Warning and administrative detention for insubordination: FSB’s new universal instrument.

Last Friday, the Duma amended the law on the Federal Security Service (FSB) and the administrative code. Three hundred and fifty-four lawmakers voted “aye”. Ninety-six (Fair Russia and CPRF factions) voted “nay” which was a pretty hopeless gesture. Submitted to the Duma by the government, the amendments drew criticism from the human rights community and opposition. On Thursday, however, President Dmitry Medvedev admitted that the law was being amended on his initiative.

New powers were invested in the FSB, namely the right to warn individuals supposedly to prevent crimes the FSB deals with i.e. treason against the state, espionage, divulgence of state secrets, terrorism, smuggling, and so on. (The right to issue warnings to organizations was given the secret service in the late 1990s.) The FSB is supposed to inform the prosecutor of the impending warning in advance. Warnings might be challenged in court. The second innovation concerns refusal to carry out legitimate orders given by FSB personnel. Individuals might be sentenced to a fine (1,000 rubles) or administrative detention (15 days). For officials, the fines might amount to 3,000 and for organizations and structures, to 50,000 rubles.

Criticism of the amendments compelled their sponsors to introduce some changes in the document in time for the second reading, but the changes were quite minor and insignificant.

Sources within the secret service say that warnings might be issued to the individuals who divulge sensitive information (i.e. who are a step short of starting to divulge state secrets) to the underworld or suspected foreign intelligence officers. The FSB is also permitted to issue orders regarding better security of classified documents, removal of materials from a web site, or advice to stop meddling with secret services in counter-terrorism operation areas. On the other hand, rejection of long-term cooperation with the FSB is no reason for prosecution or harassment. A source within the secret service said, however, that there is a danger that the FSB will apply its new powers to put under pressure the individuals whose cooperation it needs but who for reasons of their own refuse to cooperate.

“The FSB needs these new powers as a universal instrument of pressure,” said an officer in a different secret service. “Until now, the FSB could only threaten certain individuals (those cleared for classified data) and in only certain areas (like near the state borders). Meaning that its personnel could not bully, say, an official of municipal authorities, store manager, or developer into being cooperative. With these amendments, however, FSB personnel is free to intimidate practically everyone in Russia.”

The parliamentarian Security Committee itself is split over what these new powers are supposed to accomplish. Mikhail Grishankov of the United Russia faction suggested that the amendments are supposed to cope with extremism in early staged. Gennadi Gudkov (Fair Russia) said in his turn that vague wording of the amended law on the FSB enables it to apply its newly acquired powers to the opposition and media outlets.

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