Information security vs. the risk to lag behind
Evgeniy Zakharov, Cand. Sci. (Technology), Vsevolod Rechitskiy, Cand. Sci. (Law), Kharkiv Group for human rights protection
We have already written about an extremely harmful, in our opinion, tendency to make more information secret and restrain the freedom of the information exchange, the tendency which is observed in the entire post-socialist space. This tendency has lately become very dangerous in Ukraine, and it seems the most dangerous for the future of the country, compared with other violations of human rights and basic freedoms. The reasons are as follows.
The information sphere is the base which supports all political, administrative, economic and plain everyday decisions in many regions of human activities. These decisions will be the more grounded and efficient, the more information will be used in the decision-taking. The most important political decisions are usually fixed on the legal level in some normative acts.
Thus, we have a three-level system of taking decisions: information, policy, legislation. It can be depicted as a tree consisting of roots, trunk and foliage. The tree is stronger and bigger when it has a well-developed root system. And when legislators take decisions on the third level, which forbid or constrain the access to information level, then the quality of political decisions will inevitably degrade. A paradoxical unnatural situation arises, when the foliage prohibits the roots to feed the tree. This situation appears more frequently when the information flows are restrained and controlled by the executive power or even the Parliament. It is done with the best intentions, yet, societies infected by isolationism begin to stagnate, their intellectual elites emigrate and their economies turn to the source of raw materials for more open and more dynamic neighbors.
This situation must, in a certain sense, be expected if one takes into attention the organic nature and character of mutual relations of information and authorities: in the cybernetics sense, information, as Abraham Mole said, is ‘the quantity of unpredictable in the message. That is why the real information causes the intellectual seduction endangering the social status quo. And the latter is usually guarded by the executive power. To protect the social stability the authorities pigeonhole the information novelties into the farthest corner. At first it seems that nothing bad has been committed, since the crisis and deep social frustration will reveal themselves later. As a result, the best intentions of the authorities lead to hell. To avoid such situations the ripe democracies develop constitutional guarantees that forbid anyone to interfere into the freedom of the information exchange. The vivid example of such guarantees is the First Amendment to the US Constitution, which forbids even the Congress to take decisions that endanger the information freedom.
It is the new knowledge that enables us to efficiently solve social problems, since the restriction of access to information means undoubtful retardation of the social development, and it contradicts the idea of the scientific progress. As Paul Feierabend, a Western philosopher of 20 thcentury science, said, all is admissible in the interests of the scientific progress, since science is a collage and not a bureaucratic organized system. That is why we consider erroneous the new version of the Ukrainian law ‘On state secrets, which stipulates to regard as a state secret the information ‘on scientific, research, pilot and design works, on the base of which may be created progressive technologies, new kinds of production or technological processes having the important defense of economic significance or an essential influence on the external economic links and national security of Ukraine. A state may and must restrict the access to the information which is necessary for the realization of the function of protecting order and security, i.e. the information which is procured at their risk and responsibility by the force structures: it is a priori known that the divulgence of it may be dangerous. However, one must in no case restrict the access to the information about whose essence and future importance nothing definite is known.
At the door of the new millenium many people understand that those societies develop faster, where the creative thought using the information sphere for the inspiration grows freely. That is why the clumsy defensive policy of the Ukrainian legislation seems to be profoundly dangerous for the country. This is doubly true because we lag far behind in this sphere. By the number of Internet users per 100 thousand population we occupy the last but one place in Europe, before Belarus. Besides, users of the world-wide Web live almost all in several larger cities.
In general, science, which creates the political and economic future of the country, drags a miserable existence. We have not a single(!) bookshop of the European level, where one can find modern scientific books in the main European languages. In this respect Ukraine differs from other European post-totalitarian states. For example, in Budapest, the capital of the country whose population is five times smaller than in Ukraine, there are two special shops of the English-language books, where the number of titles is counted in thousands. The style of the Ukrainian capital in this respect differs much: one may find shampoos from dandruff and chewing-gum in great variety, but no books. As to the book-trade in the provinces, the situation in the communist times seems now unachievable ideal. As Oksana Zabuzhko once remarked, it seems that Ukraine has no cultural policy at all. Libraries do not get new literature, the number of scientific journals abruptly decreased.
The misery state financing is absolutely inadequate for supporting science. Upon the whole, the state of providing information in Ukraine is so sad, that new generations of Ukrainian scientists are growing without suspecting the real scale of the world achievements in their professional sphere. In humanitarian institutions of Ukraine hundreds of professionals continue to work without having read the books that changed the world humanitarian knowledge. Candidates and doctors of humanities cannot procure the most important books in foreign languages, cannot read them, if they happen to come across such books, because they do not know foreign languages, and cannot understand them even in translations, because they are written in the unknown mental register. They defend their ignorance by a xenophobic thesis that ‘actually these foreigners have nothing to teach us. They are so ignorant that they are unable to understand their ignorance.
The best scientists manage to survive today on grants from international funds. Now this is the only opportunity to assess the real value of their scientific results, because the market of scientific results in their own country is practically non-existent. However the free transmission of scientific information to their foreign colleagues becomes a thorn in the flesh of the authorities. This is confirmed by the already adopted legal acts and by the legal acts to be adopted. For example, the laws ‘On the information sovereignty and information security of Ukraine, ‘On information security in communication networks, — these titles are preliminary. As to the practical state of the affairs, it can be illustrated by the following story. This case will be described in what follows (other related information can be taken from the web-page: http://www.geocities.com/sep_case/
On 21 October 1999 the newspaper ‘Fakty published an article that the USS officers in Sebastopol ‘cut short the activity of a group of scientists from one of RAND institutes, who tried to organize the leakage abroad of some experimental research data. According to the PR department of the USS, some foreign scientific centers had to pay „the services“ of the Crimean researchers. The sent information was paid by transferring the money to one of the group members who then paid his colleagues in cash in US dollars. The PR department added that ‘this information is so secret that neither the name of the institute, nor the topic of the research whose results were rescued (sic!) by the security service, nor the names of the guilty researchers may be made public. The similar information was published in other Crimean newspapers under characteristic titles: ‘A criminal group unmasked (‘Slava Sevastopolia, 23 October), ‘Criminals arrested (‘Krymskaya gazeta, 27 October) and others. With the enthusiasm worthy of a better application the newspapers informed that ‘sale of secret information to one of the Western countries was intercepted and that ‘the chieftain of the group is arrested.
Less than a month some additional information on the case was disclosed. On 17 November in the newspaper ‘Slava Sevastopolia appeared a lengthy article by Yuri Konratyev titled ‘“The USS prisoner“ Piontkovskiy tried to rob the state treasury of millions dollars, and on 19 November the newspaper ‘Segodnia published the answers of Anatoliy Sakhno, the chief of the USS PR department, to the questions of Aleksandr Korchinskiy, the correspondent of ‘Segodnia. Colonel Sakhno explained that a group of researchers from the Institute of Biology of Southern Seas and the Maritime Geophysical Institute (further IBSS and MGI, respectively) under the leadership of doctor Sergey Piontkovskiy had, according to the conditions of the grants of the funds INTAS and ‘Darwin initiative, to pass to the Plymouth laboratory the results of studies of more than 40 maritime expeditions in which researchers of the IBSS and MGI participated from 1963 to 1998. ‘These data are our national property! — the colonel declared. ‘They cost, according to modest calculations, 200 million dollars; other calculations yield billions. Besides, part of the works conducted was classified as „top secret“ by the orders of the Ministry of Defense of the USSR, and the secrecy has not been lifted even today. And here we observed the transmission of all unique materials to the Plymouth laboratory, which is notorious with its military orientation. The colonel, however, denied the information that doctor Piontkovskiy had been arrested by the Sebastopol USS directorate. Colonel Sakhno said: ‘No accusation has not been declared and doctor Piontkovskiy even was not made to promise to stay in Sebastopol, ‘although he was invited by the ODA department of the USS for the interrogation concerning the case.
Actually, on 16 November Sergey Piontkovskiy (by the way not a doctor of biology, but a Ph.D. — for five years he could not find time to defend his prepared doctoral thesis) was officially accused of illegal operations with foreign currency jointly with a criminal group, and on the same day a promise not to leave Sebastopol was taken from him. His foreign passport was withdrawn. He himself describes his treatment by USS officers as follows.
‘On 15 October 11 USS officers arrived in IBSS. First of all they were interested in the projects headed by me. They started so-called ‘talks with all researchers participating in the projects. We, who took part in these talks, express opinions that the talks looked more like interrogations. Soon we were convinced that it was so. I was interrogated for two days on end (certainly without meals — they gave me only tea and water). By the end of the second interrogation they told me that I was accused in illegal operations with currency and in the attempt to sell to the West scientific and technological information belonging to Ukraine. I was told that my flat would be searched. Soon I was pushed into a car and brought home. We and even civil witnesses protested, but this was not taken into attention (the warrant for the search was brought one hour after the beginning of the search. — Authors Note). Five USS officers wasted five hours to take my manuscripts, documents, money, personal photos, floppy discs and my computer. They also took personal possessions, documents and money of my wife and even my sons clothes. Floppy disks and manuscripts, folders with documents were dumped into sacks without compiling the list of what the folders contained.
Late in the evening I was taken to the institute. There, from the laboratory where I worked they also took manuscripts and diskettes. The laboratory computers were sealed (and taken away in two days). At the same time the property of my two colleagues was searched and partly arrested.
What provoked such extraordinary actions of the USS? The group of biologists of the above-mentioned two institutes under the guidance of Sergey Piontkovskiy had, according to the grant, to sum up the results of the numerous expeditions on the variation of tropical waters in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. These particular results had been published in the open press and reported at numerous international symposia; they had to create also a database on a laser disk, thus presenting the information in the convenient form. This work up to the recent time had been performed jointly with researchers from the Great Britain, Netherlands and USA according to the project adopted by the intrastate and interstate expertise and financed on the parity basis by the state budget of Ukraine and the European Community fund INTAS (INTernational ASsociation aiding cooperation with scientists of new independent states). This grant was mentioned in the letter of Boris Griniov, the first assistant of the Minister of Science and Technology of Ukraine, to the USS chairman Leonid Derkach of 27 October 1999, where it was remarked that the started criminal case ‘has caused a considerable international resonance and would certainly have negative consequences for the international scientific cooperation with Ukraine; this case will certainly harm the reputation of Ukraine and it contradicts the state policy of integration of Ukraine into the world science. Nonetheless, these explanations have not satisfied the USS.
It should be pointed out that not a single participant of the project, according to Sergey Piontkovskiy, has ever had an access to state secrets, and that IBSS stopped to study this theme nine years ago. That is why all the accusations in passing any secret information are quite absurd. The arguments of journalists and USS officers on the research work of Sebastopol biologists are very ignorant and distorted. ‘Unlike many foreign RAND institutes, IBSS and MGI do not evaluate the cost of the research information, which is the property of the state and may serve as goods at the international market. This information is not accounted for on the organization balance. The unique research data is not classified even as for service use only, — writes Yuri Kondratyev. And further: ‘The data concerning the grant theme were recorded on disks and became the property of — alas! — not our science. Here the ‘research activities of our scientists ended. Thus the copyright of many researchers was violated. Yuri Kondratyev, perhaps, does not understand that any real science is international and that the information exchange in the world science is gratis (except the pay to the Internet provider, so that for one dollar it is quite possible to ‘pump results of many-year research from ‘a foreign science); that namely by creating a CD with a database the Ukrainian scientists confirm their priority and authorship.
Quoting an American professor Karl Bance, who said that ‘Sergey Piontkovskiys activities spare 15 – 20 thousand dollars a day for the USA , colonel Sakhno comes to the following conclusion: ‘… the world is built so that if something will add in one place, then it will be subtracted in the other. We will not permit that the subtraction happens in Ukraine. This simple-minded philosophy borrowed from Chekovs ‘Letter to the learned neighbor is applied for assessing processes whose real structure and peculiarities are hardly known to the learned colonel. Almost everything in this scientific sphere does not obey the colonels theory: scientific information is a product, whose value after a transfer does not decrease, but increases because of the additional opportunities to apply the theory. That is why those, who are capable to give away more information, are in advantage. Here, as the Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli said: ‘What you hoarded is the loss, what you gave is doubly yours. We are interesting today to the external scientific world namely thanks to such Ukrainian scientists as Piontkovskiy, who ‘is much ahead of American or British colleagues, as Karl Bance said. Such investigations are financed by international funds. We wonder if colonel Sakhno admits the possibility of paying for the investigations of leading foreign scientists from Ukrainian grants? It seems that within his service convictions it would be a stupid and risky waste of our national finances.
Nowadays the main treasure of any country is the people capable of creating the new. They are such people, who attract investments desperately needed by Ukraine. Long ago J.Locke said that as to the difference of intellectual capabilities, individuals differ more than people from animals. One of the saddest features of our national existence is that the official system of education and science does not practically recognize and remunerate gifted people. Instead of this we have a tedious official system of granting scientific degrees and ranks within the system of the Ministry of Education. Here in bureaucratic millstones ‘scientific personnel, candidates and doctors of sciences, assistant and full professors are ground, who never take part in the world scientific process. As to the fact that an average Western student is provided with information by one or two orders more than a Ukrainian academician, it is somehow awkward to mention it.
By the way, Piontkovskiy has worked in the West since 1992 and had many opportunities to emigrate and develop an ‘alien science. Instead he all the time procured financing for his colleagues in Sebastopol, enabling them to continue research. In 1999 in IBSS the research workers were paid for two days in a week, that is their monthly salary was about Hr 100 (to compare: this is the wages which a charwoman in the students hostel in Edinburg University earns in 4 hours). It is shameful that Ukrainian newsmen published articles where they, before the court decision, regarded researchers as criminals. What must the accused feel, what must feel their relatives and friends, what will hear the 11-year-old son of Sergey Piontkovskiy? At last a sad question arises: why our journalists sympathize not with their colleagues in the free profession, but with USS officers acting upon rigid rules?
The inevitable retort followed: in the middle of December 1999 representatives of the European Community informed the Ukrainian authorities that, due to Piontkovskiys case, financing of all scientific projects by the INTAS fund is suspended for nine months until Ukraine brings her financial and tax legislation to the accordance with the European norms. More than 4 million USD will be lost in this way.
As to the accusation of Piontkovskiy in conducting the illegal operations with foreign currency (Article 80 of the Ukrainian Penal Code), this seems to be ill-grounded. The money was sent to his personal account in accordance with the funds rules, and the fund has no pretensions to Piontkovskiy. Giving the salary to the participants of the project Piontkovskiy conducted a simple technical operation, not some machinations with foreign currency. By the way, Article 80 of the Penal Code has been excluded as obsolete from the draft of the new Penal Code accepted by the Supreme Rada in the first reading.
Well, we shall hope that the USS, always declaring that they obey the laws, will stop this case and will excuse before the scientists. The USS, which is a special state body in guarding state secrets, has not only the forbidding functions, but the duty to forbid with reason. Its zeal, if misdirected, will become a direct threat to the Ukrainian civil society. There is no need to prove that the informational isolation from the rest of the world will have only one result — stagnation and massive drain-brain. That is why, in our opinion, a wide public discussion is needed about the question what information must be controlled in Ukraine and outside, and what to do to guarantee that cases like that of Sebastopol biologists will never be repeated in our long-suffering motherland.