Web Site Posts Dubious Database of Dirt
Web Site Posts Dubious Database of Dirt The database, posted Tuesday on the Federal Investigative Agency Freelance Bureau Web site, flb.ru, consists of nearly 600 entries including dossiers, surveillance reports and telephone conversation transcripts.
"Moscow - Claiming it has uncovered "Russiagate," a Moscow-based investigative reporting agency has begun publishing an extensive database on 140 politicians, journalists, businessmen and criminals that it says was compiled by various private security services. The database, posted Tuesday on the Federal Investigative Agency Freelance Bureau Web site, flb.ru, consists of nearly 600 entries including dossiers, surveillance reports and telephone conversation transcripts.
Some of the subjects are public figures, such as Justice Minister Yury Chaika, Patriarch Alexy II, Boris Berezovsky and muckraking television journalist Sergei Dorenko. Others are little-known journalists. While it is difficult to judge the value of the information, much is all but worthless and some is simply wrong. The material dates back to 1998 or earlier. "We believe that the telephone tapping and surveillance of hundreds of Russian citizens indicates that the country is under a microscope and that this microscope is more intense than that of the KGB/FSB," the agency said in an editorial signed by three editors. "Investigative activities no later than five years ago slipped from under the control of the state. Our diagnosis is that the country lives under the conditions of a Russiagate and that your and our private lives are being savored and turned inside out." Sergei Pluzhnikov, editor of Freelance Bureau's investigative department, said the agency published the database because "we want people to know the spirit of the KGB is alive." In addition to Pluzhnikov, the editorial was signed by Alexei Chelnokov and Sergei Sokolov, the chief editor of Freelance Bureau, which was established in December. Sokolov was once a reporter at Komsomolskaya Pravda, a tabloid, and then moved on to become deputy editor of the muck-raking Sovershenno Sekretno weekly. Pluzhnikov and Chelnokov also once worked at Sovershenno Sekretno. Pluzhnikov said that ideally the publication of the files should lead federal prosecutors to investigate the violations of privacy committed by the security services who compiled the database. However, he said he had little hope that this would happen. Prosecutor General's Office spokeswoman Natalya Veshnyakova said Thursday that federal prosecutors were not ready to comment because "we have no Internet access and have not seen the database." Transcripts of telephone conversations of prominent political figures appear regularly in the press, usually in tabloids. Their subjects often acknowledge that the transcripts are authentic but their origins are usually unknown. According to Pluzhnikov, the information in the database, which he says has been for sale on the black market since the fall of 1998, was gathered by private security agencies. He refused to be more specific, although he said the database "possibly" includes files compiled by the security service of Media-MOST, the parent company of NTV, the main independent national television channel. Prosecutors claim that an armed raid of Media-MOST offices by federal agents in May yielded evidence that its security service taped conversations of public figures, including Dorenko, Berezovsky, former President Boris Yeltsin's daughter and advisor, Tatyana Dyachenko, FSB spokesman Alexander Zdanovich and of the company's own journalists. The Freelance Bureau said it has withheld from publication all information concerning intimate relations and changed all passport, telephone and apartment numbers in the database. On Thursday, files for only 35 of the 140 people were available on the Internet. Pluzhnikov said the remaining files should be available by the middle of next week. Natalya Gevorkyan, a Paris correspondent for the Moscow-based Kommersant publishing house, whose telephone conversation with another journalist, Yelena Erikssen, was published on flb.ru, said she was "disgusted" and "appalled" that someone had listened in on their talk. During the conversation, which took place in August 1997, Erikssen warned Gevorkyan that they were being eavesdropped on. "When Lenka [Erikssen] said 'My flat is crammed with listening devices,' I just laughed. Everybody was saying that at the time, and I thought everybody was paranoid," Gevorkyan said talking over the telephone from Paris. "Today, I look back and I see that she was right. Soon, we will look back with nostalgia at the times when we were only listened to by the KGB and not by God knows who, by anybody." Gevorkyan said she was not upset that the transcript was published by the Freelance Bureau. "If these files exist, it means that they will be published," she said. "These journalists were simply doing their jobs." But Alexander Budberg, an investigative reporter at Moskovsky Komsomolets, said his file was published "specifically to ruin my mood and to harm me." The Freelance Bureau published a surveillance report describing Budberg's trip to a movie theater, a restaurant and a supermarket in November 1997. Both Gevorkyan and Budberg said that their files were authentic. Both also said they do not intend to read other people's files on the site. "If they published files on the people who do the surveillance, that would be very interesting to read," Budberg said. Pluzhnikov said the database has been for sale since the fall of 1998, when the asked price was $250,000. This year, the price has plummeted to $50,000. He said the Freelance Bureau purchased the database last month, but he refused to say whom the agency bought it from and at what price. The files that so far are available on the website contain few sensations.Berezovsky's file, for example, contains a surveillance report from a security agent in London who followed him into the city from a London airport. It also has transcripts of Berezovsky's conversations with former President Boris Yeltsin's daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko, and two men who the Freelance Bureau says are former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and former presidential aide Valentin Yumashev. "