A campaign by the former KGB against a Norwegian environmental group that has been documenting radioactive contamination in Russia's far north is raising fresh concerns about the expanded powers of the revamped Russian intelligence agency.
The Federal Security Service, now known by the acronym FSB, has accused Oslo-based Bellona of espionage under cover of its environmental research. Bellona insists that its work is based purely on open sources and says that the FSB campaign is aimed at putting an end to Russia's brief period of glasnost on nuclear issues.
"It's an election campaign now, and the people who are against openness and democracy are fighting this fight," said Bellona's managing director, Frederic Hauge.
Bellona is an odd target for the Russian authorities' ire. Unlike the better-known environmental group Greenpeace, Bellona's approach is low-key and non-confrontational. Activists have sought to win the trust and respect of Russian authorities and to jointly find solutions to Arctic environmental problems, rather than publicly lambasting Russia for its ecological trespasses.
The Norwegians have been traveling to Russia since 1989 to study their neighbor's nuclear waste problem, and they now have an office in the Arctic port city of Murmansk, home to the Russian Northern Fleet.
After extensive research into radioactive waste storage and dumping, nuclear power plant operations and nuclear test explosions, a Bellona physicist and activist published their findings in a 1994 report, "Sources of Radioactive Contamination in Murmansk and Arkhangelsk Counties." The report was hailed as the most accurate and comprehensive study of one of the Soviet Union's worst environmental problems.
The group had completed a draft of an updated, more detailed report--and had circulated copies to Russian government agencies to solicit pre-publication comment--when FSB agents raided its offices Oct. 5. Agents confiscated computers, diskettes, cameras and more than 400 copies of the 1994 report, published in Russian as well as Norwegian and English.
The FSB confirmed that it has since interrogated a number of Bellona employees, collaborators and contacts in Murmansk and St. Petersburg and searched several private apartments.
"Materials containing secret information on the Northern Fleet were discovered and confiscated," the agency asserted in a statement. "At present, the FSB is establishing the circle of people involved in disclosing this information."
Among the Russians whose homes were searched were a rear admiral who had supplied non-classified information about the history of the Northern Fleet and an expert in nuclear waste storage. The storage expert had a clearance from the Russian Atomic Energy Ministry to supply information on radioactive storage on the Kola Peninsula, according to Bellona.
No one has been charged. The agency declines to say what state secrets have been divulged or what law Bellona or its contacts have broken. But a criminal case has been opened, an FSB spokesman confirmed.
Bellona says the FSB activity violates the new Russian constitution, which states that information on emergencies and catastrophes that threaten the safety of citizens as well as information on the environment, health and demography may not be classified.
"Bellona can think what they want, but the fact remains: They were disclosing secret information," retorted Yevgeny V. Lukin, chief FSB spokesman in St. Petersburg.
In April, Russian President Boris N. Yeltsin broadened the powers of the security services to allow searches without warrants and to legalize wiretapping and other measures. Russian officials have complained fiercely of late about allegedly stepped-up Western spying here. Among those accused of snooping are philanthropist George Soros, Pepperdine University and a U.S. military officer caught taking measurements near a nuclear plant while on an ecological expedition.