Fire at top-secret Moscow facility highlights rapid growth of Russian spy headquarters

SVR MoscowA massive fire that broke out at a top-secret spy facility in Moscow on Wednesday brought to the foreground prior reports about the unprecedented growth of the headquarters of Russia’s foreign spy service. The fire was reported at a government compound in Yasenevo, a leafy district on the southern outskirts of the Russian capital. The compound serves as the headquarters of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known by its initials, SVR. The SVR is one of the successor agencies to the Soviet-era KGB. During Soviet times, the present-day SVR was known as the First Chief Directorate or First Main Directorate of the KGB. Despite its name change, however, its mission remains the same, namely to collect secrets from targets outside the Russian Federation —often through the use of espionage— and to disseminate intelligence to the president.

The fire, which local news agencies described as “huge”, was reported early in the afternoon of Wednesday. Television images showed smoke coming out of one of the multistory towers that make up the SVR building complex. According to SVR spokesman Sergey Ivanov, the fire started in what he called “a technical installation” that houses “a cable gallery” and is located beneath the multistory building. The 21-story tower block is adjacent to a large Y-shaped building and is visible for several miles around. It became operational in the early 1970s, when the KGB’s First Chief Directorate began a decade-long process of moving to the new, state-of-the-art complex in the southern suburbs of the Russian capital. Today the complex houses the entire apparatus of the SVR, including its espionage wing, and is informally known as les (the forest) or kontora (the office). Approximately 15 fire crews arrived at the scene soon afterwards, and were able to coordinate their movements despite the fact that mobile communications are blocked at the site of the compound.

The SVR spokesman added that the fire is believed to have begun at a section of the facility that is undergoing extensive maintenance work. Three members of the crew that were initially missing during the early stage of the fire were later rescued, said Ivanov, and the fire was eventually extinguished without causing fatalities or injuries. But the incident highlighted the reportedly unprecedented growth of the SVR complex that observers have noted in recent years. As intelNews reported in 2016, satellite images show that the top-secret facility has doubled —and possibly tripled— in size in the past decade. The most recent images were compiled by Allen Thomson, an analyst who worked for the United States Central Intelligence Agency in the 1970s and 1980s. They were published by Steven Aftergood, who edits the Federation of American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog. The images clearly show that at least three more large buildings have been erected alongside the landmark skyscraper and the adjoining Y-shaped office block. These additions, said Aftergood in 2016, appear to have increased the SVR headquarters’ floor space “by a factor of two or more”. Moreover, the nearby parking capacity at the complex “appears to have quadrupled”, he added. Observers often describe the compound as a constant construction site, with new buildings and facilities being built at an unprecedented speed.

On Wednesday evening, SVR officials told the Moscow-based TASS news agency that the agency would investigate the cause of the fire. It was “too early to give any comments” about it, they said, but the SVR had already initiated an official probe into the incident.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 09 November 2017 | Permalink

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Russian foreign intelligence headquarters has doubled in size since 2007

SVR hqRecent satellite images reveal that the headquarters of the Russian Federation’s external intelligence agency has doubled, and possibly tripled, in size in the past nine years. The Russian Foreign Intelligence Service, known as SVR, is one of the successor agencies of the Soviet-era KGB. During the Soviet times, the present-day SVR was known as the First Chief Directorate or First Main Directorate of the KGB. Despite its name change, however, its mission remains the same, namely to collect secrets from targets outside the Russian Federation —often through the use of espionage— and to disseminate intelligence to the president. In the Soviet days, along with most of the KGB, the First Chief Directorate was headquartered in the imposing Lubyanka building, which is located in Moscow’s Meshchansky District. But in the early 1970s, the entire First Chief Directorate began a decade-long process of moving to a new, state-of-the-art complex in the southern suburbs of the Russian capital. The complex, which is located in Yasenevo, today houses the entire apparatus of the SVR, including its espionage wing, and is informally known as les (the forest) or kontora (the office).

Until 2007, the SVR’s Yasenevo headquarters consisted of a large Y-shaped office building that adjoins an imposing 21-story skyscraper, which is visible for several miles around. But an open-source collection of recent satellite images shows that the top-secret complex has doubled —and possibly tripled— in size in the past decade. Steven Aftergood, who edits the Federation ofMikhail Fradkov American Scientists’ Secrecy News blog, has published a collection of images that was compiled by Allen Thomson, an analyst who worked for the United States Central Intelligence Agency from 1972 to 1985. The images clearly show that at least three more large buildings have been erected alongside the landmark skyscraper and the adjoining Y-shaped office block. These additions, says Aftergood, appear to have increased the SVR headquarters’ floor space “by a factor of two or more”. Moreover, the nearby parking capacity at the complex “appears to have quadrupled”, he adds.

There is no information available about what may have prompted the sudden building expansion at the SVR complex, nor whether it reflects drastic changes in the organizational structure, budget or mission of the agency. Secrecy News quotes Russian intelligence observer Andrei Soldatov, who suggests that there may be a direct connection between the expansion of the SVR facility and the appointment of Mikhail Fradkov as the agency’s director, in 2007. Fradkov is a Soviet-era diplomat, who some suspect was secretly an officer of the KGB. He served as Russia’s prime minister from 2004 to 2007, when he was appointed director of the SVR —a position that he retains to this day. There have been suggestions in the Russian media that Fradkov could succeed Vladimir Putin when the latter retires from his post as president of the Russian Federation.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 14 July 2016 | Permalink