with the names of people working for KGB decades ago but modus operandi used remains of great interest for researchers. While the methodology of recruitment is rather well known for specialists – there are no major changes and it has been described by intelligence defectors on numerous occasions, the intelligence work “from territory” (i.e. homeland) and use of “compatriots” has not been covered much in documents and secondary literature before. (The latter, Russian word sootechestvenniki meaning people of Russian origin living abroad, was in KGB vocabulary already since 1955 and has had increasing prominence in post-Cold War Russia since the adoption of “Federal Law on State Policy on Relations with Compatriots abroad” in 1999.)

The most interesting revelations are parts dealing with influence activities – or active measures in KGB vocabulary and support measures in SVR and FSB vocabulary. For the first time in the West there is available concentrated 11 page material giving the essence of active measures, especially these conducted in cooperation with Soviet media, state institutions, companies, public and academic organizations. The textbook dates back to 1989 and gives the state of affairs at the very end of the Cold War that has not been known earlier. In addition to previously known KGB counting measures of performance for their influence and propaganda operations, the textbook underlines the importance of measures of effectiveness. We can also learn the suggestion of usage materials with “analytic nature” for active measures, i.e. not creating false facts but manipulating content. In general with one major exception – there was no internet at the time of publishing – the training manual sounds unexpectedly modern.