Luke Harding’s Experience With The Russian Mafia State – And Lessons for Us

Luke Harding

In his book Expelled – A Journalist’s Descent Into the Russian Mafia State – Luke Harding starts off with a break-in into his flat in Russia.

I return home from a dinner party. It’s late. I turn the key. At first, everything appears normal…And then I see it. It is a strange detail. The window of my son’s bedroom is wide open.
I am certain it wasn’t open when I’d left five hours previously, taking my two children with me. We live on the 10th floor…We keep our windows shut. The danger of a child falling out is too obvious. To open the window you have to twist the white plastic handle downwards 90 degrees. Two handles, in fact…Several hours later…I wake up. An unknown alarm clock…is beeping loudly…I hadn’t set it. But someone else has–to go off at 4:10 a.m.

No money was stolen. The locks did not stop the intruders, and they didn’t even have to break the lock. They opened a window, set an alarm, and probably hid a few bugs. “The dark symbolism of the open window in the children’s bedroom is not hard to decipher: take care, or your kids might just fall out.”

The Russian FSB was interested in Luke Harding, because his newspaper, the Guardian had interviewed a Kremlin critic, Boris Berezovsky, who in the interview said that Putin’s government should be overthrown. Within hours of that story being published, someone hacked into Luke’s email account. “Emails tagged with the name “Berezovsky” mysteriously reappear in my inbox, only to vanish again minutes later.”

Later in the book, Luke is told that the Stasi (of Communist era East Germany) had bugs no bigger than a pen-head (that transmitted to the street). He is told of some of their tactics:

Stasi officers would break into a target’s car, then park it back in the same place but half-mounted on the curb…When its owner returned he found his car in a subtly different position. Had someone broken in? Or was he imagining things? Or was he going crazy?…Leaving pornographic literature by someone’s bed was another trademark Stasi tactic. It was used, for example, to discredit the reputation of Herr B. a member of a religious peace group in Mecklenburg.

The FSB (remember, this is post Soviet) also left a sex manual in another domocile of Luke Harding, with a bookmark on the orgasm page.
Now the purpose of some of these acts by the Stasi and FSB was to show power, and that they could invade the private sphere of the victim at any time. But my point in referring to this is not to say that there are regimes that have no inhibitions on spying on their citizens or on reporters like Luke Harding. My point is this: if there exists miniaturization technology so that you can be recorded by something the size of a pen-head, or methods so that your house can be invaded with no sign of forced entry, then you might have something to worry about. We generally assume we don’t attract the attention of the people who employ this technology.

But what if we did?

Suppose you are a politician running for election against a candidate who is for disarmament, and good relations with Russia. You, by contrast, want to “contain” Russia’s ambitions and are for a program of rearmament. Which candidate would the Russians prefer? And suppose they could enter your house, and make you a little delirious before your major debate? Would they do it?

Suppose you are a reporter who annoys the Russian elite? Or someone who stands in the way of a Russian goal?

Other than that, you might not think any spy organization would be interested in you, and you are probably right. However, I believe, based on my experience, that a criminal organization has gotten hold of the same type of spy technology that the spy outfits have, and you are more likely, as an ordinary citizen, to unwittingly cross paths with criminal outfits.

Now if a bunch of bad guys with an ideology got into your house, what could they do to you? Here is a disturbing fact. Colonel Dr. Kanatjan Alibekov (aka Ken Alibek), was deputy director of Biopreparat, a large Soviet biological warfare development program prior to his defection in 1992 to the United States. He published his memoirs, Biohazard, in 1998. In his book, he describes a top-secret covert KGB development program, codenamed Fleta (Flute). He learned about the project but could not penetrate it because of its extreme secrecy. Nevertheless, he was able to learn enough to establish its mission: the development of psycho-active drugs and neurotoxins to “alter personalities and modify human behavior”.

Imagine if this program was a success, and the drugs were used on people?

I was labeled a lunatic, by professionals, because I had a paranoid story involving my phones being tapped, my room being covertly entered, my room being bugged, and finally being drugged – with an assortment of drugs such as a drug that raised my sex drive to huge heights, a drug that put me to sleep while I was sexually assaulted, (I was left with a STD called Human papilloma virus) and more. I also believed that drugs could be sprayed into a room.

So if you read the rest of this post, you are a very open-minded person. But think of it this way, even the imagination of lunatics can sometimes approximate technological reality, because:

Every single one of these lunatic allegations are actually technologically possible. For instance, we know sleeping gasses exist, because they were used by criminals on the island of Sardinia (and elsewhere) to rob victims. We know that one sex drug exists (This is taken from Wikipedia:)
“In studies, Bremelanotide…unlike Viagra and other related medications, it does not act upon the vascular system, but directly increases sexual desire via the nervous system.”
Before this drug was discovered, nobody in the mainstream knew that such drugs were possible, though plenty of charlatans marketed love potions, especially to Asians.
(I claim I was hit by a powerful, fast-acting sex-drug. I do not believe bremalanotide was it, but I have to stick with what we know is out there, to make my point here.)

Other drugs that might be useful for spies are “Rohypnol”, “Oxytocin”, and barbiturates. I list these at the end of the post, with what they do and why they would be useful.

Ruthless men with no inhibitions about your privacy can invade your home, your means of communication, and if my story is true, even your body and brain (with drugs that affect both). Your main protection is – not doing anything that could attract the attention of a FSB, or organized crime. Bad guys have an advantage over people who just live normal lives, with jobs and families and vacations and so forth. Normal people don’t spend time trying to gain power over others. But bad guys sometimes do.

Drugs that could be mis-used:

  • Oxytocin – This a naturally occurring substance in the body that causes a feeling of bonding to loved ones. It has been marketed as a nasal spray. In truth, you would have to spray someone from very close range to get any effect, but Oxytocin really works. (at least experimentally applied doses have has been shown in studies to increase feelings of trust etc.).  But in some situations, Oxytocin could actually counter-productive to a would-be manipulator, because it has multiple effects.
  • Rohypnol – (also known as the ‘date rape drug’) that puts the victim in a state of unconsciousness even though the victim does not call attention to herself by falling down. This might be useful if you want to swipe a key from a person without attracting attention.
  • Barbiturates – One Russian defector claimed the Russians had an interrogation drug that worked well on prisoners, but I can no longer find it on Wikipedia. I do find that barbiturates have been used for that purpose, but no indication of whether they work well.

There are plenty of weird drugs out there, for instance, there are even drugs that have side-effects such as causing nightmares (a quick search on the internet will find them). In fact there are drugs that have side-effects that are much worse than nightmares.  New drugs that affect the brain in various ways keep getting invented, and they are not always beneficial to everyone (“Ambien” nearly ruined the life of a woman I knew, who was dependent on it to sleep. “Haldol” made my grandmother psychotic, until it was removed.)   And if any society deliberately investigated the use of drugs to cause harm, they could be way ahead of what we know.

Expelled – A Journalist’s Descent Into the Russian Mafia State by Luke Harding (2012)
Biohazard by Ken Alibek (1998)

One note: Ken Alibek visited the U.S. as part of a delegation of Soviet scientists before he defected and we know he was high up in their biowar program. Nonetheless, when he wrote his book, some tried to cast doubt on it, saying that he made money off writing the book and therefore had an incentive to be sensational. Mostly though, he wasn’t sensational at all. He described the process of growing smallpox (in eggs) that he used in Russia, which is not big news, and in fact the only sensational part is the paragraph on Fleta. Besides, Ken Alibek went to work for a US biotech company, so he had no need to write books for a living. There is another defector, Jan Sejna, who made much bigger claims about the use of behavioral drugs, but his claims really do sound sensational.


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