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Corruption Watch: October 17, 2003

17 October 2003, Volume 3, Number 36
By Roman Kupchinsky

Yurii Demidov, the newly appointed head of the so-called 'T' Center, the subdivision of the Russian Interior Ministry (MVD) responsible for antiterrorism operations, granted an interview to "Rossiiskaya gazeta" of 24 September in which he described the structure of the subdivision and a few examples of the work it has accomplished.

According to Demidov, the 'T' Center is subordinated to the ministry's main administration for combating organized crime, known as GUBOP, and is primarily an operational-investigation unit. Branches of the 'T' Center will also be created inside MVD main administrations among federal districts.

When asked by "Rossiiskaya gazeta" whether the creation of the 'T' Center is a duplication of the existing antiterrorism center at the Federal Security Service (FSB), Demidov replied: "The creation of the 'T' Center was dictated by the operational situation in which our country finds itself today. There is a law "on the fight against terrorism" that lists all the antiterrorist agencies. It also includes internal affairs agencies. So the MVD leadership has brought the ministry's structure into line with federal legislation. Besides this, while there is a general similarity between our roles, our subdivision has its own, so to speak, specific police functions: prevention, detection, and discovery of crimes of a terrorist nature committed for material gain, and, also, within the limits of our competence, the fight against extremism and the abduction of people."

Demidov described the cases the 'T' Center is presently investigating: "We are operationally involved in about 40 criminal cases of serious and very serious crimes that are on file at the prosecutor's office. In particular, in relation to the terrorist acts in Moscow, at Tushino [rock-concert bombing] and on Pervaya Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street [where a bomb-disposal officer was killed], in which 14 citizens and an FSB officer were killed. The investigation team knows practically all of those connected with the planning of these terrorist acts, and has arrested some of them; and I think we shall find the rest. A citizen of Syria, a member of an extremist organization, was recently discovered recruiting among students at a madrasah [religious school] in Kazan and drafting them into illegal Chechen armed groups. The court confiscated his residence permit and expelled him from Russian territory. On an earlier occasion, the Tatarstan MVD and FSB, with the assistance of our personnel, arrested and expelled from Russia an Egyptian citizen who was an emissary of the Al-Jamah al-Islamiah international extremist group."

"Also in Tatarstan, a major case is under investigation involving leaders of three interregional criminal associations that have been abducting and murdering people. The scale of the investigation is unprecedented. More than 20 people have been arrested to date, including some with very high profiles in the criminal world. In Novosibirsk, we have terminated the criminal activities of the Skinhead Brotherhood, whose members committed a number of serious and very serious crimes motivated by ethnic hatred. Most of the group's members have now been arrested and its leaders have been charged with organizing a criminal association."


By Roman Kupchinsky

In his memoirs titled "The Revolt," former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin (1977-83) described the successful struggle of the Irgun, the Israeli underground organization that he commanded at one point, against the British mandate in Palestine: "The British were faced with the problem of disintegrating us from within in order to smash us. We were faced with the problem of smashing their rule in order to disintegrate it. The cunning of the Intelligence Service encountered Jewish brains; and cunning lost." Begin went on to assert that: "The regime, with all their troops and all their detectives and all their intelligence agents and all their 'terrorist's photographs' and all their elaborate identifications, had achieved little." Begin's conclusion was that "necessity rules in the underground."


The methods of survival used by the Irgun, the Tupomaros in Brazil, the Medellin cartel, the Irish Republican Army (IRA), the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists (OUN), and the Bolsheviks, to name just a few, were all similar to those that Al-Qaeda has learned and is presently putting to use. These are what intelligence services call "tradecraft"; the simple rules that permit a person to remain invisible and alive, and to continue operating.

In the interwar period, the "tradecraft" of the Ukrainian OUN forced each member to memorize the "Decalogue" of the organization, one of whose 10 rules of conspiracy was: "Speak about [organizational] matters only to those with whom you are authorized to talk." This simple point was not always obeyed -- to the delight of the Polish, German, and Soviet secret police -- yet the OUN was able to remain active for almost three decades in the underground.

The Bolshevik underground "konspiratsiya" (conspiracy), so crucial in toppling the tsarist regime, was formed during centuries of tyrannical rule and imprisonment of revolutionaries in Russia. Leon Trotsky wrote in his biography of Stalin that Baku prison was "an important revolutionary school" where Koba (Stalin's underground pseudonym) learned the finer art of conspiracy from criminals. The same lessons were later used against the KGB by dissidents in the 1960s-1980s with a great measure of success. Untrained in the art of conspiracy, poets, writers, and scholars were able to elude one of the most pervasive secret-police forces in history and contribute a great deal to the collapse of the USSR. The lesson being that these methods were simple, cheap, and effective.

Virtually any poet in Moscow or Kyiv who wrote verse that circulated in samizdat (another weapon against the regime that was difficult to combat) knew that in order to neutralize the listening bugs planted by the KGB in his apartment, one did not talk to friends about politics; instead they wrote each other messages and then burned the slips of paper. To be doubly safe, they flushed the ashes down the toilet. Today, it is most probable that in order to deceive the multimillion-dollar satellites circling the globe listening to phone conversations, Al-Qaeda members are using these same inexpensive yet effective tactics.

Al-Qaeda, Hamas, and others with disciplined cadres have proven their ability to successfully use conspiratorial methods. Can they be effectively liquidated? This question has been plaguing democracies for decades; and the answer remains "yes."

Past Victories

Terrorist and underground organizations have been destroyed; the Red Army Faction was eliminated along with the Red Brigades and the Tupomaros in Brazil. The widespread myth that terrorism is tactically a superior form of warfare has been proven just that �- a myth.

Israel, a relentless target of terrorist attacks, has proposed building a network of walls and fences to keep the suicide bombers of Hamas out of its territory. This solution has met with general skepticism and, in some cases, condemnation (mostly as to the positioning of these barriers). The answer to the problem proffered by some is that a political solution needs to be found. However, this is arguably more easily said than done; whenever a new road to peace is agreed upon, a deadly bomb explodes on a bus or in a cafe in Israel and the process is back to step one. Palestinian terrorists, it seems, not only want to create havoc, but also to prevent the preconditions for peace from being formed.

The tactics of combating terrorism are not unlike those used in counterinsurgency operations. Both require the special know-how and will of fighting an elusive and highly mobile force. It is important to keep in mind that Al-Qaeda is not merely a terrorist cell; it is above all an underground organization that utilizes terrorism as a weapon of choice. It maintains links with its component units and with active guerrilla movements around the world and therefore should be approached in this context.

In the post-World War II ruins of Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union was faced with active partisan movements struggling against Soviet domination. In the Baltic States, the "Forest Brothers" in Lithuania were waging a limited guerrilla war. In Poland, the remnants of the "Home Army" and "WiN" ("Freedom and Independence") partisans were actively combating Polish communist security forces. In Ukraine, the Ukrainian Partisan Army (UPA) was waging a highly determined guerrilla war.

The task of liquidating these partisan movements fell to SMERSH (the acronym stands for "smert' shpionam," or "death to spies"), the special counterintelligence units of the NKVD, the Soviet secret police at the time and its sister services in the countries of the Warsaw Pact. How they accomplished this mission is a textbook example of how totalitarian states ran successful, and highly bloody, operations against armed resistance.

In her book "Them -- Stalin's Polish Puppets," (Collins Harvill, London 1987), Teresa Toranska interviewed a number of former leaders of the Polish Communist Party, among them Jakub Berman, who was responsible for the Polish security forces after the war. Toranska asked Berman about the immediate postwar interrogations and executions of suspected members of the anti-Soviet guerrilla forces.

Berman: "So what! Some were let go and some weren't. And why did they shoot at us? It wasn't out of a love of shooting, after all, but in order to overthrow us and take power themselves. It was either them or us. We had to counter force with force."

Toranska: "And in order to realize it, the security services burnt down over 300 farms in the Pulawy district; they held a man from Stargard in a cold cellar with his feet immersed in water which froze.... All these killings, burnings and tortures, on a scale unknown in Poland for centuries."

Another Polish leader that Toranska interviewed was Edward Ochab, who from 1950 to 1956 was the secretary of the Central Committee of the Polish United Socialist Workers Party (Communist Party).

Toranska: "So many, many people were killed in Poland after the war!"

Ochab: "...Perhaps we should have looked passively on at the exploits of the leaders of the armed reactionary underground? Were we supposed to stick to sermons and holy water in fighting the organizers of massacres, snotty reactionary hooligans."

The WiN underground was brutally eliminated, yet Solidarity and eventual Polish membership in NATO arose in its place. The goal of destroying the underground had been accomplished, but the goals of the underground prevailed.

A somewhat different tactic was taken in Ukraine. Pavel Sudoplatov, a former high-ranking NKVD officer, wrote in his memoirs "Special Tasks" (Little Brown and Company, 1994) of how he met with Nikita Khrushchev in Lviv in late 1949 to discuss the struggle against the Ukrainian resistance. Khrushchev, according to Sudoplatov, insisted that he concentrate on "beheading the leadership of the armed resistance, not meddling in social policy issues."

Sudoplatov wrote that he stood his ground against Khrushchev and argued that an amnesty be proclaimed for all those who would give up armed resistance. "The amnesty was especially effective. In the first week of the new year, 1950, eight thousand armed guerrillas handed in their arms to the local militia." Sudoplatov failed to mention that all of them were later arrested and deported to the Gulag; and the figure that he cited, 8,000, seems to be highly exaggerated given that by 1950 the resistance was decimated in combat operations and consisted of only a few thousand fighters. Yet the tactic of proclaiming an amnesty was a successful one.

Sudoplatov also did not mention in his book that prior to the amnesty being declared, tens of thousands of civilians from the areas where UPA partisans operated were deported to Siberia as part of an operation geared to deprive the fighters of logistic support. These mass deportations paved the way for the amnesty.

The liquidation of the UPA was by no means peaceful. The late Ukrainian filmmaker Oleksandr Dovzhenko in his diaries quoted a statement made by a former NKVD agent that first appeared in the Moscow magazine "Iskusstvo kino" 1989 (No. 9): "I hung one nationalist upside down and burned him on a slow fire; I cut pieces of flesh out of him...and he, the viper, died shouting 'Glory to Ukraine!' What a viper! How many of them I tortured to death."

This is not to suggest either tactic would work today in the fight against Al-Qaeda, but rather that SMERSH understood that it was far more efficient to deprive the partisans of support and then proclaim an amnesty rather then waste years looking for an elusive chain of command that, if arrested, would be quickly replaced by well-trained second-tier leaders.

'Leadership Interdiction'

In his excellent essay comparing the fight against Al-Qaeda with the war on drugs titled "From Pablo to Osama: Counter-terrorism Lessons from the War on Drugs" (published in "Survival," Vol. 45, No. 3, Autumn 2003), Michael Kenney stated that while there have been notable victories by the United States, Colombia, and Pakistan in both the war on drugs and the war on terrorism and that "members of the U.S. intelligence community acknowledge that drug enforcement raids in Colombia during the 1990s serve as models for today's counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and the Philippines," these were short term victories. The drug trade, even with the liquidation of its former kingpins, has increased from an estimated potential cocaine production of 300 tons in 1996 to 730 tons in 2001.

The reason Kenney gave for this is that the strategy of going after the leadership of the cartels, known as "leadership interdiction," while "clearly a necessary component of the 'wars' on drugs and terror is not a sufficient one." Kenney concluded that "it is unlikely that the interdiction of Al-Qaeda leaders alone will suffice to stop the terrorist network."

This strategy, he claimed, will weed out the most notorious terrorist networks but at the same time provide opportunities for lesser-known, "but equally, if not more, sophisticated groups to materialize."

Bombing Them Back To The Stone Age

Is overwhelming military retaliation the best response to a terrorist attack? Many have argued that, as in the case of Libya in 1986, U.S. air strikes did not deter Muammar Ghadaffi from continuing his use of terrorism to achieve his goals. The cruise-missile attacks on suspected Al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan after terrorist attacks on U.S. Embassies in East Africa did not prevent the 11 September 2001 attacks. The Russian destruction of much of Grozny during the first Chechen war did not end the conflict in that region.

The asymmetrical use of overwhelming force to destroy a small, highly mobile, and scattered enemy was shown to be all but futile during the wars in Vietnam. Massive B-52 strikes meant to destroy the political command of the Viet Cong, the Central Office of South Vietnam (COSVN), resulted in terrible losses of human life; but the COSVN was never hit. As it turned out, the COSVN was located in an underground complex close to Saigon. The $120 billion spent with the aim of killing the enemy in Vietnam confirm what Ho Chi Minh was once reported as having said to the French: "You can kill 10 of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win."

Seven Deadly Sins

Carlos Marighella, author of the somewhat academic "Mini-Manual of the Urban Guerrilla" ( and guru of the defeated Brazilian Tupomaro organization, pointed out the "sins" an underground movement is apt to make. In his list of seven sins, the fourth entails the urban guerrilla exaggerating his strength and undertaking projects for which "he lacks force and, as yet, does not have the required infrastructure." The fifth sin is precipitous action, and the seventh is "when the guerrilla fails to plan things out and acts out of improvisation."

These "sins" might just hold the secret to defeating Al-Qaeda and its boastful leadership. Marighella listed boastfulness as the second most dangerous sin, the first being inexperience: the guerrilla "thinks the enemy is stupid, underestimates his intelligence, believes everything is easy and, as a result, leaves clues that can lead to disaster."

The same can be said of counterinsurgency forces, as the British found out in their struggle against the Irgun, or the U.S. Army discovered during the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam.

The answer to the riddle of how to defeat terrorism might seem as elusive as Osama bin Laden, yet it is not beyond solution. Kenney wrote that this is not merely a matter of refining the efforts of law enforcement, but of "adopting long-term diplomatic, economic and sociological initiatives that address the root causes of terrorism."

That might be a desirable solution in some instances. But in the case of Al-Qaeda, an international terrorist underground whose stated goals leave little room for negotiation, the first priority seems to be destroying it.