Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Window on Eurasia: At Putin’s Order, FSB Now Using Social Networks to Target Opposition

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 12 – At the direction of President Vladimir Putin, the FSB is not only monitoring social networks but using one of their features to create problems for those opponents of the regime who use them by posting statements on their sites and then invoking the appearance of those materials to intimidate or even bring charges against them.

            This disturbing new development is documented by Irina Borogan, a researcher on Russia’s security services who writes for the Agentura.ru site.  In an article last week entitled “Social Networks as a Field for Provocations,” she describes how FSB has begun to operate in this regard (agentura.ru/projects/identification/provocation/).

When Putin met with the FSB leadership a month ago, Borogan says, he called on the security service to act “decisively to block the attempts of radicals to use the possibilities of information technologies and he resources of the Internet and social networks for their propaganda (kremlin.ru/transcripts/17516).

But “recent events show that the [Russian] special services are prepared to go further than the simple monitoring” that Putin’s suggestion might have implied.  They are now ready to use the Internet in general and social networks in particular to organize provocations against the regime’s opponents, something that by its nature sends a chill through both.

Two weeks before Putin’s speech, she points out, the procuracy in Naberezhny Chelny called in Raushan Valiullin, a political activist in Tatarstan, and warned him about the posting on his “VKontakte” page of anti-government materials including a picture of Putin shown in a Nazi uniform.

“That photograph was put on my page a year ago, and not by mebut by one of my ‘friends’ who called himself Aleksey Maslov,” Valiullin told Borogan. “I never in my life saw him.”  But he said that he was never able to convince prosecutors that he bore no responsibility for that picture.

“Official documents” about the case, Borogan continues, show that “the local subdivision of the FSB together with Center ‘E’ (the subdivision of the police for the struggle against extremism)” had monitored Valiullin’s site and then brought their findings to the notice of prosecutors after the Tatarstan activist had taken part in a demonstration.

According to the FSB, the materials its officers had found on the site provided “confirmation” of what they described as “the destructive activity carried out by him during the election campaigns of 2011-2012.” And that led the prosecutors to summon Valiullin and point out his error.

“Of course,” the Agentura.ru analyst notes, “a warning from the prosecutors is not a prison sentence, but the next step after such a warning could be a fine for the propaganda of Nazism.”

Borogan says that “the activist himself considers that the warning he was given is an act of revenge by the authorities for his participation in the elections and protest actions.”  As such, this act of intimidation is bad enough. But it may be more than that and represent a kind of trial balloon for “creating a system of provocations against activists in social networks.”

Indeed, she writes, “there is nothing complicated about putting pornography or a pedophile video on the page of an activist and then bring criminal charges against him.”  And the FSB and related Russian security services, including the MVD and most recently, the SVR, have the facilities to do precisely that.

Moreover and perhaps especially worrisome, Borogan reports that the Presidential Administration since the end of 2011 has been using a special program “which tracks discussion in social networks” and allow those who are operating it to focus in on particular individuals and groups.

Borogan concludes that all of this suggests something important: “If earlier the work of the special services in social networks had involved mostly the collection of information, now,, apparently, it has shifted to active measures” and is likely to have consequences not only in Tatarstan but throughout the Russian Federation.

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