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Russia: Security Services Looking For Broader Powers In Wake Of Subway Bombing

In the wake of last week's bombing on the Moscow subway, which killed at least 39 people, Russian security services are demanding broader powers and harsher punishments to more effectively fight terrorism. They point to the controversial USA Patriot Act of 2001 as an example of the type of national security reforms they, too, are seeking.

Prague, 11 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Few were surprised when, three days after a deadly bombing on the Moscow subway, Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB) demanded greater powers.

Addressing new members of the Duma, FSB Deputy Director Vyacheslav Ushakov said Russia's special security services should be allowed to "do preventive work" and detect sources of terrorist activities. He said it is necessary to "stop terrorist acts early on and detain both their possible perpetrators and executors."

"Russian special services are absolutely not accountable to the society or, seemingly, to the parliament. The public does not know about special services budgets or mechanisms they have to use to fight criminal [and terrorist] activities."
Ushakov urged Russian lawmakers to work on a new antiterrorist bill that, in his words, would resemble the USA Patriot Act, which was adopted in the United States shortly after the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks. Ushakov said the Patriot Act grants the U.S. Justice Department what he called "unprecedentedly harsh rights in the fight against terrorism."

The Patriot Act gives federal officials in the U.S. new powers to monitor people they suspect of terrorist ties. That includes powers to intercept communications, demand records from libraries, and enter places of worship.

But the Patriot Act has been sharply criticized by human rights groups, who say these enhanced investigative powers have stripped U.S. citizens of some of their cherished freedoms and have led to law-enforcement abuses.

Denis Trifonov is a Russia and CIS analyst with Jane's Information Group in London. He believes Russia's security services already have all the necessary powers to fight terrorism. Trifonov says the scope of the FSB's powers are already broader than similar services in other countries.

"The FSB is, on one hand, an intelligence service. On the other hand, it has very broad investigative powers. In the majority of countries, even the counterintelligence agencies do not have authority to conduct criminal investigations. The FSB has very broad powers to conduct spying activities not only in Russia but also in certain cases abroad. The FSB has huge resources for electronic and other types of technical intelligence. The FSB has a right to detain [a great number] on suspicion of criminal actions. To summarize, the FSB does not need any more powers than it already has," Trifonov said.

Trifonov does not think legislation reform or even copying other countries' laws will bring any significant improvements in the counterterrorism efforts of Russia's security agencies. He points out that, for instance, Russia and the U.S. are facing different types of terrorist threats and that this reality is reflected in their laws.

The USA Patriot Act addresses the challenges of fighting international terrorism and concentrates the efforts of U.S. law enforcement agencies on suspects mainly from outside the country. Russia, he says, is facing more of an internal threat.

Trifonov believes greater coordination among Russia's intelligence and law enforcement communities will contribute the most to stepping up antiterrorism efforts.

"I think the real problems that the FSB and other special services face in their fight against terrorism are not in the legislative sphere but rather in the level of coordination between the agencies. Here is an example -- Russia does not have a single joint database of persons wanted by the federal authorities. The FSB, the MVD [Interior Ministry], and the Ministry of Justice are using different databases," Trifonov said.

Nikolai Petrov is a Russian political analyst at the Moscow Carnegie Center. He believes the inability of Russia's security services to effectively combat or prevent terrorist attacks -- and their demands for increased powers -- indicate a crisis. Petrov says politicians should concentrate instead on the factors that spawn terrorism in the first place.

"I would suggest comparing the situation now and two or three years ago in regards to equipment and the powers of special services that have been significantly expanded and look at the results [of the work]. I believe that we will clearly see that these are the processes which are moving in the opposite directions. Authorities are expanding, equipment is improving and terrorist attacks do not decline but increase in number and scale," Petrov said.

Petrov says security agencies in many countries are trying to blame their failures to contain terrorism on a lack of power and authority. But he sees the root of the evil as being located in the lack of the settlement of certain political issues that feed the phenomenon of terrorism.

"I am disturbed somewhat that after terrorist attacks, including the latest one, we face not a critical analysis of mistakes and defects but a desire of the special services to gain more powers and resources, instead of giving an account of the essence of the problems from their point of view," Petrov said.

Both analysts point to the dangers that granting increased powers to Russia's security services pose to human rights, especially in light of the bad record of the Soviet Union's repressive security apparatus.

Vladimir Vedrashko is editor in chief of "Moscow Human Rights Defender" magazine. He says Russia is still missing a mechanism for exercising civil control over its law enforcement agencies.

"Russian special services are absolutely not accountable to the society or, seemingly, to the parliament. The public does not know about special services budgets or mechanisms they have to use to fight criminal [and terrorist] activities. The public can only see the results of their ineffective work. There are many professional experts who must have a forum for debate. And this forum should be, in the first place, the press and electronic media," Vedrashko said.

Vedrashko believes that granting extra powers to an old and ineffective security mechanism will not help to solve the problem of terrorism. He says reform in this sphere should start with broader public involvement and a debate over the problems of security and terrorism.