Kremlin Can't Pursue War against Internet without Hackers, Expert Says
by Paul Goble
On-going series: Crisis in the Caucasus - 2008
The Russian / Georgian Conflict and Its Impact on Azerbaijan
Window on Eurasia: Original Blog Article
Eagles Mere, PA - The Kremlin will not be able to close down Internet sites it doesn't like without using hackers, either those working directly for its security services or those inspired by Moscow's propaganda campaigns, according to a leading Russian specialist on that country's intelligence services.
In an interview posted online yesterday, Andrei Soldatov, the editor of Agentura.ru and a frequent commentator on the activities of the FSB and other Russian intelligence services, said that Moscow's campaign against Ingushetia.ru showed the limits of its ability to achieve its goals through legal means http://www.izbrannoe.ru/46586.html
This week, he noted, the Russian authorities for the first time lifted the domain registration of a site - Ingushetia.ru - in hopes of closing it down. They acted in accordance with the "rules on the registration of domains on dot RU."
(For a discussion of how these were applied in the current situation, see http://www.izbrannoe.ru/46553.html)
Up until this time, the intelligence specialist said, Moscow and regional governments have put pressure on Russian-based providers in efforts to close down sites not through the use of Russian courts but rather by "telephoning" the providers and explaining to them what was necessary.
But like all their previous efforts in the two-year-long campaign to close this independent news portal - on that effort, see http://www.izbrannoe.ru/46550.htm - the Russian and Ingush powers that be failed because the editors of the site, which is already hosted by an IP abroad, quickly re-registered in the dotORG domain where they can operate freely.
The Russian government has tried to pressure foreign governments to close down sites that Moscow doesn't like in the past. In 2005, Soldatov recounts, the Russian foreign ministry demanded that Sweden shut down the pro-Chechen Kavkaz-Tsentr site, but Sweden refused point blank to do so.
The very next day, that site was subject to a hacker attack originating in Tula Oblast. When the Swedes learned about this, they asked why wasn't Moscow "struggling with illegal hacker activity" in this case. In response, FSB officials in Tula issued a press release saying that the attack was "not organized by criminals" but by "patriotically inclined young people."
Since that time, Soldatov recounts, senior Russian intelligence officials have repeatedly called on Western governments to reach an agreement with Moscow to close sites that the Russian government has identified as connected with extremism or terrorism. But to date, no Western country has agreed to do that.
Great Britain had been edging toward an accord, the Agentura.ru editor says, but backed away after the Litvinenko murder. And as a result, "it is possible to register in England, to put out a Russian Internet publication and no requests from the Russian side will be considered. Simply because there is no legal basis for this."
As a result, Soldatov concludes, Moscow will not be able to continue its struggle with independent-minded Internet sites without the use of hackers, a conclusion that the experience of other Russian sites tends to confirm.
All this suggests that Russian hackers, both those directly employed by the FSB and other Russian intelligence agencies and those "patriotically inclined young people" whom those institutions can mobilize will be playing a bigger role in the future, as more and more dotRU registrants seek to defend themselves from Moscow's censorship by changing domains.