[Paleopsych] NYT: Mapmakers and Mythmakers

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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!]


    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 Arctic.

    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
    published sources.

    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
    newspaper Nezavisimaya.

    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
    Vedomosti reported.

    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
    field maps.

    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
    bull's eye.

    "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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