U.S. hires firm with KGB link to guard em­bassy

Se­cu­rity busi­ness was co­founded by Putin’s for­mer boss

Houston Chronicle - - NATION | WORLD - By Andrew Hig­gins

MOSCOW — When Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin in July or­dered U.S. diplo­matic mis­sions in Rus­sia to slash their staff by 755 em­ploy­ees, the State Depart­ment said it would need time to as­sess the “im­pact of such a lim­i­ta­tion and how we will re­spond to it.”

Part of that re­sponse has now be­come clear: To make up for the loss of se­cu­rity guards axed in the Rus­sian-man­dated staff cuts, Wash­ing­ton has hired a pri­vate Rus­sian com­pany that grew out of a se­cu­rity busi­ness co­founded by Putin’s for­mer KGB boss, an 82-year-old vet­eran spy who spent 25 years plant­ing agents in Western se­cu­rity ser­vices and hunt­ing down their op­er­a­tives.

Un­der a $2.8 mil­lion no-bid con­tract awarded by the Of­fice of Ac­qui­si­tions in Wash­ing­ton, se­cu­rity guards at the U.S. Em­bassy in Moscow and at con­sulates in St. Peters­burg, Yeka­ter­in­burg and Vladi­vos­tok will be pro­vided by Elite Se­cu­rity Hold­ings, a com­pany closely linked to the for­mer top KGB fig­ure, Vik­tor G. Bu­danov, who was once head of Soviet coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence.

A State Depart­ment of­fi­cial in Wash­ing­ton, speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity in ac­cor­dance with the depart­ment’s rules, said that Elite Se­cu­rity and in­di­vid­u­als as­so­ci­ated with it had been “vet­ted” with “rel­e­vant na­tional and lo­cal agen­cies” and would not in­crease the threat risk.

“U.S. mis­sions around the world work con­stantly un­der in­tel­li­gence and phys­i­cal se­cu­rity threats,” the of­fi­cial said. “This con­tract does not change that fact.”

Rus­sian com­pany records show that Bu­danov, who re­tired from es­pi­onage in 1992 af­ter be­com­ing up­set by Rus­sia’s di­rec­tion un­der its first post-Soviet leader, Boris Yeltsin, is a for­mer mi­nor­ity owner of at least three of Elite’s branches — in Moscow, in the Volga re­gion and in western Rus­sia. Records in­di­cate that he no longer holds any own­er­ship stake, but Kom­m­er­sant, a Rus­sian busi­ness news­pa­per, has re­ported that the com­pany’s head of­fice in Moscow is run by his son, Dim­itri.

Elite Se­cu­rity, reached by tele­phone in Moscow, de­clined to com­ment on the role in the com­pany of Bu­danov and his son.

Marines will con­tinue to guard U.S. diplo­matic mis­sions, but tasks pre­vi­ously han­dled by lo­cal guards hired di­rectly by the em­bassy in Moscow, like screen­ing vis­i­tors, will be taken over by Elite Se­cu­rity em­ploy­ees. Hir­ing guards di­rectly al­lowed closer mon­i­tor­ing of their back­grounds, but any Rus­sian work­ing for a U.S. diplo­matic mis­sion, no mat­ter how closely screened, is vul­ner­a­ble to pres­sure from Rus­sia’s state se­cu­rity ap­pa­ra­tus.

Lo­cal guards are mostly re­stricted to the perime­ter of diplo­matic com­pounds and do not gen­er­ally have ac­cess to se­cure ar­eas.

An of­fi­cial note about the no­bid con­tract posted on a U.S. gov­ern­ment web­site says that U.S. com­pa­nies had been con­tacted about tak­ing on the se­cu­rity job in Rus­sia but that “no U.S. firm has been lo­cated with the req­ui­site li­cens­ing or de­sire to op­er­ate in-coun­try.” It added that, among Rus­sian com­pa­nies that could do such work, only Elite Se­cu­rity had es­tab­lished op­er­a­tions and licenses to op­er­ate in the four ci­ties where U.S. mis­sions needed guards.

The note said that Rus­sia’s de­ci­sion to in­sist on per­son­nel cuts at U.S. diplo­matic mis­sions in Moscow and else­where had cre­ated a “com­pelling ur­gency” to find new guards, and that do­ing so through a com­mer­cial con­tract was “the only avail­able op­tion.”

“This is very good for us,” said Mikhail Lyu­bi­mov, a for­mer KGB spy who knew Bu­danov from their time to­gether in the Soviet in­tel­li­gence ser­vice. “If I were the chief there, I would never do this for a very clear rea­son,” he said, adding that the Rus­sian Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton would not put se­cu­rity in the hands of a U.S. com­pany known to have ties to the CIA.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.