KGB-Era Suspicions Lurk Within Russia's Refurbished Spy Agency
MOSCOW — SINCE the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the KGB has changed its name, appointed a press officer, and taken other steps to clean up its image.
But the memories of the once-feared secret police still skulk through the corridors of the Federal Counter-Intelligence Service (FSK) headquarters.
The difficulties of teaching old totalitarian dogs new democratic tricks were underscored recently by an FSK document, leaked to a Moscow newspaper, that accuses a slew of US think tanks, charities, and other organizations in Russia of spying for the CIA.
The report, whose authenticity the FSK does not deny, has raised fears of a resurgence of Soviet attitudes to foreigners.
It has also revealed the bedrock of xenophobic paranoia that still informs official thinking in some of the darker recesses of the Russian government.
``The official goal of [US] scholarly centers in Russia is to provide ... assistance to speed the advance toward a market economy,'' the secret FSK report says. ``However ... their real goal is to assist the implementation of US foreign policy ... carrying out intelligence and subversive activities.''
The report recommends stepped-up counterintelligence work, a clampdown on Russian scientists' contacts with Westerners, and stiffer laws on secrecy.
``This report shows that the KGB can change its name, but we can't change the people in it, and they cannot switch their brains,'' says Natalya Gevorkian, a specialist on FSK affairs who writes for Moscow News.
The document warns against the activities of a broad range of US organizations that have started working in Russia since the Soviet Union collapsed. Attracted by the almost virgin territory, sociologists, political scientists, economists, and other researchers have swarmed into the country over the past four years.
The FSK report, however, seems to pick its targets rather arbitrarily. The Heritage Foundation, a conservative Washington think tank, is singled out among the US research centers here. The Soros Foundation, founded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, is accused of buying secret scientific information with its grants to Russian scientists.
Harvard, Columbia, and Duke Universities are cited for having organized ``unprecedented'' opinion polls on the eve of the 1993 parliamentary elections. ``Practically all Peace Corps volunteers'' are said to ``have a secret task from [US] companies to study the Russian market.''
Mr. Soros, in Moscow last week to launch an aid program for refugees from Chechnya, said the report was ``part of a campaign by certain circles to disrupt relations with the West, designed to reestablish a closed society.''
Although he did not think the entire government shared such a position, ``that does not mean I underestimate the danger these circles represent,'' he said.
``Every time there is a crisis, documents like this get published,'' Ms. Gevorkian said. ``It's the easy explanation, that the West is to blame for everything.''
Science Minister Boris Saltykov gave trenchant evidence, however, that the FSK approach is not universal in government. The report, he said bluntly, ``proves that our taxpayers, including our impecunious scientists, are paying for the upkeep of incompetent idlers who pretend to concern themselves with state security.''
Although it was not mentioned in the leaked FSK document, Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif., has also been accused of industrial espionage for sending out questionnaires to potential participants in its program linking up Russian and US business executives.
Behind the attack, written by an FSK officer and published in the official government newspaper, was ``mostly ignorance,'' program director Tom Kemp said.
Fears that any foreigner who asks a question must be a spy ``is a general opinion,'' Mr. Kemp added. ``But when people find out more specifics, they get more comfortable. We deal with business secrets, not national secrets.''
But that distinction is too subtle for many Russians. A degree of xenophobia has long been part of the Russian psyche.
``This report is based on a different view of what an open society is,'' said Richard Burger, head of the Carnegie Endowment's Moscow office. ``I can certainly imagine that for someone who still sees the world through the prism of the cold war, open research activities in an open society must be very difficult to put in the right context.''