September 23, 2018
Two completely different stories in two different Petersburg media outlets, Fontanka.ru and Rosbalt, fused into one after I read them.
Rosbalt looked at the early years of Yevgeny Prigozhin, the same guy who not only is in charge of feeding the president and siphons off many billions of rubles from food supply contracts to the Defense Ministry but also privately, as it were, runs unofficial military operations outside Russia. He has the blood of many hundreds of our boys on his hands, boys who died in Syria and other places where they had no business being. Prigozhin was a wild young man. He was several times convicted of theft, robbery, and assault, topping it off with thirteen years in a maximum-security prison.
Fontanka.ru continued its investigation of the series of foreign travel passport numbers that included the passports held by “Petrov” and “Boshirov,” the two Russian men recently implicated in the poisoning of the Skripals. It has transpired that a good number of people whose passport numbers differ from those of the Salisbury duo by only a couple of digits list the headquarters of the GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate) as their home address. Like “Petrov” and “Boshirov,” they are also people without pasts. Meaning that by covering for “Petrov” and “Boshirov,” our would-be intelligence wizards actually blew the cover of several dozen agents and completely torched their own network.
How are these stories linked, except by the persistence of the bold Petersburg reporters who researched and wrote them? They are stories about the so-called professionalism of the so-called secret services. We are told how tough and almighty the FSO (Federal Protective Service) and FSB (Federal Security Service) are. But we saw what professionalism was worth in their case during the World Cup finals: Petya Verzilov showed the whole world what it was worth. These people, who gave a repeatedly convicted felon access to the president, are professionals? Really? What about the people who came up with the bright idea of issuing all their agents passports whose numbers were ordered sequentially.
I don’t like secret services. Whatever country in the world you pick, their secret services are unprofessional parasites who only know how to puff up their cheeks and pretend to be combating nonexistent threats.
At this point, someone will definitely come along and say, “But what about Israel?” I’m sorry, but with rare exceptions, perhaps, Israel has the same problem. It is simply the logical consequence of the specific nature of their work. They enjoy secrecy, meaning we cannot verify whether a threat really exists, and they are not subject to public oversight. They are heavily funded and have an incredibly broad remit, but there are no corresponding checks and balances.
When the terms of their employment are such, you could hire angels to do their jobs, and after a while the angels would also be bloating their budgets and hiring more and more staff while getting nothing done whatsoever. It is the inevitable consequence of their initial portfolia and human nature. J. Edgar, a terrific serious film, and Burn After Reading, a terrific comic film, illustrate the process of degradation as it plays out in the US.
I would argue that not a single country in the world has figured out what to do about it. You cannot get by without having intelligence services, but it is nearly impossible to change the conditions in which they operate. Everyone basically puts up with the inefficiency and highway robbery for the sake of a minimal albeit necessary outcome.
When compared with the rest of the world, of course, our secret agents and security forces are particularly stupid loafers and especially worthless pests who achieve no positive outcomes.
Leonid Volkov is project manager at Navalny’s Team.
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