[Paleopsych] NYT: Mapmakers and Mythmakers
checker at panix.com
Wed Dec 7 01:36:08 UTC 2005
Mapmakers and Mythmakers
[John Ralston Saul's in his great book, Voltaire's Bastards, showed that far
from the Enlightenment dream of knowledge for all, knowledge is held
secretly, as something to be traded. Lot's of big-wheel bureaucrats play it
"close to the chest" and are secretive, even when it is patently
unnecessary. So being a Voltaire bastard is far from rare outside the Soviet
Union and, as the story shows, continuing in Russia.
[The Moscow police back in the bad old days kept CIA maps of their city on
their walls, since those publicly available were nearly useless. This was an
open secret: at least I heard about it. I also heard that the Soviets could
not feed their army, but the Cold Warriors would not report this fact, nor
would even the New York Times, which was a critic of a large part of the
Cold War. It's amazing what doesn't get reported here, but anyone can now
turn to foreign sources on the Web. Not so many as to matter vote-wise,
though. And these foreign sources have their own biases.
[Pilate's question remains. And he raised it two thousand years before
[A good article!]
By ANDREW E. KRAMER
MOSCOW, Nov. 30 - Bruce Morrow worked for three years on the shores of
Lake Samotlor, a tiny dot of water in a maze of oil wells and roads
covering more than a thousand square miles of icy tundra in Siberia.
From the maps the Russians gave Mr. Morrow, he could never really know
where he was, a misery for him as an oil engineer at a joint venture
between BP and Russian investors. The latitude and longitude had been
blotted out from his maps and the grid diverged from true north.
"It was like a game," Mr. Morrow said of trying to make sense of the
officially doctored maps, holdovers from the cold war era provided by
secretive men who worked in a special department of his company.
Unofficially, anyone with Internet access can take a good look at the
Samotlor field by zooming down through free satellite-imaging programs
like Google Earth, to the coordinates 61 degrees 7 minutes north
latitude and 76 degrees 45 minutes east longitude.
Mr. Morrow's plight illustrates how some practices that once governed
large regions of the former Soviet Union may still lurk in the
hallways where bureaucrats from the Communist past cling to power. Not
only do they carry over a history of secrecy, but they also serve to
continue a tradition of keeping foreigners at bay while employing
plenty of people made dependent on Moscow.
The misleading maps also reflect the Kremlin's tightening grip on
Russian oil, one of the world's critical supplies, and one that is to
become even more important in the future with plans for direct
shipments to the United States by 2010 from ports in the Far East and
The secrecy rule over maps is enforced by the Federal Security
Service, or F.S.B., a successor to the old K.G.B. It was written at a
time the Russians were suspicious of virtually all foreign businesses
and fearful of a missile strike on their Siberian wells.
Those days are gone. But as the Russian government reasserts its
control over strategic industries - particularly oil - it is not
letting up on the rule.
The doctored maps belong to a deep-rooted Russian tradition of
deceiving outsiders, going back to the days of Potemkin villages in
the 18th century and perhaps earlier. During the cold war it was
called maskirovka, Soviet military parlance for deception,
disinformation and deceit.
For decades, government bureaucrats created false statistics and
misleading place names. For instance, Baikonur, the Russian space
center, was named for a village hundreds of miles away. Accurate maps
of old Moscow's warren of back alleys appeared only after the breakup
of the Soviet Union.
Even now, Mr. Morrow and his colleagues can use only Russian digital
map files that encrypt and hide the coordinates of his location.
Officially, only Russians with security clearances are permitted to
see oil field maps with real coordinates at scales greater than
"It was totally futile," Mr. Morrow said of the false coordinates on
his F.S.B. maps, created through an encrypting system. "None of us was
particularly keen on pushing it. There were rumors if you do that, you
end up in the slammer."
A spokeswoman for the F.S.B. confirmed that it controls maps around
sites deemed important for national security, including oil fields.
Asked whether the easy availability of accurate maps on the Internet
made such continued secrecy obsolete, she said the agency was
interested only in national security and would not elaborate on its
Foreign business executives, though, say there is a secret behind the
secret maps, and it has little to do with national security.
The rules are not only a way to maintain control over a strategic
industry, but also form a subtle trade barrier and are a convenient
way to increase Russian employment. After all, TNK-BP, the 50-50 joint
venture where Mr. Morrow works, pays scores of cartographers to encode
and decode the maps, said Frank Rieber, a former engineer there. The
rules cover all oil companies, but are particularly pressing for
They provide a livelihood to hundreds of F.S.B.-licensed
cartographers. Oil companies either outsource the work of stripping
and restoring coordinates to independent institutes, or employ
Russians with security clearances to do the work, as TNK-BP does.
The map orientations are shifted from true north - the top of the map
could be pointing slightly east, for example - and the grid does not
correspond to larger maps.
"It makes us pull our hair out," Mr. Rieber said.
Yevgenia M. Albats, author of a 1994 book on the K.G.B., "The State
Within a State," said the spy agency's interest in oil field mapping
is just anther way of asserting its influence on society and business
here, though one increasingly made obsolete by the Internet.
"The F.S.B. knows about Google Earth as well as anybody," she said.
"This doesn't have anything to do with national security. It's about
control of the cash flow."
The agency is guarding the wells as much from foreign business
executives as from foreign missiles these days, she said. The laws
about oil field secrets are used to persuade TNK-BP to replace foreign
managers with Russians, more susceptible to pressure from the
authorities, Ms. Albats said.
"Russians are easier to manipulate," she continued. "They don't want
to end up in Khodorkovsky's shoes," she said, referring to the former
chief executive of the Yukos oil company, Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, now
in a Siberian penal colony serving an eight-year sentence. He was
convicted of fraud and tax evasion after falling out with the Kremlin
over taxes, oil-export routes and politics.
The F.S.B. has also pursued scientists who cooperate with foreign
companies in other industries. Last winter it charged a physicist,
Oskar A. Kaibyshev, with exporting dual-use metal alloy technology to
a South Korean company. Mr. Kaibyshev objected in vain that the
technology had already been discussed in foreign journals. The case is
On Oct. 26, F.S.B. agents arrested three scientists at a Moscow
aerospace company and accused them of passing secrets to the Chinese.
Another physicist, Valentin V. Danilov, was convicted of selling
technology for manned space flights to the same Chinese company last
year, though he also protested that the information was available from
At the same time, the Kremlin is using oil to recapture status lost
with the collapse of the Soviet Union, which explains the close
attention paid to the industry by the security services.
Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov told a Parliament committee in
October that energy exports were Russia's most powerful diplomatic
tool in relations with other nations, according to a report in the
BP bought into the Tyumen oil company, or TNK, in 2003. Friction over
the use of oil field maps existed from early on, geologists at the
company said, but intensified this year. The issue has risen to high
levels in the government, with a faction that embraces foreign
investment protesting that the F.S.B. is hobbling the work of Western
engineers who come to help this country drill for oil, providing
technology and expertise in the process.
In October, Andrei V. Sharonov, a deputy economic and trade minister,
said F.S.B. pressure on the oil venture over the classification of
maps had disrupted production in western Siberia, an article in
It quoted Mr. Sharonov as saying that the agency was pressing TNK-BP
to replace Western managers with Russians. A spokeswoman for Mr.
Sharonov declined to comment.
An F.S.B. spokeswoman denied any ulterior motives in policing oil
Engineers call the practice a nuisance, but say it has not disrupted
production. The licensed cartographers are skilled in accurately
translating between real and false coordinates, and so far, they do
not know of any major mistakes, they say.
In a telephone interview from his home in Santa Barbara, Calif., Mr.
Morrow, who worked as an engineer for TNK-BP from 2002 until May, said
he left partly because he became frustrated with the police controls.
He guided a reporter to Lake Samotlor on Google Earth.
The lake lies just north of Nizhnevartovsk, a city on the Ob River, as
it loops in silvery ribbons through a background of dark green
Siberian wilderness. In the middle of the lake is an island, like a
"That was the folly of it," Mr. Morrow said. "You could get this
information anywhere. The bureaucracy got in the way of common sense.
But that didn't make it any less illegal, or any less inconvenient."
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