I’ve recently have been once again looking at the issue. It appears that the only way to get the FSB (former KGB) permit is via a local incoming travel agency. Those I’ve contacted (www.atv51.ru, snow51.ru, and www.m-tour.ru) would only arrange permits to the participants of their tours that start at ~$400/person. I’m continuing to look for one that would provide assistance with no strings in the form of tour participation attached.
Any hints or suggestions?