: The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia

CHAPTER 2 The First Connection


The First Connection

In the far north of Moscow the Kurchatov Institute sprawls over nearly 250 acres. Once an artillery range, the institute was founded by Igor Kurchatov, who developed the first Soviet atomic bomb within its walls. For decades since, the institute has served as a preeminent nuclear research facility. The compound is dotted with dozens of buildings, including a collection of impressive two-story mansions built for Kurchatov and his fellow researchers in the late 1940s. A small and unobtrusive barracks-like building houses the first Soviet nuclear reactor, still operating. The institute has always been a closed, heavily guarded facility and to this day is protected by armed guards at the heavily fortified gates. When a visitor arrives, documents are checked and the car trunk is inspected by a sentry carrying a Kalashnikov assault rifle. A second gate opens only when a first one is closed.[1]

The Kurchatov Institute held an exalted and exceptional status in the Soviet Union. In addition to work on the atomic bomb, scientists were involved in many crucial defense projects, ranging from Soviet nuclear submarines to laser weapons. The KGB not only supervised the institute but, in a broad sense, was one of the shareholders, as Yevgeny Velikhov, who served as director from 1988 to 2008, recalled it.[2] At the same time, the institute enjoyed a degree of freedom unthinkable for others at facilities far less important. Contacts with foreigners were allowed, including trips abroad, and the institutes leaders took advantage of the fact that the Soviet state desperately needed their workthey demanded special treatment and got it.

The institute exploited this elite status to the full. In November 1966 more than six hundred people, mostly young physicists, gathered at Kurchatovs House of Culture, the institutes club, to listen to Solzhenitsyn, a writer of growing prominence. His first published work, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, had caused a sensation for its frank depiction of Stalins prison camps when it appeared in the literary journal Novy Mir in 1962. Velikhov, who was then a deputy head of the institute as well as a broad-minded scientist who had traveled across the United States a few years before, invited Solzhenitsyn to the Kurchatov Institute. The institute was the very first venue that invited Solzhenitsyn to speak publicly. Everything went well, he recalled.[3] He told his story. How he found himself in the camp. Solzhenitsyn also read aloud from a still-unpublished novel, Cancer Ward, which he hoped still had some chance to get approved by the Soviet censors. (In the end it was not.) Then he read the excerpts from The First Circle, his novel about the sharashka at Marfino, where he tells the story of a foreign ministry official who made a call to the US embassy and got caught. The novel had also not been published. The KGB had confiscated the manuscript, and reading it aloud at Kurchatov was a brave act for both Solzhenitsyn and his hosts. The collective liked him very much, Velikhov said. Later, in 1970, Solzhenitsyn won the Nobel Prize for literature; four years after that he was stripped of citizenship and expelled from the Soviet Union. But the Kurchatov Institute did not change course and kept inviting dissident writers.

It was in this elite environment of relative freedom that programmers and physicists first connected the Soviet Union to the Internet.

By the mid-1980s the computer revolution in the West was racing ahead, and the Soviet Union lagged behind. The country struggled with the manufacturing challenge of computer chips, and Soviet personal computers were bad imitations of Western models. The Cold War persisted, and the astounding leaps in computer technology in the West were catching the attention of younger Soviet scientists, including Velikhov, but older party leaders and industrialistsBrezhnev and Andropovs generationwere frustratingly indifferent. The technology gap between East and West continued to widen. In 1985 Alexey Soldatov, then thirty-four years old, was named head of the Computation Center at the Kurchatov Institute. He got the job because the director, Anatoly Alexandrov, wanted someone who could explain to computer programmers what the Kurchatov Institute needed from them.[4] Soldatov, Andreis father, was a serious, heavily built scientist, who spoke slowly because he stuttered badly. To overcome it, he had developed a method to think in advance what he wanted to say, which left his speech very precise, if rather colorless.

Soldatov had a promising career in nuclear physics. He had graduated from a prominent Moscow institute in 1975, defended his doctoral thesis in 1979, then held an internship at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen. He was known at the Kurchatov Institute for using more computer time on his work than anyone else.

The Kurchatov Institute had, by that time, assembled a team of skilled programmers working to adapt the Unix operating system to the Soviet Union, a copy of which had been smuggled to Moscow two years earlier. Unix is machine-independent, so it could be used on any of the computers at Kurchatov, including Elbrus, the first Soviet super-computer, and the ES, a Soviet-made replica of the IBM mainframe. But what made Unix significant was that it made networks possible. In the autumn of 1984 the Soviet programmers demonstrated at a seminar the first version of a modified Unix.

The visionary behind the programming team was Valery Bardin, thirty-one years old, who was frequently overwhelmed by great and sometimes odd ideas, some of them truly brilliant.[5] When Soldatov heard about the adaptation of Unix and Bardins band of programmers, he recalled how a network connected computers at the Niels Bohr Institute. Soldatov then proposed building a computer network, based on Unix, at the Kurchatov Institute.[6]

Over the next four years programmers from Kurchatov built a Russian version of Unix and applied it to a network.[7] It was named Demos, an acronym for the Russian words meaning dialogue united mobile operating system, and the team was rewarded with a prize from the Soviet Council of Ministers. The prize, however, was classified as secret. The local Kurchatov network was created on some of the same protocols the Internet is built on today. While Bardins programmers brought their brains to the project, Soldatov contributed his substantial administrative skills to persuade the institutes leaders to buy equipment they needed for the network. The Kurchatov Institute was so vast that it was easy to explain why it would be better to have computers in different buildings connected through a network than to install all the machines at the Computation Center. However, networks were rare then in the Soviet Union, which favored large, mainframe computers that were easier to control than a network of smaller, spread-out machines.

Over time the Kurchatov computer team split into two separate groups. Programmers wanted to seize the opportunity Gorbachev had provided when he agreed to launch cooperatives, the first private businesses. They wanted to sell the Demos operation system, and for that they needed to be outside the heavily guarded Kurchatov compound. This group moved out of the institute and set up their computers on the second floor of a spacious two-story mansion on the Ovchinnovskaya Embankment along the Moscow River. In 1989 the group founded a cooperative, naming it Demos.

The second group remained at the Computation Center at the Kurchatov Institute, led by Soldatov. Despite the split, the two teams were closely interconnectedincluding by a network connectionas people moved constantly back and forth between the mansion and the institute.

In 1990 Soldatov and his team began to think about how they could connect the institute with other research centers in the country. When they needed a name for this network, they asked a young programmer, Vadim Antonov, to run a random word-selection program in English. He came up with Relcom. When Antonov suggested this could signify reliable communications, the name stuck.

In August of that year the Relcom network became a reality, making a connection between the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow and the Institute of Informatics and Automation in Leningrad, 460 miles away. After that, connections were established with research centers in Dubna, Serpukhov, and Novosibirsk. The network used ordinary telephone lines, and the bandwidth was extremely narrowthe network was capable only of exchanging simple e-mails. Nevertheless the Relcom team dreamed of connecting with the world. Soon after the first connections were made, Soldatov went to Velikhov, who had become director of Kurchatov in 1988. He told Velikhov that he needed his personal help for a nationwide network that would connect the most important research centers in the country and beyond. Velikhov was skeptical at first. He recalled clearly how such initiatives had failed in the past. Nonetheless, when Soldatov told Velikhov he wanted to appropriate his personal phone line for the network, as it was the only direct line from the institute capable of making international calls, Velikhov agreed, along with helping them acquire modems.[8]

On August 28, 1990, the very first Soviet connection to the global Internet was made when the Kurchatov programmers exchanged e-mails with a university in Helsinki, Finland. Soon they were given access to EUnet, a European network. Finland was chosen for a reason: Finland was the only country after the Moscow Olympics in 1980 whose automatic international telephone connection remained. Then, on September 19, Antonov registered the domain .su on behalf of the Soviet association of Unix users, and a new frontier on the Internet was born.

At the end of 1990 Relcom connected thirty research organizations in the country. By the summer of 1991 it had a leased line to Helsinki, and the internal Soviet network had reached seventy cities, with over four hundred organizations using it, including universities, research institutes, stock and commodity exchanges, high schools, and government agencies. Relcom got its first client in the news media too: the independent wire agency Interfax.

Technically Relcom still had two headquarters. There were a few rooms on the third floor at the Computation Center at the Kurchatov Institute, which housed the main server, built on the IBM 386 personal computer. Modems at 9,600 bits per secondthe baud ratewere permanently connected to the international phone line. The other headquarters was located in the nondescript mansion on the Moscow River embankment, with the second floor housing the team of fourteen Demos programmers, working night and day repairing and improving software and maintaining the network. They also had a backup server and a 9,600-baud modem.[9]

Early in the morning on August 19, 1991, a phone call woke Bardin at home. A journalist friend said he had heard from Japanese contacts of an attempted coup against President Gorbachev. The news about the putsch broke first in the Far East, then rolled westward across the time zones before hitting Moscow. Hours after the announcement was first broadcast in the Far East it aired on television in Moscow.

Bardins first reaction was to check the groups server from home. There was no connection. He went out to buy cigarettes.

On his way he met a friend from Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), Dmitry Burkov, a programmer and cofounder of Demos. Together they rushed to the Demos building, knowing there was always someone sitting there, day and night. They saw tanks on the streets of Moscow. Around 7 a.m., on the orders of the defense minister, Dmitry Yazov, who had joined the coup plotters, both tank units began moving into the city along parachute regiments in armored troop carriers. Strict censorship was imposed on the news media.

State television introduced Gennady Yanayev, a Soviet vice president and gray, unremarkable figure, as the new leader of the country. In fact, Yanayev was given this role only to make the ousting of Gorbachev look more legitimate. The real mastermind was Vladimir Kryuchkov, the chairman of the KGB, and the KGB had a prime role in orchestrating the coup. KGB special operations forces were dispatched to Crimea, where Gorbachev was on vacation. The KGB cut off Gorbachevs personal phone line from his vacation compound, then the local phone lines. He was totally isolated.

At the corner of Bolshaya Lubyanka Street and Varsonofyevsky Lane stands a six-story, gray building. It was built in the 1970s in the Soviet architectural style of that period for important government officesmonumental and gloomy, with the first floor in cold granite. Local residents knew that the building belonged to the secret services. After all, KGB buildings dotted the district of Lubyankajust across the street there is a two-story mansion that housed the very first headquarters of Lenins secret police, and in Stalins times it was the location of a much-feared toxic laboratory tasked with developing poisons. Nobody dared ask what was going on inside the building at Varsonofyevsky Lane, assuming it could house one of the departments of the KGB.

But it was not a just any department; it was the KGBs telephone eavesdropping center. Underground cables ran from there to a neogothic, red-brick building two hundred meters away on Milutinsky Lane, Moscows central and oldest phone station.[10]

In mid-August 1991 the building saw feverish activity. Similar frantic movements were also happening at the central phone station, where the Twelfth Department [eavesdropping] occupied a few rooms.

On August 15 Kryuchkov urgently summoned Yevgeny Kalgin, head of the Twelfth Department, from his summer vacation. Kalgin was promoted through the ranks of the KGB primarily for his personal loyalty to the chairman. Initially he had been Andropovs driver and later was made his personal assistant. When Kryuchkov, a close pupil of Andropov, had been appointed chairman of the KGB, he entrusted Kalgin, now a major-general, with running the Twelfth Department.[11] Kalgin went to KGB headquarters and received classified instructions from Kryuchkov to listen in on the phone conversations of people around Boris Yeltsin, who in June had been elected president of the Russian Federation, then still one of the internal republics of the Soviet Union, thrusting him into the forefront of the reform movement and into competition with Gorbachev for leadership. The KGB instructions were to eavesdrop on members of Yeltsins government and friendly members of the parliamentboth their offices and home lines. Kalgin was told to learn how Yeltsins people reacted to events and to control their contacts. This eavesdropping was illegal even by Soviet standards: the KGB could not spy on high-ranking officials. However, in late July the KGB had overheard Gorbachev speaking with Yeltsin, and they had agreed to dump the head of the KGB. Kryuchkov intended to get rid of Gorbachev first.

Kalgin agreed to make preparations. That would require a lot of work for the sixth bureau of the Twelfth Departmentthe controllers in KGB slangmostly women in headphones whose work was to listen to and record telephone conversations. The next day, on August 16, Kalgin briefed the female colonel in charge of the bureau, and she in turn recalled her subordinates from summer leave.

On August 17 Kryuchkov personally called Kalgin and ordered him to put Yanayevs phone line under control to make sure he stayed loyal to the cause. On August 18 Yeltsin returned to Moscow from Kazakhstan, and Kalgin was then told to put all of Yeltsins phone lines under control.[12] The bureau chief explained to the hand-picked controllers that information from intercepted calls was to be reported via the internal phone line personally to Kalgin. They were given 169 phone numbers. The fifth bureau of the Twelfth Department, in charge of listening to foreigners, were given 74 numbers.[13] With that, the eavesdropping operation had begun.[14] The same day Gorbachev was locked away in Crimea.

On August 19 the plotters declared emergency rule and took charge of the country, but Yeltsin and his supporters slipped through KGB security cordons and made it to an enormous white government building on the Moscow River, where they barricaded themselves inside. The building, which became known as the Russian White House, housed the Yeltsin government.

Andrei Soldatov, then fifteen years old, was in his last year of school before university when he heard the news of the coup. Ever since he was young Andrei had been interested in political history. His grandfather had been a Soviet Army colonel and a deputy commandant in Moscow whose duty was to march before the gun carriage bearing the body of a Politburo member during a state funeral, leading the procession to the Kremlin wall. Andrei remembered seeing his grandfather in full uniform on state television broadcasting the funerals of Brezhnev and Andropov. The advent of Gorbachevs perestroikareform movementhad provoked vigorous arguments and debates in Andreis family. His uncle was an Air Force colonel who had served in Afghanistan and was outraged by dissident physicist Andrei Sakharovs opposition to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Soldatovs father, Alexey, the nuclear physicist, was a prime but cautious source of information about the Chernobyl nuclear accident, as the Kurchatov Institute remained the leading atomic research center of the Soviet Union. Andrei and his mother, a physician, were always the most liberal voices at the table.

On hearing news of the putsch, Andrei rushed to Manezhnaya Square, a traditional place for rallies by democrats and the reform movement. Tanks were lined up on the square, facing the Hotel Moskva. On the opposite side, close to the old Moscow State University building, students had gathered, shouting, To Presnya, to Presnyathe district where Yeltsins supporters had taken their stand. Andrei and his schoolmate walked over to the tanks, trying to engage the soldiers in conversation. The soldiers, surrounded by civilians, were obviously confused. Their officers, also confused, did not interfere.

The last thing Andrei Soldatov was thinking about was calling his father, Alexey Soldatov; his parents had divorced when he was eight, and his relationship with his father was strained. Andrei decided to collect every piece of evidence he could. He saved issues of the newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets, the most popular liberal daily in town. He grabbed a cover from a smoke-grenade discharger on the turret of the tank and took it home. He collected one of Yeltsins leaflets.

The country is in mortal danger! it declared. A group of Communist criminals has carried out a coup d?tat. If today citizens of Russia do not counter the activities of the putschists with conscience, determination and courage, then the dark days of Stalinism will return!

If you do not resist the state criminals

you betray FREEDOM!

you betray RUSSIA!

you betray YOURSELF!

At home Soldatovs mother had the radio tuned day and night to Echo Moskvy, the radio station founded by democrats on the Moscow city council and a primary source of information about the events unfolding.

Irina Borogan also rushed to the square on her way home from taking her university entrance examinations.

For Irina, perestroika had been a time of personal excitement. She had been only eleven years old when it began, but it felt like a breeze of fresh air. In her school rules were relaxed, making it possible to voice personal opinions and have discussions about politics and Soviet history with teachers. One day Irina, emboldened by the new atmosphere, began a fierce dispute with a deputy principal in charge of ideology, a woman with strong communist views. Irina felt the new mood everywherein a bus, on a commuter train, in the metro. For the first time in their lives, she noticed, many people were talking openly and freely not only about their private lives but about everything, from the misery of living standards to Stalins repressions and modern music. Western movies, books, and music that for years had been prohibited now flowed to the country. For Irina, newspapers and magazines became more breathtaking than crime novels. At the age of thirteen she made a decision to become a journalist. She felt Gorbachevs glasnostpolicy of openness and transparencywas a great gift to her generation.

When she learned of the putsch, she feared that the coup leaders might destroy all the good things Gorbachev had done over the last five years. Her father, who worked at a closed facility in the military-industrial complex, said, If they ban us from getting Western investments, our economy will die. Irina didnt care a lot about the investments, but she felt angry with the coup leaders who threatened to turn back the clock and suffocate her generation. During the coup attempt she was out and about among Moscows squares, where people gathered and talked. On the second day she took her university entry exam on history, and the question posed to her concerned Stalins repressions. The teachers were liberal and talked angrily about the putschists. So Irina asked, with a smile, Do you want me to answer in the old way or in the new one?

They all laughed, and she passed the exam.

By coincidence, the putsch began on the opening day of a Moscow computer expo. The nascent business of Relcom/Demos had a stand at the show, and some programmers were milling about there. The first thing Bardin did when he arrived at the Demos two-story building was to call the expo and order everyone to return to the office as quickly as possible with their equipment. The network connection had been off because of technical problems, but it was soon restored. As chief of the team based at the Demos building, Bardin took over.

That day Alexey Soldatov, head of the Kurchatov office, was out of town, in Vladikavkaz in the North Caucasus. When he heard of the putsch, he called Bardin at once to find out what was going on.

The network is running like clockwork, Bardin replied.

Look, you do understand that we all could go to jail, dont you?

Sure. We are working as always, Bardin said.

Great, said Soldatov. They understood each other. Then Soldatov called his people at the Kurchatov Computation Center. To both teams he insisted on one thing and one thing only: keep the line open! Someone at the Computation Center suggested they attempt to print up Yeltsins proclamations, but Soldatov was adamant: focus on maintaining the connectionthis was vital. Velikhov, the Kurchatov director, was on trip to a physics conference in Sicily, and there was no way to get in touch with him.

A few hours later Bardin received a call from a friend in Vienna who had sold computers to their business. Look, Valery, I dont think they can really make the coup stick, the friend asserted.

Why? Bardin asked.

Because we are talking on the phone, the friend said. And all coups begin with cutting off telephone lines.

Within an hour a guest knocked on the door of the office at the Demos building and said he was a representative of the Yeltsin team. He said he was looking for the commercial offices that had Xerox machines to help them disseminate Yeltsins appeals. The man had no idea what kind of office he had just entered.

Forget about Xerox, Bardin told him. We are connected with all big cities, plus with the West.

The Yeltsin man slipped away, without another word. Then another Yeltsin envoy appeared at the building and declared authoritatively that they were now all under the command of Konstantin Kobets, who had been deputy chief of the Soviet general staff for communications, a Yeltsin supporter, now appointed to lead the resistance. However, Bardin had no idea who Kobets was, and it was the first and last time Bardin heard of Kobets during the three days of the putsch attempt. This second envoy also brought with him some copies of Yeltsins statements and asked Bardin to distribute them through the Relcom channels. Simultaneously a direct line was opened with the St. Petersburg government, which supported Yeltsin.

The Internet connection to cities outside of Moscow and beyond the borders of the Soviet Union proved extremely important, circulating proclamations from Yeltsin and other democrats around the world. The main channel was a user group, talk.politics.soviet, available on UseNet, one of the first worldwide collections of Internet newsgroups, built on many different servers and thus not reliant on just one. It was full of angry and worried messages posted by Westerners. From Moscow, at around 5 p.m. on August 19, Vadim Antonov, the bespectacled twenty-six-year-old senior programmer who had helped Relcom find a name, posted a message: Ive seen the tanks with my own eyes. I hope well be able to communicate during the next few days. Communists cannot rape Mother Russia once again![15]

Westerners sent messages of support to Yeltsin, and by that night in Moscow, or mid-day in the United States, American support was surging onto the network as more participants from the United States took part. The network soon became overloaded, causing the connection to drop momentarily. Alexey Soldatov, worried and obsessed, was hanging on the phone with Bardin and kept demanding that he must do anything to keep the connection alive. Antonov posted another message: Please stop flooding the only narrow channel with bogus messages with silly questions. Note that its neither a toy nor a means to reach your relatives or friends. We need the bandwidth to help organize the resistance. Please, do not (even unintentionally) help these fascists!

By then Relcom was busy disseminating news releases from the independent Soviet news agency Interfax along with news from Echo Moskvy radio, the Russian Information Agency, Northwest Information Agency (Leningrad), and Baltfax, all outlawed by the putschists.

On the morning of August 20 CNN carried a report that shocked Relcoms team. A CNN correspondent declared that despite censorship, a large amount of uncensored information was flowing out of the Soviet capital and then showed a computer screen along with the address of the Relcom news group. Bardin and Soldatov believed it was later pulled off the air only because someone in the United States explained to CNN that broadcasting their address could endanger the source of information.

The next morning Polina, Vadim Antonovs wife, also a Demos programmer, wrote to a worried friend, Larry Press, who was professor of computer information systems at California State University.

Dear Larry,

Dont worry, were OK, though frightened and angry. Moscow is full of tanks and military machinesI hate them. They try to close all mass media, they stopped CNN an hour ago, and Soviet TV transmits opera and old movies. But, thank Heaven, they dont consider RELCOM mass media or they simply forgot about it. Now we transmit information enough to put us in prison for the rest of our life.


Polina at first intended to go to the center of the actionthe White Housewith her laptop to report from there, but decided against it because phone connections were unreliable. Instead, she began to translate into Russian the news from the West about the coup that Larry was constantly updating.[16]

Around this time state television announced Decree No.3 from the coup plotters, restricting information exchanged with the West. The decree called for all Russian television and radio suspended, including the new democratic radio station Echo Moskvy, which had been essential to the resistance. The coup plotters declared that radio and television broadcasts were not conducive to the process of stabilizing the situation in the country. The decree was broad, intending to shut down all channels of communication in the country, and gave the KGB a role in enforcing it.

Despite the threat, at Demos there was no debate about Decree No.3: they were determined to keep the line open, knowing they were taking great personal risks. We were already on the losing side, Bardin recalled, just because information exchange is what Relcom was all about. We would be the enemies of the regime anyway, no matter what we did.

Bardin, Soldatov, and their programmers, all in their late twenties and thirties, had accomplished significant career breakthroughs in the years of Gorbachevs revolutionary changes. Each of them knew they owed much of their success to Gorbachevs glasnost. They were furious that it could all be ruined by a bunch of backward-thinking generals and sclerotic bureaucrats who had locked up Gorbachev in Crimea and were trying to dispose of Yeltsin in Moscow.

At the same time, Yeltsins people desperately exploited every opportunity to spread the word about resistance to Russian citizens. Vladimir Bulgak served under Yeltsin as the minister of communications for Russia. He had spent his career in radio, starting as a mechanic, and had risen to become chief of the Moscow radio network. In the 1980s he was put in charge of the finances of the Ministry of Communications and, as a result, saw the underside of the centrally planned economy. Bulgak despised Soviet methods of managing the communications industry. In 1990 he joined Yeltsins team.

On the day before the coup attempt, Bulgak went on holiday to Yalta, in Crimea. When he saw the coup plotters announcement on television, he called Ivan Silaev, Yeltsins prime minister, asking what he should do.[17]

Where you think the minister should be at such a moment? replied Silaev. In Moscow!

On August 20 Bulgak was on the first plane to the capital. When he landed, his driver took him from the airport to Yeltsins headquarters at the White House, bypassing the main roads filled with tanks and troops. There, Bulgak was told that his main objective must be to turn on radio transmitters and broadcast Yeltsins proclamation of defiance. Yeltsin told me to turn on all medium-wave radio transmitters on the European part of Russia, Bulgak said. These medium-wave transmitters were the main broadcast option in the Soviet Union and, with coverage of 370 miles each, were installed all over the country.

It was a difficult task, as the radio transmitters were not under the control of Yeltsins government but rather under the control of the Soviet Ministry of Communications, a higher level. Only three people in the Unions Ministry knew the passwords, and without a password, a chief of a transmitter never turns on his station, Bulgak said. He was able to get the passwords from a personal friend.

Then, through his own contacts, Bulgak managed to get a mobile radio transmitter on a truck to be driven from Noginsk, thirty-seven miles from Moscow, right to the courtyard of the White House where Yeltsin was holed up. It was immediately turned on; in case all else failed, they could at least broadcast Yeltsins appeal to the center of the Russian capital. However, the electronic warfares detachments were urgently deployed in the southwestern district of Moscow to jam the broadcast of Bulgaks mobile station. Another military station, in Podolsk, was tasked to intercept broadcasts from Yeltsins station and report them to the coup commanders.[18]

Bulgak worked feverishly through the night, using his personal contacts inside the unions ministry. By the morning of August 21 the transmitters were turned on. When Yeltsin walked down the steps of the White House, he spoke into a microphone that was directly connected to Bulgaks activated transmitters. The people at the Soviet Union Ministry of Communications were stunnedBulgak had triumphed.[19]

On the afternoon of August 21 Kryuchkov told Kalgin to stop the eavesdropping on Yeltsin and his people and destroy all the records.[20]

As Bulgak got Yeltsin his transmitters, Relcom went further. On the first day of the coup someone in Bardins team came up with an idea they called Regime N1: to ask all subscribers of Relcom to look out the window and write back exactly what they sawjust the facts, no emotions. Soon Relcom received a kaleidoscopic picture of what was happening throughout the country, disseminating the eyewitness reports from subscribers along with news reports. It became clear that the tanks and troops were present only in two citiesMoscow and Leningradand the coup would not succeed.

The coup attempt collapsed on August 21. Overall, during the three days, Relcom transmitted forty-six thousand news units throughout the Soviet Union and around the world. Regime No.1 was a revolutionary idea, although not everyone realized it. Radio transmitters spread information in one direction, outward. But Relcom worked in both directions, spreading and collecting information. It was a horizontal structure, a network, a powerful new concept in a country that had been ruled by a rigid, controlling clique. In the 1950s, the first Soviet photocopy machine had been wrecked because it threatened to spread information beyond the control of those who ruled. Now the power of those rulers was being smashedby a network they could not control.

Another principle was also demonstrated during the coup: the programmers did what they thought was right and did not ask permission. Antonov didnt wait for Bardin to post his messages, Bardin didnt ask Soldatov what he should do, and Soldatov didnt seek Velikhovs authorization. The idea that they were under the command of Kobets was laughable to them. They were freethinking and spirited, and they never wanted to return to the stultifying command of party hierarchies in which everything required permission from above.

Bulgak, a member of Yeltsins group, certainly played the game the old way. He used his position, his connections, and his power to support his leader. But Bardin, Soldatov, and Antonov were too far from the Kremlin to believe they were part of any power game. They acted because the free flow of informationtheir core convictionwas threatened. They also knew that they had the support of thousands of subscribers making the network stronger.

From the first day of the coup Bardin worried about the KGB. He was certain they had put the Demos building under surveillance days before the coup attempt began. He even saw a lone man standing out in front of the mansion. But the KGB never bothered once to interfere with Russias first connection to the Internet, neither at Demos nor at the Computation Center of the Kurchatov Institute. But at that moment and in years to come the KGB never went away. They were always keeping an eye on this strange and powerful new method for spreading informationbut had great difficulty understanding it.

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