'Untouchable' FSB under scrutiny after Moscow attack

26th January 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's all-powerful FSB security service has escaped official blame for the Moscow airport bombing but its shortcomings are a prime factor why the attack took place, analysts said.

President Dmitry Medvedev has lashed out at lapses in airport and transport security but so far the FSB -- which handles domestic intelligence and grew out of the Soviet KGB -- has looked on without taking any consequences.

However analysts say the attack, which followed the March Moscow metro bombings, has shown the FSB must stop being above criticism and needs to change its tactics radically in fighting Islamist militants in the Northern Caucasus.

"No-one, not even the president, can criticise the Federal Security Service," independent defence analyst Alexander Goltz told AFP.

"The FSB is a state within a state in Russia and these people feel themselves above criticism."

He said that the FSB is fond of reciting statistics about how many plots it has averted in a year but "one single act of terror at a Moscow airport cancels out all the minimal successes."

Medvedev has fired a top regional transport official and described the airport security as "anarchic". But not a word of criticism has been directed at the FSB's chief Alexander Bortnikov.

Observers expressed astonishment that neither Bortnikov nor Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev were summoned to an emergency meeting called by Medvedev on the day of the attack at Moscow Domodedovo airport Monday.

"Medevdev is making clear that he is only criticising those directly involved in airport security and not the system of averting acts of terror," intelligence experts Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan said on their specialist Agentura.ru website.

The FSB is still run from the KGB's imposing headquarters on Lubyyanka Square in Moscow where political prisoners were shot by the Soviet secret service under Stalin.

Its leadership forms part of a clique of top security figures dubbed siloviki in Russian, whose top figure is Prime Minister and ex-KGB agent Vladimir Putin. By contrast, Medvedev's background is as a civilian lawyer.

The Russian media has noted that the attack did not come out of the blue, saying the security services had been on alert after a would-be suicide bomber blew herself up by accident in Moscow on December 31.

Reports immediately after the Domodedovo attack said the security services had even received warnings of a strike on a Moscow airport and were on the trail of three suspects.

The Vedomosti daily said that terror attacks in recent years in New York, Madrid and London were not followed by similar events whereas Moscow has seen two devastating bombings claiming dozens of lives in less than a year.

Special service chiefs in Western countries understand that "failure will turn them into media hate figures and force an almost inevitable resignation," it said.

But Medvedev's comments after the attacks "preserve a sad tradition" in modern Russia of top intelligence officials escaping blame, the paper added.

The head of the Russian upper house's security committee, Vladimir Kulakov, said the security services needed to do more to infiltrate and weaken militant groups at their home bases in the Northern Caucasus.

"The terrorists need to be destroyed at their training camps, our people need to infiltrate them and not allow them into the heartland of the country," Kulakov said, according to the Interfax news agency.

He said that Russia had to learn from the experience of other intelligence agencies, in particular those of Israel and the United States, "where since September 11 there has not been a single major act of terror."

Gennady Gudkov, head of the security committee of the Russian lower house, said the security services think "security can be boosted by increasing roadblocks, passport checks and constant searches."

"But the main thing is espionage. And they have not worked that out," he told the Kommersant daily.

© 2011 AFP

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