Special Designation Center (Tsentr Spetsial’nogo Naznacheniya—TsSN)
Federal Security Service (FSB), as a KGB successor organization incorporating responsibilities from several former KGB components, retained something of the authority and reputation of its antecedent organization. Charged principally with counter-intelligence, counterterrorism, economic security, and investigations and analysis, among other associated functions, the FSB controls Russia’s two major counterterrorist forces, the Al’fa and Vympel (Pennant) groups, which are part of the FSB “Special Designation Center” (Tsentr Spetsial’nogo Naznacheniya—TsSN). The Border Service, controlling paramilitary Border Guard units, has had special operations units for combat, counterterrorist and other missions since at least the 1980s where they were employed in cross-border operations during the Soviet-Afghan war.
The proliferation of special operations organizations beginning in the late 1970s and early 1980s has greatly increased the number of associated veteran’s organizations. Many have the ostensible mission of providing camaraderie, employment and family assistance, and other benefits to former members, though some have been vocal advocates for patriotic, security, and political issues. Some of the veterans’ groups initially formed had broad membership categories including veterans of Afghanistan. Others were exclusively for specific SOF affiliations (like the Association of Al’fa Group Veterans, the Vympel Veterans Association, the Union of Vityaz Veterans, and others). A number of private security firms and services were formed by these veterans (e.g., the“VYMPEL-A” group of security companies created by former Vympel, Al’fa, and MVD special operations personnel) and continue to hire former officers.
The private security firm Vympel-A is manned by retired Vympel and Al’fa members. More to the point, the security firm reportedly operated under the protection of the TsSN chief himself, who grants all manner of special privileges and receives funding from Vympel-A for FSB TsSN social functions. Active duty Al’fa and Vympel fighters — shortly after the disastrous storming the Dubrovka theater — were astounded to hear the Vympel-A director expounding on operational planning and execution using information he could only have gotten from the TsSN inner circle.
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