- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2004

In Russia, bribe-taking police and crooked officials have become the terrorists’ friends, according to a widely accepted view by outside analysts on corruption and its effect on development.

Corruption in Russia is the main facilitating factor of terrorism, said Louise Shelley, director of the Transnational Crime and Corruption Center at American University here in Washington.

“There is corruption of every sector. Customs, border controls, police, military peacekeepers, they are all involved in it,” she said during a briefing last week sponsored by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Law enforcement corruption is suspected to have played a major role in recent terrorist attacks, including the Sept. 1 school seizure in Beslan. Hostages who survived the massacre at the school in southern Russia said the terrorists told them they had easily reached the school by bribing police along the way.

Russian authorities have not explained how two military trucks, one with a fake license plate, could drive in broad daylight through a traffic-control checkpoint without being inspected.

In the case of the two Russian passenger planes downed almost simultaneously in August, the two female suicide bombers were interrogated by an airport police officer in the anti-terrorist department, who let them go before checking their belongings. The bombers also boarded their respective planes without any identity check, thanks to a bribe given to an officer of the airline company.

The incident at a Moscow theater, which ended with the death of 129 hostages in October 2002, was facilitated by a woman working at the passport office who sold fake documents to the terrorists.

In most of the cases, the officials probably did not know that they were helping terrorists, analysts say, but this endemic loss of vigilance in exchange for bribes, especially in the police force, represents a growing danger to the Russian population.

“There is a fundamental problem: You cannot crack down easily … with corrupt forces,” Mrs. Shelley said.

A survey conducted by the St. Petersburg-based Independent Analytical Center just after the Beslan tragedy indicated that most Russians blame corruption and the unprofessionalism of the country’s police and special forces for failing to stop terrorism.

The survey also showed that people consider corruption in the police so dangerous that nearly half of the respondents said tougher laws against corrupt police would be a more effective anti-terrorism measure than harsher punishment for terrorists.

Corruption has turned into a problem of survival for many underpaid officials, said Robert Orttung, associate research professor at the Transnational Crime and Corruption Center.

“The police think of themselves as having to earn a second living by getting money from the population,” Mr. Orttung said.

President Vladimir Putin’s reforms, he said, have done little to address the problem of corruption effectively. Ironically, Mr. Putin is giving more and more power to the people who are corrupt.

“Systematically, what has been done has been to concentrate power more and more … to make the bureaucrats much less accountable,” Mr. Orttung said.

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