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In Russia, A Secretive Force Widens
"The FSB can take action against any kind of danger that it sees -- not just terrorism but political and economic dangers," said Andrei Soldatov, editor of Agentura.Ru, an Internet publication that monitors the security services. "Now the FSB is more powerful than the KGB was."
The FSB's multiple briefs include intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, economic crime, electronic espionage, border control, social monitoring and, some observers claim, responsibility for the country's computerized election system.
Many outsiders have also asserted that the agency plays a key role in crafting some of the legislation the government submits to parliament on a broad range of subjects, including a measure this year that increased state monitoring of the nongovernmental sector and that gives the state the power to limit or ban foreign funding of political activities it regards as subversive.
The legislation was a reaction to popular revolts in the former Soviet republics of Georgia and Ukraine, where the Kremlin believed foreign-funded activists played an important part in mobilizing street demonstrations following flawed elections.
The FSB's budget continues to grow rapidly, jumping nearly 40 percent in 2006, according to the newspaper Kommersant. The exact figure remains a state secret, as does the number of FSB personnel.
In 2003, on Putin's order, the FSB absorbed the border guard service and assumed some of the powers of the former Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information, or FAPSI, which handles electronic eavesdropping. After a prolonged bureaucratic fight with the FSB, FAPSI was broken up and its functions distributed among various governmental agencies.
"According to persistent reports, the FSB is responsible for running the computerized system that processes and reports elections results," wrote Mikhail Tsypkin, an associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, in the July issue of the Journal of Democracy. Control of the computerized election system had been a FAPSI function.
Members of parliament said in recent interviews that the FSB will also help determine the fitness of minority investors in industries that the state deems strategic. The FSB has also played a lead role in prosecuting Russian scientists and researchers accused of leaking state secrets to foreign governments, NGOs and companies, a campaign that the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch has called "spy mania."
The FSB's pursuit of suspected traitors has chilled the academic community here. In a recent interview, a Russian physicist speaking on condition of anonymity said he had begun to consult the FSB on potential publications and academic symposiums to preclude accusations of divulging classified information.
"There are more and more issues which you cannot decide without the resolution of the FSB," said Ivan Safranchuk, Moscow director of the World Security Institute, a research organization. The agency's powers, he said, extend into signing off on business development in border areas and making decisions on the release of information about reserves of raw materials such as platinum, which was declassified only with the FSB's permission.
The agency's governing legislation states that the FSB also has an intelligence function, but what role it plays abroad and how it works with the official foreign intelligence wing of the government is largely unknown, according to Soldatov, the Agentura editor.
This summer, Russia's security services, including the FSB, were given the legal power to hunt down and kill terrorism suspects overseas if ordered to do so by the president.
"This is a preventive measure," said Anatoly Kulikov, deputy chairman of the security committee in the lower house of parliament, after the passage in July of legislation giving Putin the right to deploy stealth forces against enemies of the state. "This should cool down, at the very least, people who are nurturing their own ideology of force and other such intentions. They must know what they can expect."
Allies of Alexander Litvinenko, the former FSB officer who was fatally poisoned in London last month, link the passage of this law with the killing. "Litvinenko's death was not unexpected, because according to this law Russian special services can eliminate political opponents on blacklists," Akhmed Zakayev, a Chechen separatist and friend of Litvinenko's who was granted asylum in London, said in a phone interview.
The Kremlin has dismissed allegations of state involvement in the killing as absurd and noted that the charges emanate from a circle of people around exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who has long waged a campaign to demonize and undermine Putin.
In July, Russian legislators stressed that the law was designed to target terrorists hiding in failed states and that in other situations the security services would work with foreign intelligence services to pursue their goals.