Circling the Lion's Den

In Counterterrorism, Medvedev Follows in Putins Road

Andrei Soldatov, Irina Borogan

In more than the week that has passed since the bombings on the city metro, President Dmitri Medvedev has actively intruded upon Putins personal domain which the war on terrorism is considered to be and proposed a few solutions. Clearly, they should demonstrate that his approach to this problem differs from the last one, which, considering what happened, has obviously not proven its worth. Today there are three initiatives a presidential decree regarding transportation safety, the appointment of a new security force in the North Caucasus, and the introduction of a scale of terrorist threats.

The decree entitled On the creation of a complex system to provide safety to the population on transportation calls for the creation of a system to prevent emergency situations and terrorist attacks, most of all in the metro. Judging by the text, this would involve equipping public transportation with special technology to deal with acts of unlawful interference, and also systems to collect information about emerging emergency situations and threats of terrorist attacks. That is to say, additional systems to monitor passengers, and also all possible devices to determine the presence of poisonous, toxic, or other malicious agents in the air.

According to the document, the most vulnerable facilities should be equipped with this special technology by the end of next March, and the entire safety system should be completed by 2014.

Insofar as this is the only open document adopted after the bombings in the metro, one can make the conclusion that the state is intent on investing funds to prevent terrorist attacks at the last stage when a terrorist with a bomb or poisonous gas cartridge is already moving toward a goal and falls into view of technical or other systems of control.

Meanwhile, its entirely obvious that cameras and censors dont help to stop terrorists in the middle of a crowd in the metro or in a train station; at the very least, there have been no such examples of this happening in the past ten years. Moreover, as Russian experience has shown, barriers can be an obstacle to entering a defined area, but they wont hinder a terrorist from detonating a suicide bomb in a crowd of people. At the Krylya festival in Tushino, a suicide bomber was unable to enter the stadium and blew herself up in the line at the barrier.

Of course, video cameras can help to quickly establish the identity of a suicide bomber, and, its true, that turns out to be helpful in the search for the terrorists accomplices; although, recently, as a general rule, they skillfully disguise themselves, covering up with caps and using glasses to change how their faces look. But none of this has anything to do with preventing a terrorist attack itself, and, at best, eases the investigation of a tragedy that has already happened.

In London, the worlds most developed video surveillance system (official figures say that Great Britain has one camera for every twelve people) couldnt prevent the underground and bus terrorist attacks in 2005, although, as consequently became clear, the terrorists fell into view of the cameras numerous times on their way to the sites of the explosions and as they made preparations for the attacks.

British police already admit that all of this technology is practically useless even against normal crime, let alone terrorist attacks. The head of video surveillance management at Scotland Yard, Mick Neville, said at a 2008 press conference that less than one of every thirty crimes is uncovered with the help of CCTV with its help, but not thanks to it exclusively.

Moreover, for understandable reasons, the metro and above-ground transportation in large cities cannot be equipped with the same safety measures that are used in airports (barriers, x-rays, all possible kinds of detectors). The head of the city metro, Dmitri Gayev, has spoken about this numerous times in the past few days.

The second initiative announced after the Moscow terrorist attacks was the scale of terrorist threats, which the National Anti-terroristt Committee is intent on introducing not the same type that was introduced in the United States after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Its obvious that this scale is meant first and foremost for the population, since the intelligence agencies already have their own internal plan of action for any terrorist threats that show up. For example, before the 2005 terrorist attacks in London, the threat level was decreased. Moreover, experience has shown that raising the threat level only increases the nervousness of the population. Normal people who arent trained to identify dangerous behavioral indicators are inclined to see them in everyone that looks or behaves just not right. This, naturally, leads to a growth in suspiciousness and xenophobia. At the same time, the intelligence agencies wind up swamped with a humongous quantity of garbage information that theyre required to respond to.

Medvedevs third step was a staffing decision in the North Caucasus. Having visited Dagestan, the president appointed Deputy Chief of Internal Forces Yevgeny Lazebin, who head the United Group of Federal Forces in 2005-06, as the supervisor of the Internal Ministry in the North Caucasus.

All three of these decisions proposed by Medvedev in the wake of the terrorist attacks have one quality in common: they are a direct continuation of the strategy formed by Putin in the beginning and middle of the last decade.

The Internal Ministry has been investing funds in a system to control the population, including with video surveillance, since at least 2005. The scale of terrorist threats has been the beloved brainchild of Nikolai Patrushev even since during his tenure as FSB director, and theyve been trying to introduce it since 2004. However, while the effect of these two initiatives is simply doubtful, the appointment of an Interior Forces general belongs in a separate category.

The Kremlin began to systematically move the Interior Forces into the main role in the North Caucasus back in the middle of the last decade. Back then, the highest-rated terrorist threat was an attack on a city by large detachments of militants, as happened in 2004 when Basayevs detachment took control of Nazran within nearly twenty-four hours. Therefore, the main task was considered as having heavily armed detachments of special forces on hand to deflect an attack and carry out tactical operations in the city or forest.

In appointing Lazebin, Medvedev has shown that he continues to consider attacks by powerful militants to be the most dangerous threat. Its obvious that such an approach has nothing to do with preventing terrorist attacks by suicide bombers, which most of all demand intelligence work not the Interior Forces strongest point.

Moreover, Medvedevs choice demonstrates that the Kremlin isnt planning to even begin a battle for the hearts and minds of the North Caucasus. The interior forces have a fully developed reputation in the region. There are no such words that could convince the local population to enter into cooperation with the crimson berets. But this scarcely worried Putin, and as is becoming clear, doesnt interest Medvedev even a bit.

Published in Ezhednevny Journal 8.04.2010