Unchecked Power of KGB Successor Seen in Scientist Case

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, June 17, 2005

UFA, Russia -- In March 2003, Russian agents swooped down on a South Korean delegation at the airport here, about 750 miles east of Moscow, as the group prepared to leave after a week at a state research institute. A search of the four visitors' bags produced more than 500 pages of technical material and several CD-ROMs from the Institute for Metals Superplasticity Problems, a research facility that was once part of the Soviet Union's military industrial complex.

A local mechanical engineer looked over the printed materials, an Ufa court was later told, and said the South Koreans were making off with state secrets. A March 2005 memo written by an officer in the Federal Security Service, or FSB, the KGB's domestic successor, was more explicit: The institute's director, Oscar Kaibyshev, was turning over information that could be used in the manufacture of missiles and other weapons.

This March, prosecutors indicted Kaibyshev, 66, contending that information in the Koreans' baggage on how to strengthen materials was "dual-use" technology that could be used for civilian or military applications and that its export was subject to mandatory state controls. He was also charged with embezzlement, abuse of office and forgery.

In interviews at his home here, Kaibyshev denied all the charges. "Only scientifically illiterate people would say we are transferring a military technology," he said.

He is the latest of a string of Russian scientists indicted for exporting technology or conducting research for foreign entities. Scientists and human rights analysts say the evidence is flimsy or nonexistent; the technology in question is not classified, they argue. The cases, about 10 of which have attracted wide publicity in Russia, highlight the powers that the FSB continues to exercise, they say, and often proceed without due process.

The prosecutions could harm the Russian economy by crimping foreign sales of advanced technology, developed for military use during the Cold War but now in demand by civilian industries. The Ufa institute has lost nearly all of its international contracts, worth about $1 million annually, as a result of the Kaibyshev case and now largely depends on the state for survival.

Two special panels at the Russian Academy of Sciences have found that none of the information Kaibyshev gave to the South Koreans was subject to export controls. It had long been in the public domain, they concluded.

Moreover, some of the experts the FSB used to justify its prosecution of Kaibyshev either appear to be unqualified to assess the technology or are his business rivals. The probe was also marred by the conviction of an FSB officer on a charge of stealing about $70,000 from the institute's safe.

"It became increasingly clear that the FSB was acting in bad faith in these investigations, seeking to have the defendants convicted while ignoring facts that could exonerate them," Human Rights Watch, in an October 2003 report titled "Spy Mania," said of the string of cases against scientists. Russian scientists have said the Kaibyshev case conforms to that pattern.

The FSB declined to comment for this article.

A Respected Researcher

Kaibyshev was once a pillar of the Communist establishment, serving in the Soviet parliament in the 1980s. He was a scientific troubleshooter for the military and the space program, he said, working on metal fatigue in submarine-based nuclear missiles and helping solve metal problems in the Soviet equivalent of the U.S. space shuttle program.

In 1985, his growing prestige led to his appointment as head of the IMSP, the first facility in the world exclusively devoted to superplasticity, a physical property, usually of a metal or alloy, that allows it to stretch while holding or increasing strength. He published a book on the subject in the United States this spring and holds several international patents on the technology.


CONTINUED     1        >

© 2005 The Washington Post Company