Catching up on all the latest Kremlin gossip -- by computer
Everything you wanted to know about the Soviet Union. That is what Michel Tatu, France's leading Sovietologist, has put into his computerized data bank. Perhaps more than any other country, the United States needs to know at push-button speed about the new vice-minister of foreign trade, the new second in command of Soviet forces in the Far East, the new nonvoting member of the Politburo.
And yet it was not the Central Intelligence Agency, or Columbia University, or the Pentagon that assembled the vast data regarding some 5,000 Soviet officials.
It was Mr. Tatu, a Frenchman, who served as Le Monde's Moscow correspondent from 1957 to 1964, then as East European correspondent from 1967 to 1969 before becoming the paper's editorial writer on East-West and strategic weapons questions.
``Sovt'' is the name of the data bank he and Le Monde operate in partnership. The name stands for ``Soviet elite'' and the service, launched one month ago, provides instant information regarding biographies of individuals and institutions, deeds, speeches, decisions, and travels.
An individual's titles, the company he kept, and the jobs he performed are duly listed, interpreted, and updated. Heads of large factories, military commanders, party and goverment officials -- their speeches, articles, decisions, and patterns of behavior -- are all there.
Two hundred new officials are added to the computerized files every week by Tatu's team. The existing data are updated on a weekly basis. They go back all the way to the Russian Revolution.
``All our information is gathered from Soviet publications,'' says Tatu. ``We don't collect secret data. We are not in the business of espionage. Neither do we claim to be an encyclopedia. As of yet we have not stored data on dissidents, on athletes, on diplomats. But we may in the future. Indeed, we may extend our data bank to other countries such as China, the Arab world.''
The data bank costs $200 an hour to use, and is the only resource of its kind in the West. Twenty customers have subscribed so far, among them the Quai d'Orsay (the French foreign office), Agence France-Presse (a French news agency), the Center for Strategic and International Studies at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., and several banks and multinational corporations.
``Before, to trace relevant and sophisticated information, it took us one week and we had to ask several branches of the government for assistance. Now we can obtain the information ourselves in a matter of minutes,'' says one Swiss banker whose firm subscribes to Sovt.