Category Archives: espionage

EDITORIAL: Medvedev the Marauder

EDITORIAL

Medvedev the Marauder

Ramón Mercader

Russia’s so-called “president” Dmitri Medvedev announced feverishly a few days ago that he was sending out a “Mercader” to deal with the “traitor” who exposed the Anna Chapman spy clan under deep cover in the United States.  As a result of that scandal, of course, Russia was totally humiliated before the entire world.  We offer further insights about the debacle in a post from the head of Agentura.ru in this very issue.

Medvedev was referring to “Ramón Mercader, the secret agent sent by Joseph Stalin to kill archrival Leon Trotsky with an ice pick.”  That’s right, Medvedev was openly patterning himself after Josef Stalin, and bragging about it in public. Lest you think the world saw this as another silly Russian joke, the “traitor” was soon under FBI protection.

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Russia, her Spies and her Lies

Andrei Soldatov of Agentura.ru, writing for the Moscow Times:

Right from the start, the latest Russian spy story resembled the stuff of which Soviet spy legends are made. We have a main hero — an intelligence agent who refuses to buckle when tortured. We also have a traitor who meets face to face with the hero in his prison cell. Last week, we may have learned the name of this traitor. Depending on which media report you read, it was either Colonel Shcherbakov or Colonel Poteyev who revealed the 11 Russian “illegals” working in the United States.

Betrayal has always played a prominent role in the mythology surrounding Soviet intelligence. As Yury Kobaladze, former head of the Foreign Intelligence Service‘s press service, said on Channel One on Sunday, it was the traitors — not the intelligence service — who were to blame for the recent failure in the United States.

There are two main reasons why this spy flap — like every other one before it — was so blatantly misrepresented by the Kremlin and state-controlled television.

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Russian spies, Out of Control

Reuters reports:

Russia’s security services have changed a lot since late Soviet days.

They are much worse.

That’s the view of Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, two young Russian journalists who have just published a book on the FSB, the main present-day successor to the powerful Soviet KGB.

“The KGB was a very powerful organization but at the same time it was under the strict control of the Communist Party,” Soldatov told Reuters in an interview in London on Wednesday, when he and Borogan were promoting their book at a seminar.

“… With the FSB, we have no party control and we have no parliamentary control … we have got uncontrollable secret services.”

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The KGB Seizes Russia

Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan , co-founders of Agentura.ru, writing in The Moscow Times:

In December 2000, then-director of the Federal Security Service Nikolai Patrushev proudly described the FSB’s rank and file: “Our best colleagues, the honor and pride of the FSB, don’t do their work for the money,” he said in an interview with Komsomolskaya Pravda. “They all look different, but there is one very special characteristic that unites all these people, and it is a very important quality. It is their sense of service. They are, if you like, our new nobility.”

Patrushev hit the nail on the head. Throughout the 2000s, the FSB indeed became the country’s new elite, enjoying expanded responsibilities and immunity from public oversight or parliamentary control. Putin made the FSB the main security agency in Russia, allowing it to absorb much of the former KGB and granting it the right to operate abroad, collect information and carry out special operations.

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EDITORIAL: A Russian Tail, and Dog

EDITORIAL

A Russian Tail, and Dog

$152,200

$126,000

$108,200

Suppose we told you that those three numbers represent the annual salaries of the President of Russia, the Prime Minister of Russia and the Chief of the KGB (now known as the FSB).

In reverse.

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EDITORIAL: The Darkness swallows Russia

EDITORIAL

The Darkness swallows Russia

The news out of Russia was bleak and morbid last week, even by Russian standards.  Even we, who are used to daily reporting the animalistic misconduct occurring in Putin’s Russia, are alarmed by the news now rolling out of this desperately-screwed up land.

Make no mistake:  This news threatens us as much as it does Russians themselves. Russia is a beast with nuclear fangs which can lash out at any moment against any one of us.

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Putin’s Spies were Idiots

Hero journalist Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:

During his visit to Ukraine on Saturday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told journalists that he met with the 10 Russian “illegals” — who pleaded guilty in a U.S. court to being agents for the Russian government — at some point after they arrived in Moscow on July 9.

“They will find decent work — I’m sure,” Putin said. “I don’t doubt that they will have interesting, bright lives.” Perhaps he was referring to Anna Chapman, who has already received an offer from Vivid Entertainment to play the leading role in a porn film.

“I can tell you that it was a hard fate for each of them,” Putin said. “First, they had to master a foreign language as their own.”

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EDITORIAL: Vladimir Putin, Fraud and Liar

EDITORIAL

Vladimir Putin, Fraud and Liar

Back in June, when the story broke about a massive web of pathetically ragtag Russian spies having been uncovered whilst seeking to insinuate themselves at the most intimate levels of American life, the Russian government denied any spies had been caught.  Former KGB spymaster Vladimir Putin went further. He didn’t just deny there were spies, he accused U.S. law enforcement authorities of losing control, going on a frenzy and locking up innocent people.

He’d know, of course.  Nobody knows better than Putin how to lock up (or simply murder) innocent people.

But it has turned out, of course, that Putin was lying.  Shamelessly, after the spies were returned to Russia, Putin met and sang patriotic songs with them.  This only confirmed the fact, now common public knowledge, that Putin didn’t merely know about these spies, he sent them to America himself.  It was his spy program that imploded spectacularly before a slack-jawed world, and his bitter childish and ridiculous neo-Soviet recriminations in the aftermath prove this better than any other kind of evidence ever could.

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EDITORIAL: The Russians and their Spies

EDITORIAL

The Russians and their Spies

Not even the most crazed of Russosphile or Russian nationalist fanatics can deny it:  If a giant sleeper cell of American spies were discovered in Russia, seeking to secretly infiltrate every aspect of Russian society at its most intimate and basic levels, Russians would be livid with rage.  Nashi would march on the American embassy with furious anger, screaming epithets of hatred and bile, and America would be vilified as the Great Satan just as it often is in places like Iran.  We wouldn’t be surprised if the Russian Orthodox Church weighed in.

So what are Americans to make of the fact that Russians are doing it to them? How should they react? What should their response be when they learn that Russian nuclear bombers are patrolling their coastline, causing their fighter defenses to scramble?  How should they understand the fact that Russia is ruled by a proud KGB spy who is liquidating every American value at breakneck speed?

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Russians, Spying on Americans

James Kirchick of Radio Free Eurpe and the New Republic, writing in the New York Daily News:

The FBI arrest last week of 10 alleged Russian spies has produced a shrug of the shoulders on both sides of the Atlantic. On Wednesday, a senior Russian government official told the state-run Interfax news agency that the incident “will not negatively affect Russian-U.S. relations.”

Such soothing tones have been echoed in Washington, where The New York Times reported that the White House “expressed no indignation that its putative partner was spying on it.”

Many analysts are echoing this official nonchalance. Writing in the Financial TimesKing’s College London Prof. Anatol Lieven concluded that the brouhaha is but a “temporary rift” in Russo-American relations, and should do nothing to forestall the fruitful development of the “west scaling back its ambitions in the former Soviet Union with Russia‘s growing realization that it needs a new partnership with its former U.S. and European rivals.”

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EDITORIAL: The Legalization of the Neo-Soviet State

EDITORIAL

The Legalization of the Neo-Soviet State

We have grown genuinely weary of reporting, week after week, a somber new low in the history of the neo-Soviet KGB state of Vladimir Putin known as Russia.  Each time we do so, cynics though we may be, we find it hard to imagine how Russia could sink any deeper into the mire of failure and self-destruction. But once again, Russia has surprised us.

And, no, we’re not talking about the revelation that a hoard of Russian soliders stole credit cards off the corpses of dead Polish government officials following the Smolensk air disaster.  That display of Russia patriotism was truly horrific, but this week it didn’t qualify for top billing.

The day we have been predicting for some time here on this blog has now arrived, even more quickly than we imagined:  Vladimir Putin is moving rapidly to legalize and formalize the neo-Soviet state he has been building in Russia for more than a decade.

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The Same Old KGB

Paul Goble reports:

The central apparatus of the Russian security services has been subject to numerous reforms since 1991, but the FSB “provincial empire” is little changed from Soviet times, when the KGB and its predecessors sought to impose “total control over the population through repression,” according to a leading Russian specialist.

In an article in Yezhednevny Zhurnal Andrey Soldatov, the head of Agentura.ru which tracks the activities of the security services, says that this lack of change in the regions “not only defines the spirit of the FSB” but creates serious problems for the Russian powers that be. Soldatov notes that the provincial offices of the FSB seldom attract much attention, except on two occasions: when officers are involved in the struggle with terrorism or on Chekist day when these bodies make their “traditional annual reports” that often cross the border of “absurdity.”

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Gontmakher Exposes another KGB Special Op

Paul Goble reports:

Since its creation five years ago, Russia’s Social Chamber has not achieved its ostensible goals of serving as place for the Russian public to speak to and watch over power, a Moscow analyst says. Instead, it appears to represent “the latest ‘special operation’” of Moscow’s security service state to “imitate public opinion.”

In a comment on Ekho Moskvy, Yevgeny Gontmakher, a senior scholar at the Moscow Institute of Contemporary Development, recalls the discussion that took place in the Russian capital when then President Vladimir Putin created the Social Chamber. “As always,” he suggested, “something very contemporary was wanted, namely the creation of an organ which would not allow to sleep peacefully either deputies or minister or, it is terrible to say, the President himself.” But each of the four ostensible premises of the organization has proved to be false.

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What was on that Ship, Mr. Putin?

Time magazine reports:

In July, the Russian-manned cargo ship the Arctic Sea disappeared on its way to take timber from Finland to Algeria, sparking reports of the first incident of piracy in European waters since the days of the buccaneers. Experts and observers weighed in with their theories: the ship had been snatched in a commercial dispute; it was being used to run drugs; it was carrying something more precious — or dangerous — than timber.

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Annals of Russian Espionage

Nataniel J. Nicholson

Nataniel J. Nicholson

AFP reports:

The son of a notorious CIA double-agent jailed in 1997 for spying for Russia has also pleaded guilty to espionage charges, the US Department of Justice said.

Nathaniel Nicholson, 25, appeared Thursday before District Judge Anna Brown and pleaded guilty to conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government and conspiracy to commit money laundering, a statement said.

Harold Nicholson, 58, the highest-ranking CIA officer ever convicted of spying, was jailed in 1997 and is serving a 23-year prison sentence. He must also answer the latest conspiracy charges but has pleaded not guilty.

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Russia’s KGB and Islamic Terror

DEBKA reports:

Western intelligence sources in the Middle East have disclosed to DEBKAfile that a special unit of the Russian Federal Security Service – FSB, commissioned by Hizballah’s special security apparatus earlier this year, was responsible for the massive discovery of alleged Israel spy rings in Lebanon in recent months with the help of super-efficient detection systems.

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Putin’s Paranoia, Exposed

The Chicago Tribune’s ace Russia correspondent Alex Rodriguez reports on Vladimir Putin’s shameless, Stalin-like paranoia and tactics in dealing with dissent:

The spy was only 20, a soft-spoken college student with a pouty smile and a double life. She had 40 agents working for her and dossiers piling up on her home computer. She revved up recruits with talk of an enemy bent on government overthrow. Anna Bukovskaya’s band of young spies stalked about western Russia like Cold War operatives, infiltrating the enemy, jotting down names and numbers, and at times using hidden cameras to secretly film targets.The fruits of her network’s espionage were eventually relayed to the Russian government, Bukovskaya says. And the enemy? They were young Russians just like Bukovskaya, though young Russians belonging to youth groupscritical of the Kremlin and Russian authorities.

It all was very seamy, Bukovskaya says, and ultimately too much for her conscience to bear.

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The Sunday Sacrilege: Praying to the KGB

On Tuesday, the Russian Orthodox Church chose Metropolitan Kirill as its new pope.  The Times of London reported just before the church was made:

The Russian Orthodox Church will choose [on January 27th] between three alleged former KGB agents as its next spiritual leader.

More than 700 priests, monks and lay representatives will decide who should become the new Patriarch in the first Church election since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The contest at Christ the Saviour Cathedral in Moscow pits the favourite, Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad, against two rivals who also rose through the heirarchy at a time when the Church was under strict Communist control.

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The FSB Blues

Yulia Latynina, writing in the Moscow Times:

Things have not been going so well for our siloviki. The BBC ran an interview on July 7 with an anonymous high-ranking agent of Britain’s MI5 counterespionage unit who declared that Russian authorities were behind the poisoning death in London of former Federal Secret Service agent Alexander Litvinenko.

The declaration will probably lead to a new wave of angry recriminations against foreigners, and many will be asking why this unidentified MI5 agent made these accusations during a popular BBC program. But the answer to that question is simple, albeit unpleasant, for the Kremlin: to support and defend the rule of law. In normal countries, people are not usually poisoned with polonium-210 in the heart of a major world capital, with the murderers walking away scot-free.

In another case, British spymaster Alex Allen, who is also chairman of the country’s Joint Intelligence Committee, was found in a coma in his London apartment two weeks ago. British newspapers speculated that al-Qaida or the Russian secret service might be responsible for his condition.

To be honest, I don’t think Russian agents could have pulled off such a major feat. They are limited to more modest and blunt operations, like blowing up a bus in Nalchik or a market in Sukhumi. But Alex Allen? Don’t make me laugh. This is nonsense. An agency more accustomed to shooting down unarmed people in Nazran and then photographing the bodies with planted weapons in their hands is hardly qualified to orchestrate a sophisticated operation against an ace agent like Allen.

At the same time as these events were unfolding, the London court agreed to hear the claims of businessman Michael Cherney against oligarch Oleg Deripaska. Cherney accused Deripaska, his former business partner, of failing to pay the full price for his shares in Russian Aluminum.

I don’t want to guess the outcome, but I think Cherney’s claims aren’t worth the paper they were written on. Cherney’s industrial empire, in which Deripaska once participated, was built upon extremely informal connections between the various players. The ownership documents Cherney has in his possession, and which both he and Deripaska have signed, are quite typical for such shady transactions — that is, they might carry some validity in the criminal world, but not in a British court of law. Nonetheless, the British court agreed to hear Cherney’s case on the rationale that he was unable to obtain justice in Russia. It is truly a sad testament to the current state of affairs when a London court considers Russia’s reputation as being worse than Cherney’s.

They say that it takes the first half of your life to build your reputation, but during the second half, your reputation then works for you — or against you, as the case may be. Cesare Borgia, the 15th-century Italian military commander, probably did not sleep with his sister, as has been claimed. He just sent killers to knock off her husband, and when they failed in the first attempt, Borgia ordered them to go back and try again. The second time, however, they finished off the wounded man in his bedroom, in front of Borgia’s sister. Objectively speaking, Borgia was an excellent commander and a brilliant statesman, and it is unlikely that he was responsible for half of the killings attributed to him. Nonetheless, he has been stuck with a largely negative reputation.

Before Litvinenko’s poisoning death, Russia had one reputation, but now it has a different one. That new reputation won’t change until the murder case is investigated and brought to its full conclusion — and until murder suspect and State Duma Deputy Andrei Lugovoi gives an honest deposition instead of giving self-promoting news conferences and television interviews.

In democracies, there are certain things that should never be bargained away or swept under the carpet. Murder is one of them.

The Sunday Snoop

Sweden has joined the cold war against Russia, The Local reports:

Sweden’s new surveillance law will enable the National Defence Radio Establishment (FRA) to scan massive quantities of Russian computer and telecom data, Svenska Dagbladet reports.

Information gleaned by the signal intelligence agency can then be used as currency when trading data with other western countries. Despite the headaches the bill has caused since entering parliament in 2007, the government has never revealed the true purpose of the law, SvD writes. Several sources close to the Swedish intelligence community told the newspaper that the controversial new eavesdropping law was primarily intended to keep track of Russian communications.

“Our geographical position means that 80 percent of Russia’s contacts with large parts of the world travel through cables in Sweden. That is the core of the issue,” said one source. “The most important reason for the law is that the government, the Armed Forces and other agencies need intelligence about Russia.” But neither former Prime Minister Göran Persson nor his successor Fredrik Reinfeldt have mentioned Sweden’s desire to listen in on the neighbours.

FRA in its turn has wanted to keep its intentions quiet for as long as possible to prevent Russia from rerouting its computer and telecommunications systems. Swedish-Finnish telecom giant TeliaSonera owns one of the world’s largest fiber-optic cable networks, and company maps confirm that the vast majority of all cable traffic to and from Russia crosses Sweden’s borders, SvD reports.

All Russian email and telephone calls, for example, pass through Sweden, regardless of whether the recipient is located in Berlin, Hong Kong, Kiev or New York. And 85 percent of Europe’s broadband customers are connected in some way to TeliaSonera’s network. The new surveillance law will require all Swedish telecom operators to store any communications passing Swedish borders and make them available for FRA’s perusal at collection nodes located at various points around the country.

TeliaSonera said it was currently considering ways to circumvent Sweden. “Our aim is for international traffic and transit traffic to bypass Sweden,” Malin Frenning, CEO of TeliaSonera International Carrier, told SvD. But to construct a new network outside of Sweden would cost the company a lot of time and money. And there is also a risk that communications would then pass through other countries that have created laws similar to Sweden’s, such as the Netherlands, the United Kingdom and Germany.

EDITORIAL: The Enemies Among Us

EDITORIAL

The Enemies Among us

I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. “Letter from Birmingham Jail”
April 16, 1963

Canada is a funny place, with funny little people in it. Dr. King would have said it’s full of “moderates” — the kind who are more dangerous to liberty than the KKK.

Take Robert Amsterdam, for instance.

A couple weeks ago, Kim Zigfeld posted on Pajamas Media about the revolting activities of former U.S. Congressman Kurt Weldon, who’s now out of office and facing a massive corruption investigation. Kim wrote that in October 2006

the Philadelphia Inquirer reported that the investigation began in response to a 2004 report in the Los Angeles Times about Weldon’s efforts to seek lucrative lobbying and consulting contracts for his daughter Karen involving murky forces in Russia and Serbia. The day after the newspaper report blew their cover, FBI agents raided Karen’s home and office (as well as those of several other Weldon associates) and carted off boxes of evidence. Two days after that, the Washington Post reported that a grand jury had been impaneledNow, the Wall Street Journal is reporting that a former congressional aide of Weldon’s has “admitted in court proceedings that his wife received unreported payments from an arms-control group with ties to top security officials in the Russian government. Rep. Weldon had sought a federal grant for the Russian organization, known as International Exchange Group [IEG], according to the people familiar with the inquiry. Rep. Weldon’s former aide, Russell Caso, pleaded guilty in December to failing to disclose payments made to his wife, but the origin of the funds wasn’t identified.”

The WSJ concludes: “The Weldon inquiry is significant in part because it is an element of a broader U.S. Justice Department probe into what officials suspect are efforts by Russian-backed firms to gain influence or gather information in Washington.” That’s the polite way of saying that, knowingly or unknowingly, Weldon may have been spying for the Kremlin.

As our post below indicates, the Weldon story keeps growing because Weldon appears quite determined to sell out his country. Wired.com reports: “Former congressman Curt Weldon is helping broker deals between Russian and Ukrainian weapons suppliers and the Iraqi and Libyan governments as part of his new job with a private American defense consulting firm.”

Coming upon this story, apparently for the first time, blogger (and Khodorkovsky attorney) Amsterdam stated: “Hot stuff. Yet another example of how the Americans simply cannot claim to be any kind of moral authority in discussions with Russia.” Not only did Amsterdam, not link to Kim’s post on Pajamas it seems he didn’t even know about it, nor did he read any of the reports in links to. His blog had never before reported on Weldon’s behavior — so in his words it really was “hot stuff” to him, and he doesn’t seem to have read the article he’s reporting on, which clearly states that the FBI is investigating Weldon, looking to put him in prison. What more is it exactly, Mr. Amsterdam, that America need to do satisfy you and win the high moral ground? Shoot Weldon on sight? Poison him like the Russians did Litvinenko?

A bit dicey to rely on someone that far out of the loop for your main source of information on Russia, no?

But more interesting is the jaw-dropping hypocrisy. Canadians are funny little people, aren’t they? Here they are holding themselves out as being all non-confrontational and cerebral and what not, and yet just give them the chance to bash an other country in a haughty, prejudicial manner and they grab for it like a fat man in a candy store. They dwell in a tiny (population-wise) and largely inconsequential (influence-wise) land, yet they presume to lecture the world’s only superpower from on high. Americans have “no kind of moral authority” over a regime run by a proud KGB spy which has, by Amsterdam’s own assertion, wrongfully and illegally imprisoned his client.

Does it really “represent” the interest of Amsterdam’s client to polarize and alienate the world’s most powerful democracy, and the only one whose influence can possibly free Khodorkovsky, by condemning them as totally lacking in moral authority (to say nothing of the Americans who publish this blog and who have been among Khodorkovsky’s staunchest defenders)? Is America the one that expelled Amsterdam from the country and sent his client to Siberia? One might think so from his haughty, polarizing rhetoric.

Is it really an expression of the sort of “moderation” Amsterdam routinely calls for? Wouldn’t it be more “moderate” (to say nothing of being more accurate) to say that there are things American can do to increase it’s moral authority, rather than engaging in basically insane hyperbole? Isn’t this exactly the kind of hyperbole that Amsterdam routinely scoffs at on his blog, and in fact exactly the kind that most offends those who are offended by Americans?

All this is to say nothing, of course, of the fact that Amsterdam clearly doesn’t understand the Weldon story and is perverting its basic facts beyond all recognition. Weldon is not representing the U.S. government now, to the contrary he’s been summarily drummed out of office and is now facing a criminal investigation that could send him to prison for the rest of his life. What he is doing now is acting like a rogue traitor, and blaming the U.S. government for it is like saying Khodorkovsky deserved selective prosecution, a rigged trial and a Siberian prison sentence because — and nobody disputes this — he has broken the law from time to time.

A week ago, Amsterdam published a post about a column by Professor Steven Cohen in the International Herald Tribune without realizing that the column had been published by the IHT by mistake. It had already appeared in the paper’s pages months earlier, and we commented on it extensively at that time. Looks like Amsterdam missed our issue that day, and missed the boat on that issue as well, just as he did in the case of the Weldon story.

We’d like to respectfully suggest two things. First, the U.S. government should redouble its efforts to get Mr. Weldon into prison just as soon as humanely possible. Second, Mr. Amsterdam should ratchet back his ego and his latent anti-Americanism at least a few notches, if not for the sake of his own reputation then at least for the sake of his client, who’s already well on his way to spending the rest of his life in Siberia.

As we move into a phase of full-blown cold war with Russia, it’s well to remember that perhaps the most dangerous opponents we face, as Dr. King well knew, are those who profess “moderation.” Sometimes they are simply spies seeking to undermine and destroy us; other times, well . . . you know what they say: The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Curt Weldon, Traitor

Wired reports:

Former congressman Curt Weldon is helping broker deals between Russian and Ukranian weapons suppliers and the Iraqi and Libyan governments as part of his new job with a private American defense consulting firm, Wired.com has learned.

Weldon, who is currently being investigated by the FBI over alleged corruption during his time in office, visited Libya in March to discuss a possible military deal, according to a letter describing the trip from Weldon to Defense Solutions CEO Timothy Ringgold. In May, Weldon, together with Ringgold and another company representative, traveled to Moscow to discuss working with Russia’s weapons-export agency on arms sales to the Middle East.

Both trips were part of the company’s effort to tap into the growing — and often legally murky — market for selling weapons from former Eastern Bloc countries to the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The Russians want to sell weapons to Iraq directly, but “must go slow on Iraq because of political reasons” and want to work with an “intermediary” like Defense Solutions, CEO Ringgold subsequently wrote to colleagues. “They have not spoken with any American company that can offer the quid pro quo that we can or that has the connections in Russia that we have,” he boasted.

A few years ago, an American company proposing to sell weapons to Libya might have triggered a congressional hearing. So, too, would have a proposal to conduct arms deals with Russia, which the United States has accused of selling high-tech weapons to Syria and Iran.

However, U.S. government efforts to rapidly equip countries like Afghanistan and Iraq — which have largely Soviet-origin weapons — have created legal ambiguities and loopholes in export controls that didn’t exist in years past and given rise to a new class of arms trade middlemen. So, even though both Libya and the Russian arms export agency are on official U.S. blacklists, government officials and analysts involved in weapons sales say the rules have become unclear as the push to equip allies in the global war on terror has blazed new but uncertain legal ground.

Eagerly stepping into that virgin territory is Defense Solutions, a Pennsylvania-based company that is carving out a small but lucrative niche in a new international arms bazaar. The firm boasts as its advisors a number of influential Washington insiders, such as retired General Barry McCaffrey, the former White House drug czar.

Helping the firm make key connections is Curt Weldon, a former Republican congressman from Pennsylvania at the center of an FBI investigation into alleged conflicts of interest during his time in office. Weldon, now a key executive at Defense Solutions, is working with the company to set up these weapons deals.

It’s an unusual, if not an entirely unexpected chapter for Weldon, whose time in office included frequent trips to Russia. As an influential member of the House Armed Services Committee, Weldon pushed for multibillion-dollar defense programs, like ballistic missile defense, and earned a reputation as a foreign policy gadfly, boasting of his contacts with officials in nations labeled by the administration as “rogue states” such as Libya and North Korea. Weldon’s wild claims about a 9/11 cover-up and his sensationalist book warning of an Iranian terror plot, sometimes earned him official scorn and public ridicule, but it was accusations that he steered contracts to Eastern European businesses linked to his daughter’s lobbying firm that drew the government’s attention.

Weldon was voted out of office in 2006 just weeks after the FBI raided his daughter’s home, and that of one of her associates.

Weldon did not respond to e-mails and phone requests to be interviewed or comment for this article. But in a 2006 interview, before the FBI probe was public, Weldon spoke enthusiastically about setting up a “front company” to work with the Russian arms agency, Rosoboronexport. Weldon hoped this company could sell weapons to the Middle East, and other regions, particularly to countries where the U.S. has strained relations. He claimed the director of Rosoboronexport approached him to work with “an American company that would act as a front for weapons these nations want to buy.”

Weldon called the proposal an “unbelievable offer.”

The administration, he acknowledged at the time, did not welcome the idea of an American company selling Russian weapons to potentially unfriendly countries. But two years later, Weldon, now a private citizen and chief strategic officer for Defense Solutions, appears to be working on precisely that sort of deal. And whether illegal or not, Defense Solutions’ business represents a new phenomenon in the international arms trade business.

In years past arms brokers — firms or individuals who serve as middlemen to facilitate weapons sales between countries — were largely the stuff of spy thrillers. Unlike traditional American defense companies, like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, which typically sell weapons directly to NATO countries or other governments regarded as friendly to the United States, brokers are often small outfits run by people with sometimes questionable experience and reputations they will sell to anyone. One of the most infamous arms brokers, a Russian named Viktor Bout, is charged by the United States, United Nations, Interpol and others of funneling arms to terrorists and rebels around the world. He was recently arrested in Thailand. The United States is requesting his extradition on charges of supplying arms to a terrorist organization.

But ironically, Iraq has fueled a new market for these professional middlemen; the United States is funneling billions of dollars into modernizing Iraq’s army so that the country’s government can fend for itself after coalition troops withdraw. And Iraq’s largely Soviet-equipped military is a natural market for Eastern European countries brimming with old or out-of-date equipment they would like to unload. The middlemen, in these cases, serve a key role by allowing the U.S. government to do business with an American company, which in turn buys equipment from Eastern Bloc countries in deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, much of it financed with U.S. taxpayer dollars.

One of Defense Solutions’ sales — a deal to sell Hungarian-owed T-72 tanks to Iraq in 2005 — was typical of these new foreign military sales. But on the more questionable side is the company’s plans to work with Rosoboronexport, which is barred from doing business with the U.S. government, and Libya, which is still on the State Department’s arms embargo list.

The Eastern European-Middle East arms-brokering business, while in some cases sanctioned by the U.S. government, has run into problems, including outright corruption and quality. Defense contractor Dale Stoffel, the president of Wye Oak Technology, and another American were gunned down in Iraq in December 2004 after Stoffel alleged that the Iraqi Ministry of Defense was involved in a kickback scheme. Like Defense Solutions, the company Stoffel worked for was refurbishing the Iraq’s army Eastern Bloc equipment.

Another problem is quality. Weapons from the former Soviet Bloc, which the U.S. military euphemistically calls “nonstandard equipment,” have been flagged as substandard, acknowledges Brigadier General Charles Luckey, who is in charge of security assistance at Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq. In an interview from Iraq, Brigadier General Luckey said: “One of the frustrating things about buying nonstandard [weapons], is that I’m the guy who has to deal with the fact that some broker I’ve never heard of allowed weapons to get to Iraq before they were inspected.”

In one high-profile case, Iraqi officials alleged that a corrupt firm sold them $400 million in shoddy helicopters from Poland. More recently, a company led by a 21-year-old and a former masseur was offered a U.S. government contract worth nearly $300 million to sell ammunition to Afghanistan. The ammunition turned out to be outdated and of dubious origin and several people connected with the company have been indicted. A congressional investigation concluded that the company, which was on a State Department watch list, was able to take advantage of regulatory loopholes by using middlemen.

For those concerned about illicit arms trade, this new wave of weapons deals is rife with the potential for corruption and abuse, but for companies eager to pursue markets once regarded as dubious, it represents a lucrative business opportunity. The problem in these cases, according to those familiar with arms sales, is that it’s no longer clear what’s legal and what’s not.

Rachel Stohl, an expert on international arms trade and a senior analyst at Center for Defense Information, says that in many ways, the rush to equip Iraq has led the United States to throw caution to the wind. She points to a report by the Government Accountability Office last year that found that some 190,000 weapons sold to Iraq have gone missing. “I think the reality is we won’t know, until way after the fact, about all of these irregularities with the Iraq weapons provision program,” she said. “We were providing them all these assault rifles that have gone missing. Why? They were not following the standard procedures that were in place.”

But Iraq and Afghanistan aren’t the only markets available to arms brokers like Defense Solutions. The gradual normalization of relations with Libya opens another door into a quasi-legal area of sales.

Like Iraq, Libya has a substantial arsenal of Soviet-origin military weapons, offering a potential market for brokers working with Russia and other former Soviet states. But even when there’s not an outright ban, sales to the Middle East are often fraught with controversy, particularly to countries like Libya, which was under international sanction for more than a decade. Even as sanctions against it have been lifted, European companies proposing to sell arms to Libya have faced steep criticism, particularly since the country is still ruled by dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who took power in a military coup in 1969.

While the United States lifted Libya’s “state sponsor of terrorism” designation in 2006, other restrictions, such as on the sale of arms, remain in place. A State Department spokesperson confirmed that exports of “lethal munitions” to Libya, such as tanks or related equipment, are still banned, although sales of nonlethal equipment are now allowed on a case-by-case basis.

In late March, Weldon traveled to Libya for a weeklong trip at the invitation of the Gaddafi Foundation, a group run by the son of Libya’s leader, and the chairman of Libya’s foreign affairs committee, according to the report he sent to Defense Solutions (.pdf), a copy of which was obtained by Wired.com. The trip reports states: “Agreement reached for Weldon to quickly return to Libya for meetings with son [of Libyan leader Gaddafi] Morti regarding defense and security cooperation.”

A document dated April 16, just two weeks after Weldon’s trip, outlines Defense Solutions’ proposal to Libya to refurbish the country’s fleet of armored vehicles, including its T-72 tanks, BMP-1 infantry fighting vehicles, and BTR-60 armored personnel carriers. A copy of the sales proposal, also provided to Wired.com, is on Defense Solutions’ letterhead, appears to bear the signature of company CEO Timothy Ringgold, and is addressed to Libya’s defense procurement council. “Defense Solutions is committed to delivering a full end-to-end solution to its clients,” the proposal states. “Besides refurbishing these vehicles, we are capable of providing a full logistics support package, including a two year supply of spare parts, maintenance and repair services, and operator, maintenance, and repair training.”

In an interview with Wired.com, Ringgold admitted that he’s interested in doing business in Libya and confirms receiving Weldon’s trip report from Libya, but denies drafting or signing an arms-sale proposal. “I’ve never made such a document to Libya,” Ringgold insisted, after being read the proposal, and told that his signature is on it.

In addition to the Libyan arms-deal document, Wired.com has also reviewed copies of e-mails from Ringgold discussing the Libyan deal.

While Ringgold denies proposing an arms sale to Libya, he is open about speaking with Rosoboronexport, which has been on a U.S. government sanctions list since 2006, after the Russian state agency allegedly violated the Iran and Syria Nonproliferation Act. An April e-mail provided to Wired.com describes Ringgold, Weldon and Stephan Minikes, a senior advisor to Defense Solutions and a former ambassador, meeting with Rosoboronexport. The conversations included a number of potential deals, including supplying Mi-17 helicopters to Afghanistan and spare parts for Iraq’s infantry fighting vehicles. Ringgold wrote to colleagues following the visit, describing the meetings as a “spectacular success,” saying the Russian agency “has the ability to undercut all cost proposals from brokers.”

Ringgold confirmed those discussions and said that his company has sought to do business with Rosoboronexport. Asked whether Ringgold considers his dealings with Russia to be legal, he argued that U.S. companies could work with Rosoboronexport on a “case-by-case” basis. “The particular purpose of the meeting we had — and I want to be crystal clear — was in response to a U.S. government requirement,” he said.

A number of officials at the State Department and in the Pentagon, when contacted for this article, could not say whether working with Rosoboronexport is legal or not. A Pentagon spokeswoman said she was familiar with the issue, but deferred the question to the State Department. When asked about Rosoboronexport’s status on the blacklist, John Herzberg, a State Department spokesman replied: “What’s on there is on there.”

Asked whether, given the ban, there was any way a company could legally work with Rosoboronexport, as Ringgold suggested, Herzberg provided an equivocal answer. “At the stage of the process we’re at, I’m unable to give you an answer,” he said. “You can try elsewhere in government, and maybe they’ll be braver than me.”

In an interview from Iraq, General Luckey conceded it was a murky area, but said, “My understanding is they are currently on our no-go list.”

The confusion over debarred parties has even led the U.S. government into its own legal tangles, according to Jim McAleese, a Washington attorney who specializes in government contracting and foreign military sales. Because the Russian government violated U.S. nonproliferation laws, even NASA had to go to Congress to ensure it could work with Russia on Soyuz flights to the international space station. “What I’m warning you about is, don’t be surprised by the confusion,” McAleese said. “There are a whole bunch of different statutes that were adopted piecemeal and were never intended to be reconciled.”

But it’s the very ambiguity of the law that troubles those who monitor export control. “It’s highly unusual to do anything with the Russians, particularly Rosoboronexport,” said Scott Jones, director of Export Control Programs at the Center for International Trade and Security at the University of Georgia.

Legal or not, reputable American companies simply don’t want to work with banned entities, Jones said, for fear of risking their reputations and business. “Even if it’s not an outright prohibition, most companies don’t want to put themselves in a liability situation that has really bad PR … and they stay away from it,” Jones said. “But if that’s your business, pimping out arms from the U.S. or Russia, that’s the way it works, and you push as much as possible.”

Finding any U.S. defense company working with the Russian government at this point would be “remarkable,” Jones added.

In the meantime, the future for Weldon is unclear. The FBI investigation continues and Weldon’s former chief of staff recently pleaded guilty to a conspiracy charge and is cooperating with the government, notes Melanie Sloan, the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which filed a complaint against Weldon in 2004. Sloan speculated that Weldon may be charged with “honest service fraud” for misusing his office for personal gain. “It’s an easier standard than bribery,” she said. “I wouldn’t be surprised [if he's charged] with bribery, but I think it will be honest services fraud.”

Ringgold insists that he and Weldon are on the right side of the law. “Everything we do is in strict compliance with international and U.S. law and we operate only in the best interests of the U.S. government,” he said. “I didn’t serve 30 years in the United States Army to throw that away on a whim.”

Asked if Weldon is still working for the company, Ringgold replied: “Absolutely, proudly so.”

Next for Russia’s KGB: Legal Cell Phone Eavesdropping

Other Russia reports:

Draft legislation introduced into the Russian Parliament could give the country’s security services the right to listen in on mobile telephone calls. As the state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta reported on May 20th, the legislation would also allow security service, militsiya and customs agency officers to ask service providers to cut the line of communication if there is a danger to the life or health of a citizen. The line may also be disconnected in cases where the state, military, economic or ecological safety of the country is threatened.

Beyond that, agencies leading an investigation will have the right to ask mobile telephony providers for information on their users, including their IMEI numbers, an identity feature built into every mobile device.

The bill was introduced to Russia’s lower house, the State Duma, and would need to clear three readings before heading to the Federation Council, the upper house, and ultimately the president’s desk.

A similar bill was put forth in the legislature of the Russian Republic of Tatarstan. Authorities there said the draft law is “aimed at lowering the number of crimes connected with stolen instruments of cellular communication.”

At the present, mobile telephone providers have the option to refuse requests from the security services, and may decide whether to cooperate on a case by case basis. If the company denies a request, officials are forced to go through the judicial system and appeal before obtaining records or listening in on conversations.

The Sunday Spy

The Globalist reviews the KGBification of Russia:

From former Communist Party Secretary General Yuri Andropov to former Russian President Vladmir Putin, the KGB has shaped the course of Russian politics for the last three decades. Andropov hoped to achieve substantive reforms to save the hemoraging Soviet Union. But Putin and his former KGB brethren — many of whom got to occupy high places in Russian government and industry during his presidency — seem to desire only wealth and political power.

In the waning years of Leonid Brezhnev’s 18-year rule, which encompassed a period from 1964 to 1982 and entered Russian history as a period of stagnation, then-KGB chief Yuri Andropov was thought to be the most cultured and open-minded member of the ruling Politburo. This may seem ironic, because as a Soviet secret police boss, he was in charge of spying on the West, fomenting unrest in the developing world and suppressing domestic dissent. He did it all well. Abroad, the late 1970s were characterized by seemingly unstoppable gains for the Soviet Union and its allies, from Nicaragua and Grenada in the Western Hemisphere to Angola and Ethiopia in Africa — and Indo-China and Afghanistan in Asia.

Previously non-allied nations and Western clients were one by one falling into the Soviet orbit. At home, meanwhile, the dissident movement that flourished in the 1960s and early 1970s was ruthlessly rooted out.

Soviet dominance?

Because he was required to achieve real results, Andropov had to gain thorough knowledge of reality — not live in a dream world of Leninist ideology as his Kremlin colleagues did. What he saw horrified him. He realized that the Soviet Union, behind a façade of unity and strength, was a ramshackle collection of often medieval, grotesquely inefficient and incompatible parts. Its technology, social and economic infrastructure and economic efficiency lagged far behind the United States and Western Europe.

Soviet decline

Whatever achievements were seen immediately after World War II had mostly disintegrated and, unbeknownst to the senile old men living behind the Kremlin wall, the USSR was becoming a third world nation. Andropov was a highly educated, cultured man who was tough, but well-read. He reportedly enjoyed reading some of the very same dissident Russian writers his KGB had banned from publishing. He understood that, unless major reforms were implemented, the Communist system was doomed. The problem was Brezhnev — who kept on living. By the time the Great Leader finally died in 1982 at the age of 75, Andropov was mortally ill himself. Despite being only 70, a relative youngster by the standards of the 1980′s Soviet Politburo, Andropov died of kidney failure in February 1984 — only 16 months after succeeding Brezhnev as Secretary General of the Communist Party. Few Russians who lived through those 16 months have anything nice to say about Andropov. The first thing he did was tighten discipline at the workplace.

Return to party discipline

He clamped down on absenteeism — by sending police officers and volunteer vigilantes to stores during working hours, with orders to stop working-age shoppers and demand why they were not at work. Other harsh measures, reminiscent of Lenin’s murderous War Communism during the Russian Civil war in 1918-1920, were also introduced. But in hindsight, it seems that Andropov was merely working to establish impeccable Bolshevik credentials before embarking on a path of reform.

Nixonian reformer?

Richard Nixon may have served as a template. He came to power as the standard-bearer of the American Right, then initiated détente with Russia and China and ended the war in Vietnam — something no liberal Democrat would have ever been able to do. The problem with Andropov was that he died before the reform stage could begin. However, he had enough time to promote and bolster one of his most talented protégés — Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbachev, it should be noted, came from Stavropol, Andropov’s power base, and he consistently enjoyed the KGB chief’s patronage since joining the Politburo in 1979. When they first began in 1985, Gorbachev’s perestroika, glasnost and other reforms were the same package that had been conceived at the KGB headquarters on the Lubyanka Square during the time of Andropov.

Overdue reforms

Like his late patron, Gorbachev intended to keep the fundamentals of the Communist system in place — but loosen some of the most hide-bound economic and political restrictions that prevented the USSR from competing efficiently on the global stage. The problem was that even Andropov and his KGB did not appreciate how thoroughly the entire Soviet system had rotted through. Like a dead tree in the woods, it could remain upright as long as no one touched it. Any attempt to adjust it resulted in an immediate, clamorous collapse.

Collapse

Communist Party reformers, starting with Gorbachev himself, were caught offguard by the ignominious disintegration of communism and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Andropov had to gain thorough knowledge of reality — not live in the Kremlin’s dream world of Leninist ideology. What he saw horrified him. So was the KGB. Its officers — who had been the true masters of the country for 80 years — found themselves out of work. Under Boris Yeltsin, the power of the secret police — now renamed the Federal Security Service, or the FSB — was curbed substantially, its ranks thinned out and its bloody archives were thrown open to historians.

Many former KGB officers employed their skills by working for the newly rich oligarchs, or for organized crime conglomerates. Even Putin had to go to work as a factotum for St. Petersburg’s reformist mayor Anatoly Sobchak. Initially, when Putin unexpectedly became Russia’s leader, he too seemed to be following in Andropov’s footsteps. He talked of boosting discipline at all levels of government, administrative reform and greater openness to the rest of the world. He appeared to be moving slowly in practice, but that seemed justified. After all, to cite Otto von Bismarck, isn’t politics in a democratic state “the art of the possible?” The important thing was that he seemed to be moving in the right direction.

The rise of Putin

However, Putin’s rise was a combination of wild luck — his own — and monumental stupidity and overconfidence — that of those rich Russian oligarchs who picked him to succeed Boris Yeltsin in 1999. Putin’s rise was a combination of wild luck — his own — and monumental stupidity and overconfidence — that of those rich Russian oligarchs who picked him to succeed Boris Yeltsin.
The oligarchs thought they controlled Russia and couldn’t conceive that this uncomplicated, unambitious and seemingly unconnected guy could turn the tables on them. Especially since all the political infrastructure around him remained in their hands. But they failed to take two facts into consideration. First, Putin did have at least some connections in the KGB establishment and, second, the Russian state — although greatly weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union — was still a formidable force.

Putin’s old colleagues in St. Petersburg did what other KGB officers were doing after the fall of the Soviet Union — find jobs in the nascent private enterprises. The main difference was that in Russia’s second-largest city, working for private businesses often meant becoming involved with a highly diversified and powerful private enterprise-gangster network. It is not for nothing that St. Petersburg has been nicknamed Russia’s “Crime Capital.”

The KGB’s “old boy network”

Most prominent members of Putin’s administration, as well as those who head powerful “silovik” ministries and agencies and run the increasingly dominant, state-owned energy and natural resource enterprises, were mainly St. Petersburg law and order alumni and personal acquaintances of the president from his former life. Even Andropov and his KGB did not appreciate how thoroughly the entire Soviet system had rotted through The quiescent early years of Putin’s rule were merely a time when those people moved into the position of power, took over the Russian state — and gathered strength. In the end, the KGB — which initiated the process of reforming the tottering Soviet Union — has ended up on top. Those who were junior officers when the reform project was conceived now run Russia and its energy monopolies.

Era of corruption

The difference is that Andropov, for all his faults, was trying to make the country better. In contrast, too many of his former employees — for all their talk about addressing Russia’s monumental social, environmental, health and other problems — think primarily of stuffing their own pockets and staying in power. Government graft, bribery and corruption, which has always been a problem in Russia, has now probably surpassed Nigerian proportions.

The Sunday Book Review

J.R. Nyquist reviews Comrade J by Peter Earley:

At the end of Pete Earley’s book, Comrade J, Russian master spy Sergei Tretyakov tells why he defected to the United States seven years ago. It had to do with his “growing disgust and contempt for what has happened and is happening in Russia.” According to Tretyakov, he and his wife were not naïve about the “immorality, cruelty, repression, and ineffectiveness” of the former Soviet regime. “Yet it was our motherland,” he said, “which, like your parents, you cannot choose.” He was hopeful when Gorbachev arrived on the scene. “I believed that Gorbachev would start a new era of democratization in the Soviet Union.” The outcome of Gorbachev’s reforms, however, was hardly encouraging. “The economy collapsed, and people became desperate and miserable,” Tretyakov explained. “Since then Russia has been repeatedly raped and looted by its leadership. I call this process GENOCIDE of the Russian people performed by a group of immoral criminals.”

In this column I often attempt to describe the dangerous thugs who dominate Russia. In response I regularly receive outraged emails. Why should I write about corruption and tyranny in Russia when the real corruption and tyranny is here in the United States? It is hard to argue with ignorance, especially when that ignorance is bolstered by ideological presumption. No country is perfect, to be sure; but let us consider the testimony of someone who knows both Russia and America. Sergei Tretyakov was a Russian master spy who spent many years in New York. He is in a better position to judge which country is free, and which is governed by criminals who ruthless exploit the people.

“I want my new compatriots to know who and what I am, and why I am in this country,” wrote Tretyakov. “Speaking out enables me to give my qualifications, and after giving them, I can sound an alarm.” According to Tretyakov Americans think the Kremlin is an ally, a friend. “In speaking out,” he wrote, “I hope to expose how naïve this is.” Since he and his family have become American citizens, Tretyakov said he has been offended by natural-born Americans who take their liberties for granted. He wrote: “Sometimes I believe only someone who has lived in a corrupt society can truly understand the importance of America’s liberties. I find this frustrating.”

I had an opportunity to talk last Wednesday night with a courageous man from Russia, Dr. Andrei Illarionov, who previously served as Vladimir Putin’s senior economic advisor. In December 2005 Illarionov surprised the world by stating, at a press conference, that Russia “is no longer a democratic country. It is no longer a free country.” Needless to say, Illarionov left the Kremlin. He is now a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute in Washington, D.C. He told me that the problem with Russia was not the imposition of a new system of strict authoritarian rules. “The most important element in this new system,” he explained, “is the absence of the rule of law.”

The old totalitarianism in Russia was, as George Orwell described it, “a lawless order.” The new totalitarianism is a lawless disorder. “In the case of modern Russia,” Illarionov explained, “there is no rule of law and no rule of man. In Russia it is the rule of thugs. It is not the rule of one person…. It is rule by people who in most civilized countries would be [in jail].”

During the past century Russia has not developed a solid, civil society. It has descended from tsarism to Stalinism down to a regime of competing thugs. Before coming to power Stalin robbed banks. He was a Georgian thug who stole power. His example was contagious, spreading throughout Russia like a plague. “Socialism was not a great system,” Illarionov said. “It was a dictatorship. It was a terrorist type system.” The men at the top were thugs, perhaps, but there were rules. “As long as you followed those rules you had a high level of safety,” Illarionov added. “Today nobody knows the rules.”

Yet there is a rule, if you can call it a rule: The Kremlin regularly seizes control of companies that are making the most money simply because they are cash cows – ready to be milked. “The criteria,” said Illarionov, “is to take companies that can generate cash.” He further explained: If society develops from nomadic banditry to stationary banditry to a civilized state, then Russia is going backwards.

“In Russia,” said Illarionov, “we see an enormous destruction of civil society, but sometimes we see very impressive economic growth. We see one of the fastest growing economies in the world.” According to the best theories of political and economic science this shouldn’t be happening. “So we have to ask if some new law, new pattern, is observable in Russia.”

Andrei Illarionov is a brave man, and so is Sergei Tretyakov. Both these men are trying to warn us about the same thing. History teaches that rulers who rob and butcher their own citizens will not hesitate to bomb and invade their neighbors. It must be remembered that the thugs in the Kremlin have thermonuclear weapons. They are improving these weapons, day by day. They arm terrorists throughout the world. They are supporting North Korea, Venezuela and Iran. And here is what I find most disturbing. Illarionov pointed out that “George Bush sees Vladimir Putin as his personal friend.”

This is a mystery, and Dr. Illarionov has no “good explanation for why it is so.” It is normal for Western governments to isolate gangster regimes. But the Kremlin has not been isolated. The Kremlin has murdered or poisoned various Russian and Ukrainian politicians. The facts are widely known. “Anyone who would behave remotely similar would be immediately isolated,” said Illarionov. But Russia has not been isolated.

“It is something really special,” Illarionov conceded. Russia is growing economically while breaking free of the pattern of civilized life. This is reminiscent of Nazi Germany. It creates a psychological feeling within Russia, a sense of superiority. “All those people believe they have found a way to make a successful political system,” Illarionov warned. It makes violence and banditry seem like a workable alternative to civilization. People begin to believe that banditry has a future. Why not become a looter? Why not follow the bandit’s example?

From all of this we learn that the struggle for freedom is also a struggle for law and order. It is also a struggle against moral nihilism. Civilization exists because of standards. These standards refer to “right” and “wrong.” If there is no objective right and wrong, recognized as a basis for the rule of law, civilized society cannot long endure.