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A.Soldatov: Intelligence reported about a terrorist attack
Written by   
, 05 2002

                 Interview with an expert

Since the release of hostages from the bearing plant’s theatrical center, there have been different assessments of the actions of the security services, both in Russia and abroad. Moreover, it is believed that capture of civilians in the capital is by itself one of the biggest failures in the history of Russian intelligence.

To find out if such a view corresponds to reality, ‘Russian Journal’ asked one of the leading specialists on the security services. Andrei Soldatov for more than two years has been the coordinator of Russia’s largest network resource on the subject, and works with many media outlets in the CIS, the West, and the Middle East. Hehas sources in the security agencies, so his comments on the latest events in Moscow found their way into several European publications.

From October 23rd through the 26th, Soldatov was at the scene, and that, together with his special knowledge, allowed him to analyze the current situation within his area of expertise.

Russian Journal: Do you think that this hostage taking in the capital was one of the largest failures of Russian intelligence in the North Caucasus and the near and far abroad?

Andrei Soldatov: Yes, it was a failure, but not from an intelligence standpoint, but from the standpoint of counterintelligence and the Interior Ministry. According to my data, already by October 10th the intelligence agencies had sent the ministry information about a planned terrorist attack. Thedata, however, was very vague: “several women are traveling from Chechnya to the capital for a terrorist attack.” Ithink that this was because of mistrust between the intelligence agencies and the Interior Ministry, and the reason for this was the more than strange behavior on the part of the police force about a year ago. Backthen the Interior Ministry sent its units, including departments in Moscow, photographs of two women who were wanted as terrorists, and who had come to Moscow to carry out a bombing. According to my data, photographs were transmitted to the Interior Ministry with instructions not to be posted at precincts, because security service agents took the photos, and publishing these pictures would automatically blow their cover. Thephotos were secret, and so they were supposed be used to make verbal descriptions of the wanted women. Thepolice force distributed them anyway, and so the agents got burned. Thisled to a sharp decline in specific data, since the agencies simply stopped trusting each other.

Russian Journal: The former commander of ‘Alfa’, Viktor Karpukhin, noted that the foreign intelligence agencies provided the Russians with special assistance. According to him, “for the first time the Americans and British openly and honestly gave us all the information. Theyhave a lot of high-paid agents among the terrorists in Chechnya, Georgia, and the Middle East.” Do the FSB, SVR (Russian foreign intelligence service), and GRU (Russian military intelligence) have any such agents in these regions?

Andrei Soldatov: Of course there are, but the problem is not lack of intelligence information, but its use.

Russian Journal: In your opinion, how will recent events affect the tasks and practical work of the Russian secret services abroad?

Andrei Soldatov: There is discussion now about increasing the funding of the intelligence agencies. Intelligence for a long time has moaned about the lack of resources, because of which it had to cease work in many world regions. Regardless of the recent events, Ithink there will be increased funding for intelligence activities on the African continent. Thefact is, every month Russian firms in this region increase their activity, and there has been a lot of discussion about intelligence support for our business interests down there. Butit is hard to draw any conclusions about current events, since the response of our colleagues in the West is still very ambiguous.

Russian Journal: Could the intelligence agencies of some Middle Eastern countries have been involved in the terrorist attack in Moscow, given that in recent years they have been supporting Wahhabis in the Caucasus?

Andrei Soldatov: In principle they could have been involved, but a theory that is more popular among members of our intelligence services is that there was CIA involvement in the events. Before the assault, it was claimed that the Americans would find us a way out of the situation in exchange for support against Iraq. After the assault, this theory, of course, ceased to exist, but the mistrust remains.

Russian Journal: What do you know about the Arab participants in the hostage taking?

Andrei Soldatov: They have stated the citizenship of several of the hostages (sic), but Ipersonally have not seen their papers. Although there have been documents removed from their corpses, Iam afraid to trust the official sources here.

Russian Journal: How do you explain the terrorists’ strange behavior? Theyclearly had an unattainable goal for committing the terrorist attack, and they did not fulfill their promise to blow up a building, even though they had enough time, and so on.

Andrei Soldatov: What makes you think that they did not achieve their goal? Inany case, they did better than, for example, Palestinian suicide bombers. Theymanaged to get two demonstrations going in Moscow, one even on Red Square, and their position was aired on all the television channels. Thepublic was reminded that there is a war going on in Chechnya, while the media in the West called for a “peaceful solution” to the issue. Andin the end, fifty martyrs cost more than one hundred fifty, at a minimum, civilian lives. Really, was this not a lot?

Russian Journal: If the terrorists were already under the influence of the gas, why did they not arrest them so that they could testify?

Andrei Soldatov: It is being claimed that the commandos were seized by emotion and shot all the terrorists. Ido not quite believe this. AsI see it, the authorities now are carrying out a propaganda campaign about the successful end of the special op. Living terrorists, from whom we should have been able to get testimony, might have hindered the campaign. Thefact is, the operational-investigation group is composed of representatives from various departments that are in competition with each other. Inaddition, everyone is well aware that sooner or later the question will arise: who is to blame for letting a terrorist group get to Moscow? Theninformation will begin to leak out of the investigation, as has happened more than once.

Russian Journal: Deputy Interior Vasiliev called the hostage rescue operation “brilliant”, while Kadyrov, the interim head of Chechen administration, added that it “can safely be included in textbooks at security service institutes.” Do you agree with this assessment, and why?

Andrei Soldatov: Ido not have access to the plans of this operation, so Icannot judge how they were implemented, that is, what percentage of the hostages did the operational headquarters originally write off? Howlong its was supposed to last? Andso forth. Judging from the casualties among the commandos, the operation went very really professionally.

Interview by Mikhail Falkov

Arbeit macht frei
P.S.On November 1st the offices of ‘Versiya’ were searched. Eight FSB officers came and seized the newspaper’s server, as well as the computer of national security editor Andrei Soldatov. Hesuggested that the visit by the FSB was connected with an upcoming edition of the paper, which would have 4columns dedicated to details of the ‘Nord-Ost’ hostage rescue operation, and it was feared that the edition would never make it to print. OnNovember 4th, however, the newspaper came out. Thatsame day, an FSB investigator conducted his first interrogation of Andrei Soldatov, which lasted about two hours. According to the journalist, he was not asked any questions about his materials. Theinvestigator’s questions were on general aspects of the paper, and touched on the May edition of the newspaper, which on October 18th led to criminal charges against the paper. According to Andrei Soldatov, he was not asked to sign his testimony, nor was he given an appointment for another interrogation.

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