New KGB lashes out at 'foreign meddling'

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RUSSIA'S Security Ministry, successor to the KGB, yesterday accused foreign spies of plotting to wreck Moscow's intelligence service, saying reform was being used as a weapon to undermine Russian security.

In a lengthy press conference to mark the first anniversary of the agency's founding, officials presented a muddled litany of angry complaints and accusations, lashing out at the local media, Russian politicians and foreign plots.

Andrei Chernenko, head of the information department, said the ministry - built on the foundations of the KGB and viewed with suspicion despite efforts to burnish its image - has 135,000 employees, 50,000 of them involved in counter-espionage. While trumpeting various triumphs, including the arrest of 11 people trying to smuggle low-grade uranium abroad, he said the ministry had been forced to spend too much time tackling petty crime instead of looking after national security.

This, he said, left Russia vulnerable to foreign meddling, from Western and Asian intelligence agencies. Alexander Gurov, head of the ministry's research institute, complained that demands for reform of the service risked reducing it to 'catching pickpockets'.

Russia was eager to work with the CIA and other foreign services. But, said Mr Chernenko, such co-operation is 'being impeded by what you might call a pseudo-reformist wave, which aims at . . . the total dismantling of the (Russian) law enforcement system. We believe this campaign is pre-planned.' He alleged that foreign spies were working through humanitarian and other organisations to wreck Russia's espionage services. 'There are at least 10 foundations which have affiliates in Russia and which are run by former career intelligence officers.'

Singled out for special mention were two groups from the United States, the Heritage Foundation and the Freedom Fund: 'We can see behind certain funds . . . a group of people who have been co-ordinating the activity of the CIA and FBI for a long time.'

He claimed that Western press reports of leakage of Russian nuclear materials were a plot to force Moscow to place its nuclear weapons under international control.

A dozen foreign agents were under arrest in Lefortovo Prison, he said. 'Some of them had tried to penetrate very deep,' he said but declined to give further details. Also in prison is a 'rather highly placed official' accused of contact with foreign spies.