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Federal Security Service (FSB)
Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti

FSB History

The Federal Security Service (FSB - Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti, previously known as Federal Counterintelligence Service - FSK) is a successor of the KGB and has responsibility for all security operations at home and abroad. There is a paucity of public information in regard to the workings of the FSB. It is the most powerful of the successors to the KGB. In the years since the fall of the Soviet Union, the FSB slowly took on the responsibilities of a number of agencies. More recently, it absorbed FAPSI, the Russian equivalent of the United States' National Security Agency.

The FSB's power is rooted in the influence of President Vladimir Putin, a former director, and a vast network of former officers that has permeated all sectors of Russian government and society. It is estimated that, among Russia’s 1,000 leading political figures, 78% have worked with the FSB or its predecessors. With this sort of clout at its disposal, FSB carries out intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, economic crime investigation, electronic intelligence, border control and “social monitoring.”

"The Vitvinenko Inquiry", chaired by Sir Robert Owen, report was published in January 2016. The Inquiry received expert evidence from Professor Robert Service on the nature of the Russian State. He emphasised the paucity of public information relating to the inner workings of the FSB being the successor of the KGB. Professor Service notes in paragraph 36 of his evidence: "While all academics, media commentators and reporters make much of Putin's earlier careers in the KGB and the FSB, there have appeared no substantial revelations about his routine of working relations with the intelligence agencies since the start of his first Presidential term. The usual assumption is that he keeps a close eye on their activities and gives them strategic guidance. But the exact extent of his oversight of active operations is veiled in secrecy. It is one of those matters that no one has yet managed to uncover."

After the fall of the Soviet Union, internal security functions previously performed by the Second, Third and Fifth Chief Directorates and the Seventh Directorate were initially assigned to a new Ministry of Security. But that agency was disbanded December 1993 and replaced by the Federal Counterintelligence Service [Federal'naya Sluzhba Kontr-razvedky - FSK]. This 75,000-person agency was subsequently redesignated the Federal Security Service (FSB).

As President, Vladimir Putin made it a priority to restore the roles and powers of the security services, and many of his appointees to high positions have KGB or post-Soviet security service backgrounds. Given this, it is not surprising that Putin did so much to recreate the Soviet counterintelligence state. Such a state is marked by an “overarching concern with ‘enemies,’ both internal and external,” and creates a security service that “penetrates and permeates all societal institutions” and is preoccupied with conspiracies. The growth of the FSB’s power during the Putin years, as described by Soldatov and Borogan, along with new laws expanding the definition of treason and reining in the so-perceived threatening activities of foreign nongovernmental organizations, provides ample evidence of Putin’s internalization of the KGB way.

In 1903, the first Russian military counterintelligence organ, which operated mainly in St. Petersburg, was established to counteract military espionage being carried out by foreign intelligence services against Russia. The beginning of World War I prompted the Russian Government to adopt a more thorough approach to the organization of the counterintelligence service in the army. By agreement with Nicholas II, the government adopted a decision on the formation of counterintelligence departments under the military districts, followed by counterintelligence organs in theaters of hostilities.

Immediately after the October 1917 Revolution one step for the counterintelligence protection of Red Army units was the formation (in July 1918) of the Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution on the Eastern Front. At the same time the function of combating espionage was made the responsibility of the military control organs that were set up in the Red Army and Navy. They were subordinate to the command, and were organizationally part of the operational staffs.

Colonel General Igor Mezhakov, deputy director of the FSB, was dismissed in September 1995. Rumors indicated that he was widely disliked, having been a member of the commission that investigated the role of the KGB leadership in August 1991 coup]. Lieutenant General Anatoliy Semenov, chief of the Antiterrorism Directorate, was dismissed from his position the same day as Mezhakov. Since spring of 1996 Semenov has been head of the president's Main Directorate of Cossack Troops. Lieutenant General Anatoliy Krayushkin, head of the Directorate of Records and Archives, left his job in September 1995. It was rumored that he had fallen under suspicion in connection with a German intelligence agent. Lieutenant General Vladimir Tsekhanov, chief of the Economic Counterintelligence Directorate, was removed from his position in early summer 1996. He was one of the initiators of the scandal involving the joint-stock company Lenzoloto which resulted in criminal indictments.

When senior Yeltsin aides Oleg Soskovets, Mikhail Barsukov, and Aleksandr Korzhakov were abruptly dismissed on 20 June 1996, Mikhail Barsukov had served as FSB head for less than a year. Barsukov took over the leadership of the FSB from Sergei Stepashin in July 1995 in the wake of the Budennovsk hostage crisis. Yeltsin named a deputy director of the Federal Security Service (FSB), Colonel General Nikolai Kovalev, as its new acting chief. Kovalev's intelligence service activity began in 1974 with his entrance in the KGB, where he joined the Fifth Directorate, which dealt with ideological questions and the questions related to dissidents. He served for two years in Afghanistan and later working in the Moscow and Moscow Oblast branches of the FSB before being made deputy director with responsibility for the Investigations Directorate, Directorate for Economic Counterintelligence, and Operational Reconnaissance Directorate. After his nomination to the FSB, Kovalev told the news media that he saw the emphasis of his activities in the economic security of Russia and in the fight against corruption. In addition, he promised to focus on measures to respond to increasing activities of foreign intelligence services in Russia.

On 25 July 1998 Yel'tsin nominated Vladimir Putin as Director of the Federal Security Service. The Russian and foreign media knew very little about the new boss of the FSS and latched on to his past in the KGB and his less than cuddly media image.

On 13 November 1998 an open letter from oligarch Boris Berezovsky to Putin was published in the Russian media. The letter detailed the allegations made by Alexander Litvinenko and the others and was critical of what it described as an attempted cover up. In the final paragraphs of the letter, Mr Berezovsky made a direct appeal to Putin:

“Vladimir Vladimirovich, no doubt, the legacy you received from your predecessors is not easy. Criminals and corrupted functionaries at different levels, even in your institution, are hitting those who do not want to go back to the pigsty. The wave of criminal terror is rising in the country. Mafia and the ‘red-brown’ elements are striving for power. They do not understand that there is no place for people like them in a free country where democracy is firmly secured by law. I do not consider the facts and problems raised in my letter isolated, I see a tendency here and this tendency is mortally dangerous for Russia."

Putin became a permanent member of the Security Council at the beginning of October 1998, and at the end of March 1999 the Secretary of the Council. His position as the head as the FSS gave him also a seat on the Interdepartmental State Defence Orders Commission. Putin kept his FSB job until 09 August 1999 when Boris Yel'tsin made him Acting Prime Minister. His FSB position was given to N P Patrushev.

When Vladimir Putin succeeded Yeltsin as President in 2000, the FSB benefited from a massive increase in funding. Although exact figures are unknown, it is alleged that the FSB’s funding increased by as much as 40% in 2006 alone. In the wake of September 11th, and President Bush’s declaration of a global war on terror, the FSB took on more power. The war in Chechnya and an effort to keep Russians safe from terror became the impetus for extraordinary renditions, assassinations of terrorists, and expanded domestic surveillance programs.

In 2003, the Statute on Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation and Structure of Federal Security Service Agencies allowed the FSB to absorb a number of other agencies. Most notably, the FSB took over the five month-old Special Communications and Information Service, the successor to FAPSI. FAPSI, the Federal Agency of Government Communications and Information was Russsia's equivalent of the American National Security Agency. The FSB then became responsible for electronic surveillance and intelligence-gathering. This expansion was controversial because FAPSI ran the computer system that processes and reports the results of elections.

The 2003 statute further restructured the FSB into the following nine services:

  • Counterintelligence Service
  • Service for Protection of the Constitutional System and the Fight against Terrorism
  • Directorate of Military Counterintelligence
  • Economic Security Service
  • Analysis, Forecasting, and Strategic Planning Service
  • Organizational and Personnel Service
  • Border Service
  • Control Service
  • Science and Technical Service

When Putin adopted the political methods that the KGB and its predecessors employed, he did not limit himself only to the Andropov-era tactics. Rather, he used methods that harkened to the Cheka and to the Tsarist Okhrana. These included assassinating opponents at home and abroad and, some critics claim, staging provocations such as the apartment bombings to provide a pretext for renewing the war in Chechnya and solidifying his grip on power, much as Stalin had Kirov killed so he could begin the Terror. Political and public trials reminiscent of Soviet–era show trials come at regular intervals, against targets as diverse as Khodorkovskiy, blogger Aleksey Navalny, and the young women of Pussy Riot.

In 2006, the FSB came under international scrutiny for the deaths of two of its most prominent opponents. Anna Stepanova Politkovskaya, a Russian journalist who covered the Chechen conflict, was shot to death in her apartment on 7 October 2006. Politkovskaya was known for her opposition to Putin’s policies. Politkovskaya’s supporters accused the FSB of involvement because she was preparing to release an article implicating Chechnya’s Prime Minister Ramzan Akhmadovich Kadyrov in human rights abuses.

The suspicious death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB officer, and outspoken opponent of the FSB became the next chapter in the saga. Litvinenko was writing a book about the FSB’s abuses (including high-profile assassinations) during the Putin era and allegedly had been gathering information on the FSB’s involvement Politkovskaya’s death. Litvinenko died of a mysterious case of polonium-210 radiation poisoning on 23 November 2006. He was apparently infected during a meeting with a contact a month earlier.

Although no governments or international bodies have accused the Russia of any hand in these deaths, there is now an unspoken, underlying suspicion accompanying a more overt display of disapproval of Putin’s tightening grip on power. The FSB is considered the foremost symbol of a resurgent and ever more powerful Russian central government.

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Page last modified: 18-07-2016 13:32:20 ZULU