How do you crack Russia’s vaunted security service? You go to low- and mid-level officials for information, say Russian journalists Andrei Soldatov and Irina Borogan, authors of the new book, The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia’s Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB. At a luncheon for CPJ supporters on Thursday, Soldatov and Borogan detailed how today’s Federal Security Service, or FSB, enjoys the impunity of the noble classes of bygone eras. And, of course, the authors discussed how they managed to get information about the secretive agency.
“The FSB is not united by a common perspective,” Soldatov told the audience. “Lower ranking officials are often very unhappy with their leadership so they are willing to talk to journalists.” He gave an example of one FSB official who, angered at having been given a two- rather than three-bedroom apartment, was only too happy to provide information to the authors.
The authors, who founded the Russian website Agentura, which recounts the activities of Russia’s secret services, have themselves been repeatedly interrogated by the FSB. Among the tactics used to silence dissenters, boredom is high on the list. Soldatov described interrogation as a deliberately slow process, with interrogators purposefully taking so long typing notes or retrieving files that those being questioned almost want to assist their inquisitors so they may leave. The interrogators, often young and personable, are polite and offer tea or coffee to create a false sense of amiability. “But you must keep your distance,” said Soldatov, adding that entering into a conversation only means an FSB agent has more words to fit his version of events.
For now, the FSB appears to be ignoring The New Nobility, which has been published in English by Public Affairs. Perhaps that’s because the book has yet to be published in Russian, blunting its domestic impact. The authors said they would be interested in a Russian publisher, but it’s an open question as to whether a Russian version will be printed.