No News is Bad News for the FSB

It is customary for the head of the Russian FSB to give a year-end press conference on the agency’s successes in fighting enemies of the state.  The fact that they skipped it this year might mean that 1) 2009 was a very bad year for the agency, or 2) they no longer feel accountable to the public.  At least those are some of the recent views of the analyst Andrey Soldatov, as summed up at Paul Goble’s Window on Eurasia.

The bit about FSB accountability to the public is a total non sequitur, but maybe these guys are underestimating the achievements of the spy agency – after all, they did get into a big fight over fragments of Hitler’s skull this year, didn’t they?  And that fake YouTube video attack on the State Dept. guy with the prostitute was fairly creative, complete with synth saxophones and all.  The CIA on the other hand can’t even stop a 23-year-old bomber from Nigeria who pays for a cash ticket to Detroit whose own father had reported him to the authorities, so maybe nobody should be bragging this year…

Anyway – an excerpt from Goble below.

In a review of the activities of the special services published intoday’s “Yezhednevny zhurnal,” Andrey Soldatov, who heads portal, points out that they had suffered real losses inalmost all areas but had been able to obscure that by excluding mediacoverage of and thus public control over ever more of their activities.

“In bothcases,” Soldatov says, “the FSB adopted the tactic it has used beforein the case of defeats: it gave the impression that [both of theseactions] had been entirely its own idea.”

The Russian securityservices also dusted off another tactic from the past: it employedfalsified reports about the supposed involvement of British andAmerican diplomats with Russian prostitutes. Moscow succeeded ingetting the British diplomat withdrawn, but it failed in the Americancase when the US ambassador stood up for his staffer. (…)

Instead, apparently havingdecided that even such limited publicity was “an unnecessaryinheritance of the 1990s,” FSB director Aleksandr Bortnikov decided toprovide information about his agency’s operations only to a session ofthe Russian government’s National Anti-Terrorist Committee.

Thischange in venue, Soldatov says, is significant in two ways. On the onehand, it means that the FSB is now providing information only about itsstruggle against terrorist, “hardly the only direction of itsactivity.” And on the other, it demonstrates that the FSB no longersees a need to provide an accounting of its work to the Russian people.