How the social networks reveal the Russian military secrets

This post was published in Vzglyad by Vladimir Smirnov. The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.


MOSCOW, (BM) – Measures to combat leaks of information from the Armed Forces have reached a new level. This time even the Disciplinary Charter of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation was changed, and the use of smartphones and other modern devices was again banned. What is the reason for the new tightening and how will this help counteract the work of foreign intelligence?

President Putin amended the Disciplinary Rules of the Russian Armed Forces. The case concerns toughening measures for the dissemination by military personnel of information about their and other members of the army. In addition, the military is prohibited from carrying means of communication with which it is possible to store or distribute various materials and geolocation data via the Internet.

This is not the first step in secrecy in the Armed Forces through the prohibition of the use of gadgets. In 2018, for example, an amendment to the law “On the status of a military serviceman” was adopted, which prohibited soldiers and officers from posting data on service and hazing on social networks.

However, cases of amendments and additions to the Disciplinary Charter of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation (the current one has been in force since 2007 under the revision of 2014) can be attributed, if not to the category of extraordinary, then precisely substantiated by necessity. This is exclusively the prerogative of the president of the country, who can make such amendments by decree. A disciplinary charter is mandatory in the management and observance of all military personnel and determines the nature of discipline, duties, types of rewards and disciplinary sanctions. And if the president now focused on secrecy in the army through such a measure through the Disciplinary Rules, then the importance of such measures is obvious.

However, civilians may doubt the need for such measures. On the one hand, there is the concept of state secrecy, to which even an ordinary soldier can be involved in the army, but on the other, no one canceled the right to personal information even for the military, as well as the possibility of communication, primarily with relatives. Obviously, the current changes in the Disciplinary Charter have been made at the request of the Ministry of Defense, which has long insisted on the introduction of such standards. Often the leak of information becomes the subject of public discussion, and this is not always welcomed by the military department. At the same time, foreign intelligence through social networks, in the public domain, still easily receive a huge amount of really important information about the state of the Russian army. And this is done through analysis in the messages of soldiers and officers, including about the place of their stay.

We learned to obtain military information from open sources a long time ago. A classic example is a German citizen, Bertold Jacob, who emigrated to the UK in the mid-1930s. Soon there was published his book, in which detailed data on the new structure of the Nazi army, which were kept in the strictest confidence, were given. The biographies of all the highest ranks of the General Staff and 168 generals of the level of division commanders were also disclosed there.

In Germany, the book produced the effect of an exploding bomb, Hitler decided that the leak of secret information came from the upper echelons of power. Nazi agents stole Jacob in Swiss Basel. During a tough interrogation in the Berlin Gestapo, he testified that he had received all the information from … local newspapers. To obtain information, he used obituaries, columns of secular chronicles listing high-ranking military men present, newspapers with reports of industrial enterprises, military magazines. From all this, Yakov literally bit by bit formed the general “picture” of the state of the Wehrmacht.

Innocent, it would seem, photos from social networks revealed plans for a full-scale operation of Russian troops in Syria a few weeks before its official launch in September 2015. What did it look like? One meticulous blogger, clinging to a photo of a contractor from the 810th separate brigade of the Marine Corps of the Black Sea Fleet, stationed in Sevastopol, rummaged through his social networks. There was correspondence with a girl, with friends, and, of course, a photo. And although the marine did not name the place of his future business trip, he was able to calculate it by the types of background on which the recognizable outlines of Istanbul and the suspension bridge across the Bosphorus Strait, from where the direct route to the Mediterranean Sea and to Syria, were clearly visible.

In a similar way, it became known about the transfer to Syria of S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems aboard the Nikolai Filchenkov Black Sea Fleet BDK (large landing ship). The Ministry of Defense officially announced this on October 4, 2016 – upon delivery and placement.

In the Internet, information appeared much earlier.

From the photo from the shore it was impossible to discern what transport was transporting through the Bosphorus, especially since the main elements of the complex were placed in the hold troop compartment. On the upper deck, covered with a tarp, was only part of the equipment. But the bloggers were not too lazy and, after looking through the “demobilization album”, they found photos of one sailor taken that day on board the BDK, where they looked at the markings, which made it possible to conclude that they were carrying the S-300.

If according to the charter, then a soldier in the army is not supposed to wear a telephone for constant wear – he made a “call to a friend”, hand in the safe to the commander. Phones with a camera and camcorder are also prohibited.

However, all this is on paper, in fact, such rules are far from common in all military units. And if somewhere for a phone that was not handed over for storage, they can also nail a “shame board” with a nail, in some cases officers simply turn a blind eye to their presence. And sometimes they themselves call from a location home to find out something like: “Natasha, how are you? Don’t wait for dinner – we’ll leave for sudden exercises.” In other words, to introduce rules is one thing, but it is completely different to fully enforce them. Perhaps this is precisely the reason for the president’s interference in the Disciplinary Charter.

Now, after making toughening in the Disciplinary Charter of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, such actions with new prohibitions on “talkativeness” will be considered as gross disciplinary offenses. If we recall the law “On the status of military personnel”, such penalties are provided for such as demotion, dismissal from military service or arrest for 30 days with the serving of sentences in a garrison guardhouse. That is, this is such a “mini-espionage”, for which the head is not stroked.

Obviously, the volume of operational work for military counterintelligence will noticeably increase. By the way, we can recall that in the US the law on espionage of 1917 (it is still in force) establishes 20 years in prison “for disseminating false information about the armed forces of the United States in order to interfere with their operations, cause a riot or impede recruitment into the army.”

The current “amendments” to the Disciplinary Charter of the RF Armed Forces have a fairly wide list of prohibitions. This includes the dissemination of information on the Internet or the media, which will determine the person’s affiliation with the Russian Armed Forces, and the placement of information about other military personnel and their family members, including those dismissed from military service. A ban has been imposed on the dissemination of information to determine the whereabouts of these people in a certain period.

How can one not recall the classic phrase: “Uncle Zhenya (in the original, from the film, Jura), are you a spy?” This is with respect to the announcer Yevgeny Aleksandrovich Khoroshevtsev, who traditionally voices the holding of military parades on Red Square in Moscow – his voice is well known to the whole country, nevertheless the “voice of the Kremlin” (as the announcer voices the protocol events of the President of Russia), and since 2007 is also the “voice of parades.” Can you imagine how many officers and generals he revealed during this time, including at the last Victory Parade in 2019, voicing each of the heads of the front boxes? With a military rank, full name, the actual location of the military unit or military educational institution and other details in the course of service. However, this list is approved both in the Kremlin itself and in the Ministry of Defense – and, presumably, it is strictly verified, agreed upon and does not represent military secrets.

Smiling infantrymen, paratroopers, tankmen and others – close-up, from different angles, but the “green caps” are visible only from afar, or from the back. “This is due to the nature of their future service, including operational work, and not only at the border, but also in other security units, so that their faces should not be in the“ file cabinet ”of foreign intelligence,” one of the employees told the newspaper VZGLYAD Office of the FSB’s own security.

It is known that the FSB was the first to leave the field of view of the public and journalists, and the Internet there in the office was simply blocked. The scandal was the story of employees of the department, who shot at Lubyanka on December 19 last year – 16 people from the central office were soon fired.

In the army, such close attention did not exist for the disclosure of information on the deployment of military units, the relocation of military command bodies, other information about the nature of military service and the servicemen themselves. Yes, there were instructions and prohibitions, but they were often of a recommendatory nature, which did not fully ensure the level of secrecy. Now the military is instructed not to carry any household goods on which they can be stored or which allow distributing audio, photo and video materials, as well as geolocation data via the Internet.

The measures are somewhat belated, but necessary in modern conditions – why provide valuable information to foreign intelligence in such an easy way? The goal is clear – not to allow military personnel to voluntarily or involuntarily disclose closed army information, which equally includes purely military information and “hazing”. And about the cases of the latter, society undoubtedly has every right to know.


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Original source: Vzglyad