EDITORIAL: Does Buried Evidence Solve Blasts?
21 September 1999 | Issue 1798
Russians have spent the past few days trying to put behind them the string of devastating bombings that have left 230 people dead in Moscow and Volgodonsk. And their government has helped - by packing up survivors, putting forth an inexorable single versiya and razing the Moscow explosion sites.
On Saturday, the bombed-out shell of the apartment block on Ulitsa Guryanova was destroyed in a controlled implosion, reducing to rubble the remains of the building and irreparably burying beneath it any remaining traces of evidence - just 10 days after the explosion.
Workers at Kashirskoye Shosse, meanwhile, began clearing rubble from the site as early as Sept. 13 - the day of the bombing. Dumping everything from blood-covered bricks to furniture to family mementos in a nearby lot, emergency workers left the remains of the leveled building to be freely picked over by scavengers.
The rest depends on forensics. Whatever evidence managed to be collected in the extremely short span of time between the bombings and subsequent cleanup efforts is all that will ever exist in the two Moscow incidents. (In the Oklahoma City bombing, five weeks of intensive search efforts passed before the building was imploded; the site itself remained open for three months. However, the case was ultimately cracked not by on-site evidence, but by following the paper trail.) The Moscow cases may be simply solved, but if they're not, untold traces of chemical residue, fingerprints, technical fragments, or hair and DNA samples that were present at the sites are now irrevocably lost.
Is this ignorance? In the capital city of a country where the current prime minister, Vladimir Putin, was once its top security official, the assumption sells the FSB short. The Federal Security Service has the equipment, know-how and political clout required to perform a proper investigation.
It also has the connections necessary to request foreign assistance. Putin and U.S. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger reportedly enjoy friendly relations; the Foreign Intelligence Service over the past months has worked with the CIA on "issues of international terrorism." The FBI is cooperating with the FSB and Interior Ministry in their money-laundering investigation; it has offered its services in the bombing cases as well.
Few bombing sites are destroyed as quickly as those at Ulitsa Guryanova and Kashirskoye Shosse. The Chechen theory has proved both viable and convenient for federal authorities; investigators clearly think they've got a lock on their suspects. Are they playing it safe and making sure no other options turn up?
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