An interview with FSB Director Nikolai Patrushev

Nikolai Patrushev: “A double standards policy continues to be applied to Russia. Offering asylum to terrorists, terrorist accomplices, and sponsors of terrorism – and using spurious pretexts to reject requests for their extradition – essentially amounts to justifying and encouraging their crimes.”

Nikolai Platonovich Patrushev, director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), discusses espionage, terrorism, and corruption cases.

Question: A. Dumenkov was recently sentenced to 12 years for spying for Germany. For some reason, crimes involving treason, espionage, and revealing state secrets have been particularly frequent of late.

Nikolai Patrushev: The sweeping changes which have taken place around the world – the collapse of the Soviet Union, the end of the bipolar world confrontation era, Russia’s establishment of partnership with the United States and other Western countries, the economic globalization process – all this may have given some people the illusion that the activities of foreign special services in undermining our state should have decreased.

But that is far from being the case. Foreign special services – remaining an important and at times irreplaceable instrument in the hands of their governments – haven’t become less active at all in their efforts to obtain various information about our country, using their entire arsenal of special methods for that purpose: primarily penetration by agents and state-of-the-art intelligence technology.

Therefore, as in the past, Russia’s security services have to make active efforts to counter their opponents.

Question: Some say that Russia doesn’t have any secrets left – everything can be found on the Internet.

Nikolai Patrushev: Not true. We do have something to protect. It’s not by chance that foreign intelligence agencies are increasing their efforts with every passing year to obtain secret information. Evidence of this can be found in the criminal prosecutions of Babkin, Kalyadin, Sutyagin, Danilov, Nosik, Smal, Beloshapkin, Norik, and others.

In order to achieve their intelligence goals, foreign special services deliberately seek out sources who have access to particularly valuable information – including personnel in the Russian Armed Forces and other security and law enforcement agencies. Moreover, spy equipment in its classic form is less frequently encountered as material evidence in such cases. As a rule, foreign special services now use the latest models of computer technology and communications. As a result, detecting individuals who commit treason – let alone proving that professional special services agents are guilty of espionage – is only possible by means of extremely meticulous cooperation between counter-intelligence and investigation teams.

Overall, given the activity levels of foreign special services and the frequency of crimes involving treason, we consider that our work on detecting and exposing spies needs to be continually improved.

Question: Of late, the FSB has frequently been accused of allegedly groundless persecution directed at Russian scientists, including some of the names you mentioned: Danilov and Sutyagin.

Nikolai Patrushev: It should be obvious to everyone that even the most liberal state cannot tolerate the disclosure of information which is classified as a state secret.

Unfortunately, there are frequent cases in which individuals who have access to state secrets, often motivated by personal gain, hand over various kinds of secret information to representatives of other countries, criminal organizations, or dishonest businesspeople. This results in considerable damage to our state’s defense capacities and our economy. Security agency investigators initiate around 60 criminal cases each year under Article 283 of the Criminal Code revealing state secrets.

Contrary to occasional allegations of human rights violations in this process, the security agencies are not guided in their activities by political circumstances or “the spirit of the times” – they base their activities on strict observance of the letter of the law. If anyone is dissatisfied with the law, they can use established procedures for changing it. I’d also like to point out that investigation bodies don’t decide whether any given individual is guilty. That is entirely the prerogative of the courts.

At the same time as conducting the preliminary investigation of any crime, investigators also establish the circumstances that facilitated the crime. If they determine that the circumstances don’t rule out the possibility of the crime being repeated, the investigators make recommendations to the relevant organizations or officials on how those circumstances or other preconditions for law-breaking should be eliminated. Thus, based on the results of investigations into crimes connected with protection of state secrets, over 30 of these recommendations were issued in 2005, and 13 more in the first half of 2006.

Question: For the public, one of the most pressing issues these days is protection against terrorism. How are these criminal cases investigated?

Nikolai Patrushev: In 2005 alone, we investigated 144 criminal cases against 228 individuals. Procedures for initiating and investigating such cases are no different from procedures for initiating and investigating criminal cases for any other type of crime – with one exception. If an individual suspected of committing a crime of a terrorist nature is subjected to some form of restraint, such as detention, that individual must be charged or released within 30 days, whereas for other crimes the period is 10 days. The FSB was one of the federal executive branch bodies which initiated the introduction of this standard.

Now that the federal law on countering terrorism has been passed, and certain acts of legislation have been amended due to Russia’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism, our law enforcement arsenal has been expanded with a new array of legal instruments enabling criminal prosecution for public incitement of terrorism, public justification of terrorism, and financing terrorism – not only perpetrating an act of terror or participating in a terrorist organization.

Over the past 11 years, 186 people have been convicted in cases connected with terrorism. They include Krymshamkhalov and Dekkushev, who blew up apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk in 1999; Kolchin and Akishin, found guilty of murdering Duma member Galina Starovoitova; Khasukhanov, former chief of staff for the guerrilla gangs headed by Aslan Maskhadov; and Lecha Islamov, who organized resistance to federal forces in the city of Grozny in 1999-2000 and coordinated the activities and foreign funding of the gangs led by Zakayev, Basayev, and Gelayev.

The search for other terrorists and investigations of their criminal cases will be continued until they are detained, wherever they may be – including those outside Russia – and convicted.

Question: Various state officials and public figures, including yourself, have stated repeatedly that it is necessary to expand international cooperation in fighting terrorism. How is this happening in practice, in relation to the matter under discussion?

Nikolai Patrushev: In October 1999, the Russian Federation ratified the European Convention on Reciprocal Legal Assistance in Criminal Cases, dated April 20, 1959, as well as its Supplementary Protocol dated March 17, 1978. For the FSB, this has simplified the process of exchanging investigation requests with all states which are signatories to the Convention. The corresponding federal law prescribes the mechanism for sending out international investigation requests which don’t require the sanction of a judge or a prosecutor. Our investigation divisions are now able to request legal assistance directly from the law enforcement agencies of other states, not having to work via the Prosecutor General’s Office or the Foreign Ministry and its consulates in European countries.

A good example of this kind of cooperation are our contacts with our French and British counterparts in the course of investigating the criminal case against Algerian citizen Burakhli, who crossed the borders of Russia and Georgia illegally in late May 2001 and joined a guerrilla gang in Chechnya.

Likewise, our investigators have found it necessary to carry out a range of investigation activities in France, involving members of Chechen cells, detained by the French authorities on suspicion of planning to carry out acts of terrorism in Europe, including plans to bomb the Russian Embassy in Paris.

Unfortunately, the nature of our cooperation with some foreign partners is still affected by the double standards policy which continues to be applied to Russia. Offering asylum to terrorists, terrorist accomplices, and sponsors of terrorism – and using spurious pretexts to reject requests for their extradition to Russia – essentially amounts to justifying and encouraging their crimes. Evidence of this is the fact that some notorious members of terrorist organizations are living at liberty on the territory of foreign states: Udugov, Zakayev, Nukhayev, and others. Such a position undermines unity and mutual confidence among anti-terrorist coalition members.

Question: And how is this form of cooperation developing with your counterparts in other CIS countries?

Nikolai Patrushev: We are cooperating with them within the framework of the Minsk Convention on Legal Assistance and Legal Relations in Civil, Family, and Criminal Law, dated January 22, 1993, which enables us to be fairly effective in resolving any problems that arise and conduct an intensive exchange of international investigation requests with the investigation divisions of special services in CIS member countries.

Question: Another extensive problem these days is corruption. Does the FSB investigate corruption cases?

Nikolai Patrushev: Corrupt behavior by state officials discredits the authorities, while making the state apparatus less reliable and manageable. Corruption deters honest people from engaging in business, leading to a prevalence of high-risk speculative capital, to the detriment of production capital. All the same, while acknowledging the high level of corruption, we should also note that anti-corruption legislation is underdeveloped. At present, established practice is such that corruption crimes, as a rule, are regarded as crimes committed by state officials or public servants – that is, crimes against the state authorities, the interests of state service, or the interests of local government administration.

FSB investigators can investigate criminal cases for crimes of this kind only in conjunction with investigations of criminal cases initiated within the framework of our direct or alternative subordination. On the other hand, the FSB has not only the right, but a duty to conduct operative-search measures aimed at exposing and preventing corruption incidents. Subsequently, when we collect sufficient evidence to initiate a criminal case, all the materials are handed over to the Prosecutor’s Office, which then investigates further – that is what the law requires. In the recent period, the FSB has put a stop to the criminal activities of a number of senior officials and bureaucrats from federal government and administration bodies. Based on evidence collected by the FSB from corruption incidents, the law enforcement agencies initiated 960 criminal cases in 2005, and at present the evidence against over 2,500 public servants from various levels is being verified.

Since 2003, the FSB’s investigation divisions have directly initiated the criminal prosecution of over 50 individuals involved in corruption among other crimes.

Question: There has been increasingly frequent talk of establishing a united federal investigation agency. What are your views on that subject?

Nikolai Patrushev: As far as I know, this question was discussed earlier – but I have no grounds to object to the formation of such an agency. However, I do believe that the investigation of certain major crimes against the state and public security – such as treason, espionage, revealing state secrets, acts of terrorism, and others – must remain the responsibility of the FSB.

Question: There’s been a lot of discussion lately about Russian-Georgian relations. Could you give us your opinion on this issue?

Nikolai Patrushev: By deliberately aggravating relations with Russia and provoking another round of tension, Mikhail Saakashvili is attempting to achieve some foreign and domestic policy objectives of his own, arising from current circumstances.

The Georgian leadership is actively pursuing a policy of raising tension in relations in Russia, attempting to establish an image of Russia as the enemy. This is because Saakashvili and his team are trying to shift the blame away from themselves, with regard to increasing signs of socio-economic crisis in Georgia and strengthening disintegration processes.

The Georgian people’s confidence in their national leadership, and Saakashvili personally, is falling. Public discontent is rising and the opposition is becoming more active. These circumstances have prompted the Georgian leadership, seriously concerned about its political welfare, to take openly anti-democratic actions – rescheduling local government elections from December to October 5, 2006. Actually, the anti-Russian actions of the past few days also represent an effort to boost the government’s popularity in the lead-up to elections. These actions include repressive measures against opposition leaders and activists, the military operation in the Kodori Gorge, and the act of provocation involving Russian officers.

At the same time, the Georgian leadership is continually initiating aggravations of the situation in the Georgian-Abkhazian and Georgian-South Ossetian conflict zones. Such ill-considered and irresponsible steps could lead to the renewal of a conflict which has already claimed thousands of lives, destroyed the economy, and undermined the foundations of regional security.

Russia’s participation in regulating the situation is based on its historical role in this region, and enables peace between different peoples to be maintained.

At present, there is no possibility of those republics returning voluntarily to Tbilisi’s jurisdication, especially given the current events there and the attitudes of their residents. The Georgian leadership itself has destroyed any such possibility, by making attempts to restore territorial integrity by force.