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  • Writer's pictureThe Paladins

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation is one of the principal institutions of law enforcement in the Russian Federation. Its main purpose is to investigate alleged acts of wrongdoing on the part of the internal security agencies of the Russian Federation or other intelligence agencies of the Russian Federation acting at home or abroad. Its members are appointed by the President of the Russian Federation. Its Chairman reports to the President of the Russian Federation. Its other members, by contrast, also report to the President of the Russian Federation.

Here is a version of its very unusual website, mysteriously in English:

Click on this link at your own risk (a TOR browser may be desirable).

The means by which the Investigative Committee is seized of a matter is unusual and distinctive. Matters are referred to it by the President of the Russian Federation. The Investigative Committee then establishes a mandate and scope of work, as directed by the President of the Russian Federation. It employs such measures of investigation and enquiry as may be prescribed by the President of the Russian Federation. It issues periodic reports to the President of the Russian Federation, and executes such measures as may be necessary to remedy misconduct on the part of the security and intelligence agencies of the Russian Federation as the President of the Russian Federation may prescribe.

Now it may not surprise you to learn that the Investigative Committee is a rough piece of business. It was originally created by Lenin, to keep his various security and intelligence people in line. (All throughout Russian history, these sorts of people have always been getting out of line, fighting with each other, trying to steal things and murder people they were not authorised to murder - and so on and so forth, and nothing has really changed to the present day.) So the Investigative Committee, or as Stalin called it the CHEKA, was established to act wherever the actions of Russia's sprawling security and intelligence agencies have become particularly outrageous or egregious.

We do not want to pretend to you that this institution is a paragon of the virtues of rule of law and the separation of powers. It is anything but. However it is one of the most powerful institutions in the Russian Federation. Its basic responsibility is to make periodic rounds of recommendations to the President of Russia as to which senior FSB and other internal security agency members should be summarily executed for misconduct, and/or other appropriate measures of deterrence such as murder of their families, committal to psychiatric wards (from which one never returns), or exile to penal colonies. It also advises upon freezing of corrupt intelligence and security agents' funds and assets. In a country in which the intelligence and security agencies are all-pervasive and powerful, it is a very powerful agency indeed.

We will attempt to give you an approximate overview of how it actually operates. One thing it is not is a committee in the regular sense of the word, sitting round having meetings (although no doubt there are minutes of such things; minuted meetings seldom actually take place in Russia).

  1. The Committee is made up of some of the Russian President's most trusted and committed FSB colleagues whose identities are in large part unknown and who are secreted into the FSB and other intelligence and security agencies at all sorts of levels. A number of them appear to be very junior, whereas in fact they are some of the most powerful people in the country.

  2. Other secreted members of the Investigative Committee with human resources 'roles', spotting something 'of concern' in the operations of a particular branch or department of the security or intelligence services, make human resources assignments of the secreted junior officials who then spy on their seniors for whom they work, to more senior members of the Investigative Committee.

  3. These members of the Investigative Committee (it is unclear how many members the Investigative Committee really has but this author was told that it may be in the low thousands) then report to one another about what the various branches of the FSB and other agencies are really doing (which is often behaviour it would be hard to reconcile with the concept of the Russian national interest).

  4. The basic rule is that small or even medium levels of corruption are tolerated but occasionally slapped down as excessive with a random execution or suicide. However some things are absolutely off limits. These are (a) treachery (i.e. working for or in concert with a foreign power without the explicit permission of the Russian President); (b) outlandish corruption; or (c) actions contrary to the fundamental interests of the Russian President's inner circle. This latter concept is fungible. It is far from obvious to the external observer who is in that inner circle but it is larger than one might imagine and it may include all sorts of people who have done honourable or faithful service to him in the past or simply people who he has a high opinion of as being relatively honest and faithful servants to their country. With such people (and remember that the wrongfully acting FSB member may not even know that his or her victim is a member of this circle because the whole system is very opaque) it is not entirely clear what sorts of measures overstep the mark but undoubtedly at some point some sorts of measure against such people do overstep the mark.

  5. The system is complicated because even people who are protected by this system (i.e. the people in the President's inner circle, whatever that may be) are not allowed themselves to complain to the Investigative Committee. That would be presumptuous because the whole system relies upon the personal authority of the Russian President and you are not allowed to present a petition to him in this way. Instead you have to wait until your predicament gets noticed. Once it is noticed, you presume that the Investigative Committee will start turning its cogs of spying on its own colleagues, forming its conclusions, and then making recommendations to the President.

  6. Obviously the whole system is open to potentially colossal quantities of abuse, but it appears that the President chooses the more honest members of his security and intelligence services to work within the Investigative Committee, as he does his own inner circle. These tend to be the more honest people within the administration.

  7. In a particularly unpleasant turn of fate, there is some sort of substantial overlap between the President's inner circle and the members of the Investigative Committee, who spend a lot of time signalling to each other about things, as though members of an elite club with unique cyphers.

  8. Hence the particular Services member who has the misfortune to be causing problems to a member of the President's inner circle ends up ipso facto being investigated by the Investigative Committee, because they are one and the same people.

  9. The Investigative Committee members seem to have the very highest powers of surveillance, harassment, IT interception and other intelligence capacities of all the members of the Russian Services.

  10. Of course you never know you are being investigated by the Investigative Committee until after your death warrant (and possibly that of your family) has been taken to the Russian President and he has signed it. Then you may be given an option of publicly preposterous suicide or the brutal murder of your entire family. Typically you choose the former, which is why Russia is full of so many suicides. If you choose the latter option, it is typical that extremely strange photographs or biographies start appearing of you all over the internet.

It is impossible not to pretend that this is a very strange system. It is undoubtedly one of the most peculiar internal disciplinary systems for any organisational bureaucracy in the world. It is awash with paranoia, as nobody knows who the Investigative Committee members are, what they are doing, or who has the right to their protection. This is all deliberate, of course: the constant paranoia is itself intended to keep the rogue FSB and other agents (which is most of them) in check, and the occasional suicide or peculiar disappearance just reminds everyone that the system is doing its job, every day, keeping everyone perpetually paranoid and in a state of terror, even (or in particular) those who work in the all-powerful security and intelligence services.

Russia is a very unusual country indeed. The fact that its government and business structures are dominated by security and intelligence officers is one of its most peculiar features; those officers' methods of discipline and responsibility is one of the most peculiar features of all.


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