Surveying the “Russian World” – FSB Style

February 27, 2015

It’s not often entries appear here regarding the murky world of intelligence and counter-intelligence – and deliberately so.  One reason (amongst several) is that there are some very good blogs dealing with the art of spookery – In Moscow’s Shadows and XX Committee being but two of several.

Sometimes however, things happen that catch the eye and seem worthy of a few, less than detailed or particularly erudite lines.  After all, do any readers need to know the difference between FSB Unit 68240 and 68245?  They may have entirely different roles within the FSB, but they are FSB nonetheless – and unless you are an FSB employee – or somebody tasked with countering the FSB – why would you care?

FSB, SVR, GRU and the rest of the alphabet soup are all Russian secret services tasked with various nefarious tasks – some predominantly domestic, and others almost extensively abroad.  That is about as much as most people know (and want to know).  Who really cares about the unit numbers within the FSB – a spook is a spook to most people, at best they divide these entities into “home” and “away” spookery.

FSB unit 68240, back in August 2010, announced a Ruble 24,000,000 tender to gather an automated mapping of national languages within Russia – Avar, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Cherkessia, Karachay, Balkar and Dargin, from men aged 20 – 60.

The reason – a quick computer generated ability to immediately recognise these languages may well be of benefit to the FSB.  Fair enough.  There may even be some benefits to assessing the emotional state of those speaking too – without readily understanding what is being said immediately.  For any who have undergone training relating to the understanding of NVCs, and then undergone training to mislead through NVCs, regardless of how much credence such things may be given – or not, a good deal of money has been, and is, spent upon it.  Why not a database of little known northern Caucus languages (outside of the Caucasus) within the FSB machinery?

However, there is only limited interest in this linguistic Caucus adventure for those outside Russia – or for most within.  It may still be of limited interest even if you know that FSB Unit 68240 is the “operational and technical management” unit – a unit not unknown for its participation in “interrogations” – and enjoying a budget for “R&D”.  The survey then to identify accents and regional differences in the speaking of Russian, plus regional languages, leading to a more easy identification of those from the northern Caucuses in a rush?  Or perhaps a little FSB domestic exercise hidden behind some opinion poll/survey company to gather intelligence or counter-intelligence information from the region too?  A cover through which to make certain “approaches”?

Perhaps – but there is also the issue of creating methods to help yourself to the Russian State budget to consider.

As a random sprinkling, in 2012 Unit 68420 also announced tenders for creating a photographic databases of all Russian produced vehicles from 2000 – 2012, from every possible angle, at a cost of Ruble 10,000,000 – Project “Code Nine”.  Historically is has also announced tenders for the collection of alloys based on precious metals – Project “Duma 2” at Ruble 1,500,000, as well as Project “Dolomite 2”, valued at Ruble 7,500,000 the purpose of which was to study microbial communities living in soil and dust from different regions.  There was also Project “Audacity”, Ruble 2,885,000, for a psycholinguistic study of extremist texts.  A Ruble 1,200,000 tender for traumatic ammunition supply, a tender for “exploring DNA analysis of micro-biological nature and development of methodological approaches to conducting relevant research in the interests of criminology” at Ruble 5,000,000.  Also a Ruble 6,000,000 tender for the collation and cataloging of 200 species of plants containing psychotropic, toxic and biologically active substances – Project “Dagga-Orbikula”.

No need to go on and on.

The validity of some projects would seem questionable – indeed they would seem designed for little more than rent-seeking/graft.  At best, they are, prima facie, half-hearted attempts at the generation of databases that could be collated at far less cost.

Perhaps “expected tenders” are to be driven by the bored and otherwise redundant FSB officers sat in dull, dank offices in Russian universities scheming over corrupt businesses enterprises with little else to do during their posting, for a small fee – if any.  One has to suspect that certain tenders have many bidders, whilst others only one – and the winners hardly chosen in a transparent manner, regardless.  Nevertheless, motions must sometimes been seen to be gone through.

(At least being FSB within the Russian Orthodox Church almost guarantees a Rolex watch of increasing value as you work your way up the patriarchal tree, or into particularly sensitive positions – perhaps better than the university gig.)

But enough history.

Progressing from the August 2010 project relating to linguistics in the northern Caucasus, it appears that as part of mapping the “Russian World”, FSB Unit 68240 has not restricted itself to domestic territory.  It has now announced a tender for a similar survey of Russian speaking men in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Ukraine.  The tender value Euro 200,000, with a project completion date of 2017.

Why survey only men between 20 – 60?  Women and how they speak Russian are for some reason not required/irrelevant?  A “male only” FSB database?  There would seem to be an obvious gender driven intelligence gap in that database for some reason.

Maybe this is just another effort to digitally record, store, and identify (male) accents and regional differences in the speaking of Russian for “intelligence/counter-intelligence purposes” within the “Russian World” – or perhaps it is a public, plausibly deniable and entirely legal method of engaging any “persons of interest”, or reaching out to “interesting persons” who can become something “more”within nations The Kremlin seeks to influence by fair means and foul.

Is, what amounts to Euro 50,000 per nation, money well spent listening to Russian speaking men from the relevant nations recite (presumably the same) text, money well spent?  If it is not the same text, why not simply record illicitly intercepted telephone calls for free?  Perhaps only the linguists within the FSB can answer that.

Whatever the case it is somewhat problematic to try and prevent a thoroughly lawful survey into “Russian-speaking/linguistics” within Russian minorities via whatever tender winning FSB front gets the gig in the Baltics and Ukraine – even when you know it is a FSB sponsored project.

Who would be of a mind to try and prevent it at all anyway.  Some things, once known, are far better left to run and see what becomes of them, prior to any “rolling up” if and when deemed necessary.

Perhaps, given the size of the FSB budget, Euro 200,000 really doesn’t matter – particularly if this is simply a method of budgetary theft.  Allocate and steal – nobody will notice such a small sum.

Nevertheless, an interesting little development – particularly if asked to read a Russian text aloud for a survey over the next 2 years.


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