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Over 2,400 total pages ... Russian outrage following the September 2004 hostage disaster at North Ossetia’s Beslan Middle School No.1 was reflected in many ways throughout the country. The 52-hour debacle resulted in the death of some 344 civilians, including more than 170 children, in addition to unprecedented losses of elite Russian security forces and the dispatch of most Chechen/allied hostage-takers themselves. It quickly became clear, as well, that Russian authorities had been less than candid about the number of hostages held and the extent to which they were prepared to deal with the situation. Amid grief, calls for retaliation, and demands for reform, one of the more telling reactions in terms of hardening public perspectives appeared in a national poll taken several days after the event. Some 54% of citizens polled specifically judged the Russian security forces and the police to be corrupt and thus complicit in the failure to deal adequately with terrorism, while 44% thought that no lessons for the future would be learned from the tragedy. This pessimism was the consequence not just of the Beslan terrorism, but the accumulation of years of often spectacular failures by Russian special operations forces (SOF, in the apt US military acronym). A series of Russian SOF counterterrorism mishaps, misjudgments, and failures in the 1990s and continuing to the present have made the Kremlin’s special operations establishment in 2005 appear much like Russia’s old Mir space station—wired together, unpredictable, and subject to sudden, startling failures. But Russia continued to maintain and expand a large, variegated special operations establishment which had borne the brunt of combat actions in Afghanistan, Chechnya, and other trouble spots, and was expected to serve as the nation’s principal shield against terrorism in all its forms. Known since Soviet days for tough personnel, personal bravery, demanding training, and a certain rough or brutal competence that not infrequently violated international human rights norms, it was supposed that Russian special operations forces—steeped in their world of “threats to the state” and associated with once-dreaded military and national intelligence services—could make valuable contributions to countering terrorism. The now widely perceived link between “corrupt” special forces on the one hand, and counterterrorism failures on the other, reflected the further erosion of Russia’s national security infrastructure in the eyes of both Russian citizens and international observers. There have been other, more ambiguous, but equally unsettling dimensions of Russian SOF activity as well, that have strong internal and external political aspects. These constitute the continuing assertions from Russian media, the judicial system, and other Federal agencies and officials that past and current members of the SOF establishment have organized to pursue interests other than those publicly declared by the state or allowed under law. This includes especially the alleged intent to punish by assassination those individuals and groups that they believe have betrayed Russia. The murky nature of these alleged activities has formed a backdrop to other problems in the special units.