Daily Archives: February 20, 2007

Commissars of the Internet: Part I, Installment 2

Today we bring you the second installment in the “Commissars of the Internet” series, an original LR translation which exposes how the Kremlin is attempting to take control of the Internet. Yesterday, we read the author’s introduction to the subject of establishing professional “Internet Brigades” to launch attacks on anyone who dares to criticize the Kremlin. Today, we learn the details about their organization and activities.

Here is Part I, Installment 2: Characteristics of the “Brigade”

Commissars of the Internet
The FSB at the Computer

Anna Polyanskaya, Andrei Krivov & Ivan Lomko
September 16, 2006

(continued from Monday)

Characteristic Indicators of a “Brigade”

We have tried to systematically characterize the activities of this “Brigade”, which can now be found on all liberal and pro-democracy open forums of the RuNet and in various online publications read by the educated classes. Communist, nationalist, pro-fascist and mass media sites were not considered in our study.

Round-the-clock presence on forums

At least one of the uniform members of the brigade can be found “online” at all times, always ready to repulse any “attack” by a liberal. During a 24-hour period, there is not a single hour when one can carry on a discussion in a forum without these “curators” being present. In any discussion, someone from the “Brigade” will invariably muscle in. The Brigade in fact stands guard day and night on all meaningful forums, periodically wandering from forum to forum with the same set of materials and advertisements.

Plasticity of ideology, always coinciding with the government

The brigade invariably and fervently propagates a fairly eclectic system of viewpoints and values, corresponding exactly to the very latest directions of government PR, including the ideology and policies of the Russian leadership. Any change in government instructions is immediately followed by sharp changes in the views of all members of the “Brigade”. In cases where government propaganda for some reason has to suddenly change course regarding, for example, the USA, or Mayor Luzhkov, the very same brigade member will permanently “forget” one or another individual, who until recently was either “worshiped” or conversely “fire-branded”, and begin to propagandize about something that only yesterday was hated, or vice-versa. Praises are sung as zealously as slanders were the day before. All of this is done without the slightest embarrassment or care for their personal reputations.

One of the more recent [2003] examples was in discussions of the issues surrounding the Kuril Islands [annexed by Russia at the end of WW-II, but are still claimed by Japan]. If in 2000 all members of the Brigade sang in a single voice: “Not one inch of our native land to the damned Japanese”, then in 2003, after the completion of negotiations between Putin and the Japanese leadership, the very same authors, under the same nicknames, were suddenly entirely open to the possibility of the islands changing hands in exchange for money or large-scale Japanese investments, and with great satisfaction would count off the many benefits of such a trade.

Conversely, during the time when a bill on the storage of nuclear waste in Russia was working its way through the Russian Duma, members of the Brigade passionately tried to persuade forum readers of the “definite usefulness, profitability and security” of turning Russia into the world’s nuclear cesspool. Individuals working on this propaganda projected themselves as “private citizens and patriotically-spirited emigrants”, but were clearly using information from the press service of the Ministry of Atomic Energy (MinAtom).

The camp complexes were scattered throughout the entire country, and not only in the backwaters, but even in capital cities. They were so disguised that the uninitiated would never guess what they were. By the mid-1940’s, they numbered several hundred, and in every one there were from several dozen to more than a million prisoners. It was often the case in remote regions of the country that prisoners outnumbered the local free residents. And the budget of a camp complex might exceeded by several times the budget of the region, state or several states in which it was located.

Boundless loyalty to Putin and his circle

Members of the web-brigade, with nicknames that are “twisted” and unknown to the forum, always make a point of expressing their immeasurable affection for Putin. They are prepared to destroy anyone who expresses even the slightest doubt about the merits of the Russian President. For the slightest criticism of Vladimir Vladimirovych, they will threaten their opponents and their opponents’ families with lawsuits, beatings, murder and other reprisals. The final form – threats to opponents’ families – are not isolated cases, but a widespread phenomenon on all political web forums. Sometimes members of the Brigade very openly announce their intentions for being on the forum. For example:

“Let’s support the first President in the last 11 years who has tried to change the course of history for our long-suffering Motherland. Let’s judge him by his deeds, and not by the gossip purveyed by the club-girl-loving mass media. Let’s put forward some constructive proposals here, so that if (hahhah) the KGB were to show up here, Putin would have laid out before him on his desk a file containing the ‘voice of the people’, intelligently discussing the problems of ‘today’ and proposing solutions for ‘tomorrow’, rather than the cackling of a bazaar.”

This text is interesting in its ingenuous openness, its simple and comprehensible presentation of the Brigade’s assignment. What is curious is only that the information in the hypothetical presentation of the “voice of the people” from the forum would be “laid out before Putin” in the form of a rationalized proposal, but without any criticism, which might spoil the President’s mood. This is reminiscent of a 1930’s satirical epigram that went around along these lines:

“We’re for laughter, but we need,
Someone nicer than Shchedrin,
And those guys like Gogol,
So they’ll let us be.”

This rhyme could be placed as an epigraph on the Brigade’s version of the life and times of the Russian President.

Respect and admiration for the VChK-KGB-FSB

The brigadniki are overflowing with affection and respect for the FSB and all its historical incarnations, beginning with the ChKOGPU and so forth. All reincarnations of the ChK-KGB are called “neo-noble”, “law-enforcement” and “civics-instructing patriotic” agencies, the activities of which, including the Gulag system, should be a source of pride for Russians. Any participant in an online discussion who shows insufficient respect for the VChKFSB is denounced by the Brigade as an “enemy of Russia, a Russophobe, and a betrayer of the Motherland.” The Brigade constantly underscores the “honor, heroism and impartiality” of the Chekisti, the “selflessness and devotion of their service to the state and Motherland”, and their “incorruptibility”, in contrast to other government workers. The Brigade will make declarations like the following:

“The Russian special services have always existed, just as they existed, currently exist and always will exist in the countries of the West.” Or this: “The FSB is a ‘special service’ just like the FBI in the U.S., the MOSSAD in Israel or MI-6 in Great Britain,” etc.

Condemnation of the actions of the KGB-FSB by any participant of a discussion group excites genuinely strong feelings from all members of the brigade. For instance, the following was directed at a reader, who expressed less than sufficient respect toward the KGB-FSB (we request the reader excuse the language, although it is presented as it was in the original):

“EVERY MAGGOT DREAMS OF BECOMING A LOUSE. EVERY MAGGOT ON A FORUM DREAMS OF BEING NOTICED BY THE KGB. He cries out ,he wriggles and prays: “Notice me — I’m the very biggest maggot!” But the KGB sets you aside with its instruments; it definitely is NOT INTERESTED in maggots. Grow up to the size of a louse, a mongrel, and maybe they’ll notice you.”

The Brigade has lately shown a tendency to separate the FSB from all its previous incarnations and renamings, and to present the organization not as the direct successor of the VChKOGPUNKVD, etc., (as it is presented in all of its official symbols), but as some sort of “self-born Aphrodite”, supposedly appearing only yesterday, literally out of thin air.

The key word which will invariably drive the brigadniki from their hiding places and force them to reveal their true colors is “lustration”.* [TN: Historically the term for various ancient Greek and Roman purification rituals. In the period after the fall of the European Communist states in 1989–1991, the term came to refer to the policy of limiting participation of former communists, and especially informants of the communist secret police, in the successor governments, or even in civil service positions.] Not a single member of the Brigade can for even one second comport himself to the idea of a peaceful, legal limit on the choices of profession available to former Party bosses and KGB officers. Usually, after even the most peaceful and non-accusatory mention of the word “lustration”, the brigade will cry out in a choir about “bloody repressions by democratic murderers” and “witch hunts”, after which they will collapse into a collective hysteria of obscenities.

Main Directions of Propaganda

On every Russian language political forum, brigadniki conduct targeted propaganda that is anti-liberal, anti-American, anti-Chechen, anti-Semitic and anti-western. By way of proving their slogans and theories, they introduce arbitrary tracts full of facts and events — often completely fraudulent — that force their opponents to do extensive research to refute them. This modus operandi is easy and effective, distracting opponents away from pointed discussions that are uncomfortable for the authorities. Members of the Brigade use every polemical resource available, including generous quotes from official and semi-official Russian government propaganda, such as articles from the online journal “Strana.ru” or the resurrected “Komsomolskaya Pravda”. Sometimes they recycle ideological artifacts from previous years, for example, Yakovlev’s book “CIA versus USSR”. In addition, they widely employ materials like “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” and Hitler’s “Mein Kampf”. They constantly quote (without attribution) from the “Short Course of the VKP(b)”. One can compile a list of the myths and main ideological values of the web-brigade, including:

1. Vindication of Stalinism, the rehabilitation of Stalin and his imperial idea of a greater Russian people. A cult of Stalin and Dzerzhinskiy , the founder of the ChK. Minimizing the number of victims of the Lenin-Stalin repressions.

2. Prohibition of any discussion of lustration* and the crimes of the ChKNKVD-KGB. The absolute sacredness of this organization from the day of its founding to the current day.

3. Unswerving Judeophopia.

4. Loyalty to every action and announcement of the current authorities, and a cult of Putin. Stories about the economic and social blossoming of Russia under his leadership.

5. Propaganda in favor of the war in Chechnya, “taken to every last Chechen”. Stories about how “Chechnya attacked Russia.” Mythical stories about “hundreds of thousands of Russians” killed by Chechens at the beginning of the 1990’s, before the beginning of the war. In the Brigade’s texts the number of these casualties grows every month. If two years ago they set the number at 20,000 dead, today they say a million Russian residents of Chechnya have been killed. The entire population of the republic is less than the number of dead Russians counted by the brigade.

6. Xenophobia, racism, approval of skinheads and pogroms.

7. Ruthless hatred of refugees and defectors from the KGB.

8. Anti-Americanism, anti-Westernism, and a fiery hatred of anyone who mentions the “Cold War” period.

9. Nostalgia for the USSR, as a totalitarian empire and great power, which the whole world feared.

10. Restoration of the historical concepts and propagandist clichés of the Soviet period, with the exception only of Internationalism.

11. Hatred of the educated classes, especially émigrés, whom the Brigade calls “betrayers of the Motherland.”

12. Hatred of dissidents and human rights workers, political prisoners and journalists – as in the past, so in the present.

13. Hatred of perestroika, its ideology, its practitioners and major events. Hatred of the Yeltsin period and of him personally.

14. A relatively new piece of ideological baggage for the Brigade, above and beyond the propaganda of the USSR, is the accusation of “Russophobia” against everyone who disagrees with them. As used by members of the Brigade, this term resembles the obsolete term “anti-Soviet”, and an accusation of Russophobia has come to appear as a modern equivalent of the Brezhnev-era Article 70 of the Criminal Code (“anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda”).

Ideological enemies of the Brigade

The main enemies of the Brigade are democrats (“trashocrats”), liberal westerners, Chechens, Europeans, Americans, Jews… [TN: ellipses in original] Objects of special hatred include the Russian liberal intelligentsia, independent journalists, members of the human rights movement, and certain individuals, including S. Kovalev, E. Bonner, A. Babitskiy, A. Politkovskaya, G. Pas’ko, V. Shenderovich, V. Novodvorskaya and others who are famous for their criticism of the current authorities. The brigadniki always favor limiting freedom of speech in the name of “higher interests of the State”, and introducing strict censorship, right up to the arresting of intellectuals, human rights workers and journalists who are not of the right opinions. The Brigade calls the journalist and ecologist Grigoriy Pas’ko a “spy and betrayer of the Motherland”. By contrast, in the case of Yuri Budanov [TN: the only Russian military officer ever convicted by a Russian court for war crimes in Chechnya] , the Brigade shows the highest level of sympathy and even approval. Budanov is presented as either an innocent victim (of the war, his wounds, a nervous breakdown, a sell-out by generals, liberal journalists, corrupt justice, etc.), or as a “genuine patriot”, “true Russian officer”, “loyal son of the Fatherland” and even “the pride and hero of Russia”.

Paradoxically, the Brigade also views as enemies many of the liberal authors of the articles they discuss on the forums. In other words, members of the Brigade, presenting themselves as honest and private citizens, troll around on and occupy forums they don’t like, round the clock, for years, discussing authors they hate. And yet another great paradox: the editors take no actions against people who run down their own authors, but take decisive action against the opponents of those people, who support their liberal journalists.

For example, in a readers’ discussion of a memoir by Viktor Shenderovich in the journal “Moskovskiye Novosti”, the site administrator (under obvious pressure by the forum’s Brigade) deleted several remarks about the article, but left the positings of brigadniki claiming that the article’s author “has licked out Gusinskiy’s ass, and now is giving Berezovskiy oral sex”.



On the Trail of Mr. X

In February 2004, former Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiyev was murdered by Russian agents in Quatar. In July, Andrew McGregor of the Jamestown Foundation wrote:

The Yandarbiyev case is an important milestone in the renegade approach to the War on Terrorism. The boldness with which Russia carried out its operation in the midst of sensitive U.S. military installations suggests that America may have acquired a “rogue-partner” in the war on terror.

Given this, we shouldn’t have been surprised, when Alexander Litvinenko was struck down on foreign soil last year, to learn that there could be Kremlin connections to the killing. On December 17th, the Times of London reported the following:

Yuri Shvets, a former [KGB] spy now based in America, claims [Alexander] Litvinenko had been doing due diligence work for a British company on the official, who was facilitating a business deal. Shvets believes Litvinenko had acquired a damaging eight-page dossier with details on the official that may have ruined a multi-million-pound deal with the British company. The claims shed new light on the activities of Litvinenko, who died on November 23 after being poisoned with polonium-210, a radioactive substance. His death has been the subject of several theories, including claims that he was murdered in a Kremlin plot to silence his criticism of Vladimir Putin’s regime. Shvets is a former KGB major who now works from Washington, advising businesses on corruption and security in the former Soviet Union. He has been interviewed by detectives from Scotland Yard. He gave his first full interview last week to his friend Tom Mangold, a journalist, in a programme for BBC Radio 4. Shvets says Litvinenko came to him for help after a British security company had offered him a $100,000 contract to do due diligence work on five Russian figures. One of the five, whom Shvets refused to name, is said to be a powerful Kremlin official. Litvinenko acquired the eight-page dossier on September 20. Shvets says Litvinenko showed the dossier to Andrei Lugovoi, another former Russian agent, two weeks later. This, Shvets believes, was a mistake because he claims Lugovoi probably tipped off the official about the dossier. “I believe the dossier was the trigger for the assassination,” he said. Lugovoi met Litvinenko at the Millennium hotel in London on November 1, the suspected day of the poisoning. Lugovoi has denied any involvement in the murder and is himself contaminated with polonium. Scotland Yard detectives were present at interviews with Lugovoi and others during a visit to Moscow last week. The British officers were not allowed to put any questions, however. Russian prosecutors conducted the interview.

LR’s sources tell her that there was more to the Radio 4 broadcast than was been reported by the Times. They say that a former KGB agent, whose interview with the programme was substituted by the voice of an actor, stated that Lugovoi is an FSB informant, that the use of three agents to carry out the assassination is a standard KGB format, and that in Russia there is now a “shadow establishment” within the power structures with links with organised crime — extortion, racketeering, murder and blackmail — of which Putin is perfectly aware but impotent to act upon, since the FSB has taken all the power that was formerly in the hands of the communist party.

Last Friday, LR reported that she had been told by a reader about a recent broadcast on BBC Newsnight which reported that the “unnamed” figure (shall we call him “Mr. X”?) could be Aeroflot chief (and former KGB spy) Victor Ivanov (pictured left, on the right, acting as “presidential aid” two years ago), a not insignificant figure in the Kremlin’s power structure. Now, another reader has provided further details. Apparently, a British firm called Titon International may have hired Litvinenko to perform a due diligence investigation of Ivanov prior to Titon’s client commencing a major transaction with Aeroflot, and when the dossier turned over by Litvinenko turned up dirt on Ivanov, the deal was queered. Litvinenko then showed the dossier to Lugovoi, a Kremlin double agent who turned the material over to Ivanov, resulting in the Kremlin-connected oligarch deciding to strike down Litvinenko. Apparently, they were motivated not only by the lost value of the deal, but even more importantly by the information contained in the dossier and the possiblity of future such outbreaks of information (which might expose high-level corruption). Obviously, the firm that hired Titon is in a position to say whether it received a dossier from Titon on Ivanov and whether it queered a deal with Aeroflot or not. Apparently, so far Titon is not revealing the name of its client.

Commissars of the Internet: Part I, Installment 1

Today La Russophobe is pleased to begin presenting the results of our translator’s most impressive project to date, translating a major investigative piece from a trio of Russian human rights activists exposing the horrifying ways in which the KGB is monitoring and controlling the Internet in Russia. The first part of the lengthy piece will appear in four daily installments this week, the second part next week. Once the installments are completed, we will publish the entire article as its own single web page.

LR can speak to this issue from personal experience. In the article you will notice the authors write about roving KGB-sponsored Internet gangs who seek to manipulate criticism of Russia in the Kremlin’s favor:

The phenomenon we are here trying to investigate is by no means an ideological or spiritual community of post-Soviet people, tied together by common views, nor the aggressions of isolated anonymous boors on the Russian Internet. In our view, this is a qualitatively different phenomenon – the appearance on RuNet forums of organized and fairly professional “Brigades”, composed of ideologically and methodologically identical personalities, who “work” to form the public opinion desired by the authorities, in practically every single one of the popular political/social web-forms having even a few hundred viewers a day.

A contributor to the forum on the Yezhedevny Zhurnal website has posted a list of the screen names of some such “brigade” members. One of the names on the list is “ENOT” (in Russian “EHOT“), a commenter who regularly attacks the items published on Publius Pundit by La Russophobe (relying not on substance but on personal abuse and invective). Moreover, the attentive reader will notice that many of the techniques of disinformation employed by the “brigades” are in use by commenters at this blog, particularly those who recently attacked LR’s chatbox by impersonating other commenters and seeking to change the topic of discussion.

The article is entitled “Commissars of the Internet.” Lead author Anna Polyanskaya is a well-known journalist from Saint Petersburg Russia, who has participated in the democratic and human rights movement. From 1993 – 1998 she as an assistant to the Russian Duma deputy Galina Starovoitova, who was murdered under circumstances shockingly similar to those of Anna Politkovskaya. Polyanskaya also worked at the leading program “Alternatives” on Petersburg television, as a radio correspondent for the Russian language service of the BBC, and has appeared in various Russian and Western publications. Since 1998 she has lived in Paris. Author Andrei Krivov, a historian by training, formerly a Soviet dissident, is one of the leaders of the independent Moscow-based NGODoveria” (Trust). He has also worked since its founding at the uncensored journal “Glasnost’” of Sergei Grigoryanets. Since 1988 he has lived in France. Finally, author Ivan Lomko was born in Moscow in the 1950’s, graduated from the Physics department of Moscow State Teachers College (MGPI), worked as a schoolteacher and scientist, then changed to being a computer programmer. In 1991, he emigrated with his family to the U.S. and currently works in New York as a programmer-analyst with a financial services company. An earlier version of this article was also published inVestnik OnlineApril 30, 2003. It is only through the heroic work of our translator that it finally sees the light of day in English.

Here is Part I, Installment 1: Introduction

Commissars of the Internet
The FSB at the Computer

Anna Polyanskaya, Andrei Krivov & Ivan Lomko
September 16, 2006

Part 1. The Virtual Eye of Big Brother

Political forums on the Internet are a relatively new pastime for Russians, a virtual world-wide kitchen where public opinion is brewed. More and more often, in various printed and online publications, articles are appearing that examine contributions to these forums as a way of monitoring Russian public opinion. The primary tone of these articles is generally one of complete surprise: “What is going on with the Russian educated class and intellectuals?” After all, it is surely these people who are the main users of the Internet and the ones most interested in politics and social trends. But what one finds on Russian web-forums is an orgy of hatred, xenophobia, racism, anti-Semitism, violent propaganda, amoral barbarism and raving. A normal person, after reading forums like these, becomes ill. “With growing speed, the country is falling into insanity”; “the Russian educated class has become bestial” – this is the general tone of commentaries on “Radio Svoboda”, “Moskovskiye Novosti”, the web publication “Gazeta.ru”, and various mass media in the West.

A number of institutes for political studies in the West have created offices and political forums for researching the so-called RuNet (the Russian portion of the Internet), wherein specialists judge the mood of the intellectual elite in Russia. Following is just one very typical quote from the site of the Israeli research group MAOF:

“The commentaries of average Russians are striking in the ferocious unanimity of their readers. One gets the sense that America has attacked not just innocent Arabs, but Russia itself. In their postings on the forum, Internet users show exactly the same sort of wild malice as their Islamic protectorates. And what is most interesting, they do not need any sort of Imam. They are so consumed with spite that it can be hard for me, after only 12 years away from Russia, to tell whether they are even using Russian to express themselves.”

The majority of researchers who quote web-forum postings from the RuNet come to the same conclusion, that in most cases the people posting on these forums fully and completely support the leadership of the government, and that Russian intellectuals and youth have suddenly and simultaneously become aggressive thugs. But we will here try to rehabilitate the reputation of the thinking portion of Russia that expresses itself on the Internet.

For a fairly long time we have had our doubts about whether Russian public opinion has been so well-represented on RuNet forums. Are these really just the “commentaries of average Russians” that all these researchers find so “striking in the ferocious unanimity of their readers”?

Without doubt, the influence of official propaganda on public opinion in Russia is enormous, and the rebirth of totalitarian ideology is in full stride. Many long-forgotten Soviet ideals and values are being served up by Putin’s ideologues as know-how, and a well-planned restoration of the totalitarian concept is underway. So it is not surprising that among the participants of web-forms one sometimes finds radical anti-Americans, anti-Semites, and advocates of totalitarianism. But we would suggest that they – real people with totalitarian viewpoints – are much fewer than one would suppose from a quick glance at the postings on any forum.

Being on the Internet in Russia presupposes a few at least approximate “minimal qualifications”: a certain level of material well-being (sufficient at least to provide food, a residence, and a home computer), a certain degree of competence with computers, and a certain level of education, as would allow one to make use of political and historical categories. People with marginal, Soviet-Communist or National-Fascist outlooks exist, of course, but their range of interests lie, as a rule, some distance from the Internet and liberal political forums. Besides, people of the older generations, having not become familiar with computers, have a much harder time actively participating on the Internet.

Until 1998-1999, forums on the RuNet were fairly uniform in the sociological characteristics of their users. About 70-80% of the audience consisted of people in agreement with one another, people of liberal and democratic persuasions, representatives of the Russian middle class, and Russian-speaking émigrés. Now, just four years later, totalitarian opinions have suddenly risen to 60-80% of all postings on Russian forums.

This sharp quantitative spike has not corresponded with the range of public opinion, and is at odds with data from Internet polls on current issues of modern life. For instance, about 80% of authors on all web-forums very aggressively and uniformly curse the USA. But in polls in which a single computer can vote only once, 84% of Russian-speaking Internet users support the USA. A similar picture appears regarding approval-disapproval of the war in Chechnya, support for the policies of Putin and his administration, etc. Everywhere the situation is the same: wherever the voting is protected – where one cannot vote a second time – the results are diametrically opposed to the results of “unprotected” polls and inversely proportional to the percentage of “totalitarian” postings on forums.

Personalities from this group present themselves as individuals from various professions, living in a variety of cities and countries, and according to themselves belong to a range of social and age groups. Nonetheless, from long experience and close observation of these personalities, one inescapably notices a full range of typical features and general characteristics not held by any other participants in the discussions.

The guarded-aggressive, totalitarian ideology put forth by these people is their main indicator. A few members of this group try to look even somewhat liberal. But, alongside the usual “governmental” ideology (as well as xenophobia, anti-Americanism, anti-Semitism and intolerance toward differing points of view), these people are distinguished by the extremity of their orientations, corporate-group morale, common base of information, clear norms of behavior, and very specific methods of argument and “working toward an objective”. In all forums, this group applies uniform principles for creating mass consciousness, connected, above all else, with the use of intentional and well-planned lies, slanders and disinformation.

In addition, the year 1999 was a watershed for the appearance on the RuNet of all these clearly unified groups of uniform participants in web-discussions.

The phenomenon we are here trying to investigate is by no means an ideological or spiritual community of post-Soviet people, tied together by common views, nor the aggressions of isolated anonymous boors on the Russian Internet. In our view, this is a qualitatively different phenomenon – the appearance on RuNet forums of organized and fairly professional “Brigades”, composed of ideologically and methodologically identical personalities, who “work” to form the public opinion desired by the authorities, in practically every single one of the popular political/social web-forms having even a few hundred viewers a day.