‘A whole division, just watching through the windows’ Russian special forces veteran explains where the FSB’s response to last week’s shooter went wrong
Police and federal agents needed more than an hour to subdue Evgeny Manyurov, the lone gunman who attacked the FSB headquarters in Moscow with an automatic firearm on the evening of December 19. As Meduza previously reported, some of the men injured in the shootout may have been wounded by friendly fire due to a lack of coordination among the different law-enforcement agencies. Meduza investigative correspondent Maxim Solopov asked Dmitry Tselyakov, an ex-member of the “Whirlwind” KGB and “Alpha” FSB units, to study what we know about last week’s incident and explain why security officials did what they did.
Who’s responsible for guarding the perimeter around Lubyanka Square?
The FSB’s HQ command.
How well trained are these people? Is this a special unit?
They’re not special forces, but they’re deployed in hot spots. Their direct responsibility is to manage the building’s safety.
In theory, how are they supposed to respond in these situations, and what did security officials do incorrectly?
The emergency occurred at the FSB’s central office, where the agency’s top leadership decides everything, meaning that none of the rank-and-file officers wanted to take the initiative. They apparently followed the FSB’s old instructions: An attack on the building means you shut it down without thinking about anyone posted outside in the street, who should have been in police uniforms. Then staff in civilian clothes could have inspected the perimeter to see if the attacker left any dangerous packages outside the building. It’s possible that the first gunshots were in the reception area, where [the shooter] also could have opened fire. When he walked in, the officer on duty triggered the alarm, which alerted the FSB duty officer, who reported to the FSB senior duty officer. Every 24 hours, senior command sends a new duty officer who takes charge [of building security].
How high up is this senior duty officer?
It ranges from department heads to the deputy director. They have a duty roster that establishes who’s responsible for these days.
And what’s the decisionmaking from there?
They should have had ready plans. But apparently the order was held up. Triggering the alarm, you know the generals aren’t going to rush in; they’ll try to do everything over the phone. So the response stalled and it was all chaos. In principle, the order should have gone out immediately: assemble combat teams and take up forward positions, because there were actually civilians outside there.
Do personnel train for this scenario?
[The officers] responded according to the agency’s plan. They probably just locked the doors, barricaded themselves inside, and didn’t care what happened outside in the street, even to their own officers, who weren’t told to leave their posts at all and take up [safer] positions. There are video cameras everywhere that feed into the [HQ’s] security room. They've got eyes on everything outside and know what's happening.
What’s wrong with finding some unit that could advance quickly and eliminate the attacker?
I think the problem was more with the senior staff because someone should have given the order. When you barricade all the doors, nobody can get in or out. So who’s going to advance anywhere? You need orders. And seeing the flaw in this whole system, nobody wanted to take the reasonable initiative or responsibility on themselves. Think about it: a whole division, armed to the teeth, just sitting in the building and watching through the windows. And they didn’t know at the time — nobody knew then — whether [the shooter] was targeting just FSB officers or also firing on civilians, right? In the end, he didn’t shoot a single civilian.
We don’t know that definitively.
[Evgeny Manyurov] didn’t shoot a single civilian. He could have run into the [grocery store across the street] and taken hostages, but he didn’t. He advanced to a position on Lubyanka [Square] at building number two (apparently, he’d visited earlier and scouted out positions) and took up a good field of fire for his situation, being on his own. His back was to the building, there were columns, and his flanks were also covered by the columns. Also, he stood, as we say, in the line of fire, meaning that it was risky to shoot at him from his flanks because it could have hit other people. As for the firing angles: it was a 90-degree firing angle from the building [number two] and he could go behind the columns. Also, skewed firing angles are ineffective because they make it harder for snipers. He took up a generally favorable position, given his situation. And he didn’t go there to die. He brought a first-aid kit with him.
In a situation like this, who is responsible for setting up a field headquarters? Or does this stop short of something like that? Somebody had to coordinate the police and SWAT unit that eventually cordoned off the area.
This is all coordinated by [existing] plans. Cordon off the street, take up positions, and assess. But nobody gave them the full information about what was happening and where. There was only one correct order: aim for the legs.
Why “correct”? Most people would probably assume that a dangerous criminal needs to be eliminated as soon as possible.
Because you need information. In Soviet times, the orders were always to take them alive, to get information about the size of the cell or find out if it’s just a lone actor.
But what’s more important: getting information or saving people’s lives? How much harder is it to shoot someone in the legs instead of just shooting them?
In this situation, they had enough time. He’d already taken up his combat position and was completely surrounded. They didn’t need to rush the operation and could have taken him alive. He was no longer a threat and he wasn’t hiding behind hostages. He’d only come for the FSB officers. I don’t think it would have been all that hard to get him in the legs from such a short distance. He was in an area now where people were in no danger. The only thing left was to make the right decision about how to take him. But nobody made this decision. Everyone apparently figured it would be simpler just to take him out.
Can we assume that a civilian or plainclothes FSB officer was wounded or killed by gunfire from their colleagues in the special forces?
I suspect most that [the shooter] was in a black uniform and at some point maybe some unfortunate civilian was also in this area in black clothes. Given the mayhem and the information that maybe there were two or three attackers dressed in black, someone [probably] had an adrenaline rush and shot someone who posed no threat. Someone said “Contact!” and a round went flying. [Officers] are people, too. These situations also weigh on their nerves.
With the proper coordination, are there measures available to prevent someone from walking into the FSB’s reception area and shooting people there?
Officers are posted outside for this. Plainclothes guys from HQ patrol the building, doing field surveillance.
Are they armed?
Yes, they’re fully armed. This is a reserve combat team that’s supposed to advance to the scene in case of emergency and eliminate the threat. They have radio stations and they observe people for distortions in their clothes and other telltales indicating concealed weapons. The building complex is big, so there were at least two officers in police uniforms, plus plainclothes officers posted in the area.
What conclusions should we draw in these situations? Is there some kind of debriefing afterward?
[The FSB’s HQ command] obviously needs to revise its security plan for the building in emergencies. I’m sure everyone is now busy writing up the paperwork inside and out. Then there will be an internal audit by order of the agency’s director.
The senior FSB officer on duty is responsible for managing these operations. He’s the one who’s supposed to make a quick decision and, if necessary, get off his ass and mobilize. Because this is Moscow, there are people everywhere, and you don’t know who’s running around with a weapon.
Dmitry Tselyakov began his service in law enforcement in 1989, joining the KGB 9th Directorate’s “Whirlwind” group (which was responsible for guarding top Soviet officials). This special unit handled security at a series of buildings on Staraya Ploshchad in Moscow (which currently house the presidential administration). After 1991, Tselyakov continued his service in the FSB’s “Alpha” group, before joining what is now the Federal Protective Service, where he was a bodyguard for Valery Zorkin, the first and the current chairman of Russia’s Constitutional Court. Tselyakov wrapped up his career in 2008 in the Interior Ministry’s Department Against Organized Crime and Terrorism, where he spent about a year supervising efforts against money laundering.
Translation by Kevin Rothrock