Has Reform Hit Security Organs?
By L.A. PONOMAREV
Chairman, Russian Federation Supreme Soviet Commission
for Investigation of the Coup d'Etat of August 1991
The security organs are currently going through a period of conservation.
Rank-and-file officials of the Russian Federation Security Ministry (MBRF)
are constantly finding, to their disappointment, that the perestroika
process initiated after the collapse of the August 1991 putsch is now grinding
to a halt. Some might say that this is only natural. Perhaps the secret
services have learned the main lessons from the past, and in particular
have gotten rid of the most odious figures who had held top positions, and
are now concentrating on new missions that will ensure that the reforms
are truly effective.
Have the necessary lessons in fact been drawn from the history of the
security organs? One should examine first the KGB's role in the attempted
coup d'etat. In my view, the KGB became the principal executive agency
for carrying out the putsch for two principal reasons:
It was able to act without any outside control. Its activities remained
virtually unsupervised either by parliament or by the Ministry of Justice.
Correspondence was opened in arbitrary fashion, telephone conversations
were bugged, and other illegal operational measures were undertaken. The
extent of illegality was so great that not even the Russian president was
spared. During the course of the perestroika years the number of
politically motivated investigations not only was not reduced, but on the
contrary even rose significantly.
The USSR KGB was a monopoly structure which conducted, in addition
to political investigations, both intelligence and counterintelligence.
It also controlled a substantial number of militarized formations, the
Soviet border troops, government communications, the USSR Presidential
Guard, and the Presidential Information Service.
Indeed, that lack of supervision and the KGB's monopolistic power enabled
the organization to carry out the preparations for the putsch. Similarly,
these factors made it possible for it to persuade a large number of Soviet
leaders of the need for a coup d'etat.
Has anything now changed as far as control of the security agencies is
concerned? One inevitably comes to the conclusion that there has been virtually
no improvement. During the course of the commission's work, involving parliamentary
hearings on KGB participation in the coup, complaints were heard from parliamentary
deputies, journalists, even from a government minister, that their conversations
were being bugged. The successor organization to the KGB still is able to
undertake technical measures directed against its opponents, with virtually
no risk that legal action will be taken against it, for the simple reason
that the ministry is able to arbitrarily destroy documents that it considers
undesirable, or alternatively to dispense with documentation altogether,
with the result that it always remains "pure." Just as civil rights
were violated in the past, they are still being violated today.
It is true that the Russian parliament has set up a temporary parliamentary
commission to monitor the reorganization of the security organs. However,
the commission's work is conducted under a blanket of secrecy; moreover,
it appears to be extremely ineffective. To this day no legislation has been
adopted dealing with the security organs. This means that the security ministry
still has no clearly defined missions laid down in law.
At the same time, new staffing rosters for the central Security Ministry
as well as for its local administrations and the regional military counterintelligence
departments are being automatically approvedapproved, in my view,
in a purely formal manner. The corresponding appointments to posts in the
ministry currently are going ahead at full speed, and the entire staffing
process is taking place in accordance with the old hallowed nomenklatura
methods. The outcome is that numerous local subdivisions of the MBRF have
been left untouched, meaning that the possibility remains that "witch-hunts"
will be carried out in the future.
The result of the parliament's footdragging over passing a series of
laws to provide legal status for the MBRF's activity is that the ministry
is not being afforded the opportunity to transform itself from a "warlike
detachment of the party" into a civilized security service, and to
perform missions that are important for the welfare of the population, such
as combating the mafia, preventing sabotage, fighting crimes committed by
state officials, solving violent crime, and so on. Corruption is rampant,
and this situation gravely compromises the new Russian government and the
whole reform process, as well asmost unfortunatelythe authority
of the president personally.
Within the bureaucracy of the former KGB essentially no reforms are being
undertakenindeed no reforms are feasible. It is important to bear
in mind that none of the current leaders of the security organs is capable
of reforming the institution: Former chairman Kryuchkov is being replaced
either by his own proteges, such as Ivanenko, or by generals from the party
"Old Guard," such as Bulygin. Although these individuals will
soon have to retire, their posts will be occupied in turn by bureaucrats
of no less conservative views. Consequently the final result will still
be zero. In fact, in a number of cases the exact opposite has occurred.
Some of the officials who came out in opposition to the August plot and
supported the Russian president were subjected to persecution, and this
persecution is still continuing.
Alarmingly, even after the breakup of the USSR KGB into several independent
structures subject to the President (as was advocated by the Parliamentary
Commission for the Investigation of the Coup d'Etat ), a kaleidoscopic
series of different nameplates and acronyms (e.g., AFBRF, MBVDRF, MBRF),
the abolition of a number of administrations and departments both in the
central ministry and at the local level, as well as a shakeup among top
ministry officials, in my view no radical, significant changes whatever
have occurred within the Ministry of Security. The following points need
to be made:
Just as before, a number of MBRF organs in the central ministry as
well as locally are headed by generals and other high-ranking officers
who soiled themselves with complicity in the USSR State of Emergency Committeethe
putsch group. In the case of some of these individuals, where documentation
was available attesting to their support of the State Emergency Committee
and to actions implementing the committee's decisions, two parliamentary
commissions (one headed by A.M. Obolensky and the other headed by myself)
informed former USSR KGB chairman V.V. Bakatin and current First Deputy
Russian Federation Minister of Security A.A. Oleinikov of this evidence.
However, no action was taken.
The high-ranking officers in question, who during the August putsch
showed contempt for the USSR and RSFSR Constitutions and carried out the
decisions of the State Emergency Committee, officers who felt nostalgia
for the past, represent today a social basis for future coups d'etat
and thus constitute a potential threat to society. These officials are
making use of their official positions and the powers they possess in order
to resist both openly and secretly the reforms being carried out by the
president and the government of Russia. There have been many instances
of their deliberately crushing initiatives undertaken by democratically
minded officers serving in the MBRF.
USSR KGB officers and officers belonging to the Moscow City and Moscow
Region KGB Administration who participated in the administrative arrest
of RSFSR People's Deputies and carried out illegal measures directed against
Russian leaders and Russian People's Deputies (e.g., V.G. Urazhtsev, G.P.
Yakunin, and V.V. Aksyuchits) have not been disciplined in any way. The
fact that no importance has been attributed to violations of the law means
that similar acts may still be committed in the future.
It is incomprehensible that no action has been taken in regard to Colonel
General I.Ya. Kalinichenko, former head of USSR KGB Border Troops. On August
19, 1991, Kalinichenko signed a series of directives for the unconditional
execution of decisions taken by the State Emergency Committee and ordered
the distribution of these directives in accordance with the line of command.
Despite this, Kalinichenko subsequently was promoted to a higher post,
which he still occupies.
The activity of both the central Russian Federation Ministry of Security
and its local divisions has been virtually paralyzed. As was discussed
earlier, no legislation has been passed defining the missions of the security
organs. The "temporary statute" of the MBRF, signed by Russian
President Boris Yel'tsin on January 24, 1992, originated in the depths
of the ministry itself. Currently, all that is being performed is mechanical
work connected with the confirmation of staffing and appointments of top
In order to justify in one way or another its existence as a state agency
and to demonstrate to public opinion its usefulness and the valuable functions
it fulfills, the Security Ministry is undertaking tasks on its own initiative.
These tasks, however, bear no relation whatever to state security and lie
outside its sphere of competence. Take for instance the creation of departments
for combating smuggling and fighting corruption in regional government
administrations. The task of solving these problems is being placed on
the shoulders of officers who have no specific training for this and previously
had been employed for political investigations.
The MBRF military counterintelligence organs, which, since the 1930s
have been noted for their extreme conservatism, are incapable of being
reformed. Moreover, these institutions do not need to exist on the quantitative
and qualitative scale that they do now. Their sole preoccupation at present
is with trying to prolong their existence. The ineffectiveness of these
military counterintelligence organs is demonstrated by the example of the
USSR KGB Special Departments Administration (Osobye otdely) in the
Group of Soviet Forces in Germany. During the course of its 46-year existence,
a total of about 5,000 officers served in this administration. However,
to the best of my knowledge, over the entire period not a single case of
a Soviet serviceman recruited as an agent by a foreign intelligence service
was ever uncovered. Nonetheless the concept of such an operational counterintelligence
mission against foreign agents never underwent review. One can conclude
that it suits the top command of the military counterintelligence organs
to have large numbers of personnel: The larger the staff is, the more slots
there are for generals and colonels.
Many operatives of the security services, particularly at the regional
level, see how slowly the reform process is movingboth in Moscow
and locallyand are forced to observe the way that the top-ranking
officers are holding on to their jobs for dear life and are succeeding
in crushing democratically minded officers by putting pressure on the officers'
collectives to which the latter belong. As a result they feel compelled
to leave the security services in order to find suitable employment for
themselves, given their knowledge and their years of experience, outside
the security ministry, and end up working for joint enterprises and other
types of business where personal initiative and knowledge are justly appreciated.
The system of professional education and retraining for top MBRF cadres
has remained totally unchanged. Despite the high intellectual level of
the instructional staff of the MBRF Higher School and the excellent teaching
facilities, course work is conducted on the basis of manuals dating from
the 1970s and 1980s. The final-year students spend their time studying
the history of Soviet state security and cases taken from the life and
work of F.E. Dzerzhinsky and other "chekisty," as well as the
operations of the infamous "Chrezvychaiki" ("Extraordinary
Tribunals") that were responsible for organizing mass terror and carrying
out gross violations of legality in the Soviet Union. Indeed, the very
name of this worthy educational institution perpetuates Dzerzhinsky's name,
and there are still busts of Lenin on its landings and communist emblems
on display. In addition, the correspondence courses taken by military counterintelligence
officers and operatives of the ministry's regional security divisions are
completely out of date. These courses stress form rather than real content.
In my view, the following measures need to be taken for effective reform
of the state security system if there is to be not just verbal reform, but
A legislative package defining every aspect of the operations of the
ministry and its employees must be adopted without delay;
Staffing for the security organs should be carried out exclusively
in accordance with the missions legitimately assigned to the MBRF;
All employees who have been guilty of violations of laws or complicity
with the coup plotters must be dismissed from the service;
Key posts should be occupied predominantly by persons in possession
of a profound legal culture; and
All employees of the security organs should be civil servants, not
members of the military.
I believe that if these principles are adopted and implemented we will
finally have proof that reform of the security organs has truly been completed.
Copyright ISCIP 1992
Unless otherwise indicated, all articles appearing in this journal have
been commissioned especially for Perspective.