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Analysis: Kyrgyz Spy Scandal Takes Domestic Turn

Initial reports promised a surefire sensation. On 2 July, news agencies broke the news that Kyrgyzstan's National Security Service (SNB) had arrested 10 high-ranking officials from key ministries on espionage charges. Only a day earlier, a top SNB official had warned parliament that religious extremists pose a growing threat to the country. Suddenly, the air was rife with rumors that militants had penetrated the highest reaches of government. At least one report suggested that extremists were planning to seize power....

SNB head Kalyk Imankulov peeled away the Hollywood tinsel at an 8 July news conference in Bishkek to reveal a more mundane picture. Imankulov told journalists that the SNB arrested five members of a criminal group on 25 June, Kabar news agency reported. identified them by their last names as Makeev, an employee in the Transportation Ministry's courier service; Ergesheva, an Interior Ministry official; Ashirbekov, a former Interior Ministry official; Khavanshanova, an entrepreneur; and Yusupova, a teacher. On 28 June, they were charged with complicity in the attempted disclosure of state secrets, the collection of classified information with the aim of further dissemination, and abuse of office. Colonel Kelsenbek Akimaliev, an official in the Border Service and a former SNB employee, was arrested on 1 July, Kyrgyzinfo reported. He was charged on 3 July with the disclosure of state secrets. All of the suspects are Kyrgyz citizens.

Imankulov went on to explain that the group had been trafficking in classified information for two years, peddling materials from a wide array of government agencies on topics ranging from the state of the economy to the preparedness of the armed forces. Searches turned up copies of 700 documents, and Imankulov promised an investigation into the provenance of each and every one. The group's motivation was not ideological, but rather financial. According to Imankulov, the suspects made $60,000 in 2003 from the sale of classified materials.

The centerpiece of Imankulov's 8 July press conference was a videotaped confession by Akimaliev, Kyrgyzinfo reported. Before the camera, the former SNB official admitted to providing members of parliament Alisher Abdimomunov and Ismail Isakov with classified materials that the legislators then used in the course of a scandal that erupted earlier this year. On 14 January, Isakov, the former leader of the opposition Movement for the Resignation of President Askar Akaev and Reforms for the People, revealed at a news conference that a listening device had been discovered in his office. The scandal soon widened with the discovery of more listening devices in the offices of other opposition legislators (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15, 16, and 21 January 2004, and "RFE/RL Central Asia Report," 26 January 2004). A parliamentary commission reported in May 2004 that the SNB was behind the bugging; the commission is slated to release additional findings in September 2004.

Imankulov put a slightly different spin on the events, however, claiming that legislators scuttled a covert operation when they revealed the names of SNB agents in open session. Kyrgyzinfo quoted him as saying, "When they revealed their names, they endangered our guys, who were working at the time in a country with a dangerous situation." Imankulov suggested that legislators were more concerned with sensation than with national security, and he warned that parliamentarians would be held responsible for any ill consequences suffered by SNB agents with blown covers. He noted in closing that several members of parliament are currently under investigation.
Noting that the parliamentary commission has already uncovered evidence of illegal acts committed by the SNB, Abdimomunov called the latest revelations an attempt to put pressure on the commission.

Alisher Abdimomunov hit back with a press conference of his own on 8 July, summarized in a statement made public through the Legislative Assembly's (lower house of parliament) press office. Abdimomunov blasted Imankulov's claims, denying any contacts with Akimaliev and describing the ex-SNB man's videotaped confession as a failed attempt by the security service to vindicate itself in the wake of the bugging scandal. Noting that the parliamentary commission has already uncovered evidence of illegal acts committed by the SNB, Abdimomunov called the latest revelations an attempt to put pressure on the commission. He ridiculed the talk of pilfered state secrets, asking what exactly constitutes a secret in a country that closely coordinates political, economic, and military policy with a welter of international organizations. In the end, however, Abdimomunov saw some value in Akimaliev's confession. quoted the outraged legislator as saying: "If a former [SNB] official allegedly passed on these materials, that means they existed. In other words, the SNB violated the constitutional rights of deputies and citizens. For the first time since the beginning of the scandal with listening devices, the SNB has admitted this."

What began on 2 July as a spy scandal rife with rumors of Islamist extremist infiltration into the highest levels of government has now become something rather different. The initial furor has dissolved into the grim realization that easily stoked hysteria over religious extremism could become a new fixture of Kyrgyz politics. Meanwhile, a domestic political fracas looms on the horizon, as familiar foes from the SNB and the Legislative Assembly steel themselves for another round of charges and countercharges.

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