From New World Encyclopedia

The KGB emblem and motto: The sword and the shield

KGB (transliteration of "КГБ") is the Russian-language abbreviation for Комитет государственной безопасности (Committee for State Security).

The KGB was the umbrella organization for the Soviet Union's premier security agency, secret police, and intelligence agency, from 1954 to 1991.

The term KGB is also used in a more general sense to refer to the successive Soviet State Security organizations before 1954 (from the Cheka in 1917). The KGB's operational domain encompassed functions and powers like those exercised by the United States' Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the counter-intelligence (internal security) division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the National Security Agency, the United States Federal Protective Service, and the Secret Service.

On December 21, 1995, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed the decree that disbanded the KGB, to be substituted by the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB). In Belarus, it is still known as the KGB.

Origin of the KGB

The first of the forerunners of the KGB, the Cheka was established on December 20, 1917, headed by Felix Dzerzhinsky and personally praised by Vladimir Lenin as a "devastating weapon against countless conspiracies and countless attempts against Soviet power by people who are infinitely stronger than us" (The Sword and the Shield, 29-30). It replaced the Tsarist Okhranka. The Cheka underwent several name and organizational changes over the years, becoming in succession the State Political Directorate (OGPU) (1923), People's Commissariat for State Security (NKGB) (1941), and Ministry for State Security (MGB) (1946), among others. In March 1953, Lavrenty Beria consolidated the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the MGB into one body—the MVD. Following the death of Josef Stalin in 1953, Beria was removed from his post, accused of spying for Great Britain, and was executed. Following his death the MVD was split. The re-formed MVD retained its police and law enforcement powers, while the second, new agency, the KGB, assumed internal and external security functions, and was subordinate to the Council of Ministers. On July 5, 1978, the KGB was re-christened as the "KGB of the Soviet Union," with its chairman holding a ministerial council seat.

The KGB was dissolved when its chief, Colonel-General Vladimir Kryuchkov, used the KGB's resources to aid the August 1991 coup attempt to overthrow Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. On August 23, 1991, Colonel-General Kryuchkov was arrested, and General Vadim Bakatin was appointed KGB Chairman—and mandated to dissolve the KGB of the Soviet Union. On November 6, 1991, the KGB officially ceased to exist. Its services were divided into two separate organizations; the FSB for Internal Security and the Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) for Foreign Intelligence Gathering. The Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti (FSB) is functionally much like the Soviet KGB.

From its inception, the KGB was envisioned as the "sword and shield" of the Bolshevik Revolution and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The KGB achieved a remarkable string of successes in the early stages of its history. The comparatively lax security of foreign powers such as the United States and the United Kingdom allowed the KGB unprecedented opportunities to penetrate the foreign intelligence agencies and government with its own, ideologically-motivated agents, such as the Cambridge Five. Arguably the Soviet Union’s most important intelligence coup, detailed information concerning the building of the atomic bomb (the Manhattan Project), occurred due to well-placed KGB agents such as Klaus Fuchs and Theodore Hall. The KGB also pursued enemies of the Soviet Union and Joseph Stalin, such as Leon Trotsky and the counter-revolutionary White Guards, successfully orchestrating Trotsky's assassination.

During the Cold War, the KGB played a critical role in the survival of the Soviet one-party state through its suppression of political dissent (termed "ideological subversion") and hounding of notable public figures such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov. It also achieved notable successes in the foreign intelligence arena, including the continued gathering of Western scientific and technological developments from agents like Melita Norwood, who provided the KGB with information on nuclear developments in Britain for four decades. The KGB was also able to infiltrate West Germany’s government under Willy Brandt in cooperation with East German intelligence Stasi.

The double blow of the compromise of existing KGB operations through high-profile defections like those of Elizabeth Bentley in the United States and Oleg Gordievsky in Britain, as well as the drying up of ideological recruitment after the crushing of the [[Hungarian Revolution of 1956] and the 1968 Prague Spring, resulted in a major decline in the extent of the KGB’s capabilities. However, the KGB was assisted by some mercenary Western defectors such as the CIA mole Aldrich Ames and the FBI mole Robert Hanssen, helping to partly counteract its own hemorrhage of skilled agents.

Purpose and tasks

The KGB traces its ideological mission to the "sword and shield" of the Cheka: "the shield to defend the revolution, the sword to smite its foes" (The Sword and the Shield, 23).

Its tasked responsibilities were external espionage, counter-espionage, the liquidation of anti-Soviet and counter-revolutionary organizations within the Soviet Union and abroad, guarding the national borders, guarding the Communist Party and State leaders, and critical state property. Also, it investigated and prosecuted thieves of State and socialist property and white collar criminals.


Like most other intelligence agencies, the KGB operated both legal and illegal residencies in its target countries. Legal residencies operated out of the local embassy under the cover of diplomatic immunity, and were free from prosecution. In contrast, illegals operated without the benefit of immunity from prosecution. The KGB, especially in its early years, often placed more worth in its illegal residencies than its legal ones, primarily due to the ability of illegals to more easily operate undercover, and thus infiltrate KGB targets.

Using the ideological attraction of the first worker-peasant state and later on the fight against fascism and the Great Patriotic War, the Soviets successfully recruited many high-level spies. However, events such as the 1939 signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and the 1968 Prague Spring mostly dried up ideological recruitment; young radicals were repelled by the Red Army’s violations of sovereignty and Brezhnev’s geriatric leadership. Instead, the KGB turned to blackmail and bribery to recruit Western agents.

At legal residencies, operations were divided into four major sectors: political, economic, military strategic intelligence, and disinformation, called active measures in espionage parlance (PR Line), counter-intelligence and security (KR Line), and scientific and technological intelligence (X Line), which took on increasing importance throughout the Cold War. Other major operations included the collection of SIGINT (RP Line), illegal support (N Line), and a section dealing with émigrés (EM Line). Illegal residencies tended to be more decentralized and lacked official organizational structures.

The KGB, like its Western counterparts, divided its intelligence personnel into agents—who provided the information—and controllers—who relayed the information to the Kremlin and were responsible for keeping track of and paying agents. Some of the most important agents, like the Cambridge Five, had multiple controllers over their espionage careers. Ironically, Kim Philby, who had thought of himself as a KGB officer, was rudely informed of this distinction when he defected to the Soviet Union; as a foreign agent, he was not even allowed to enter KGB headquarters.

To give cover for its illegals who were often born in Russia, the KGB constructed elaborate legends for them, requiring them to assume the identity of a "live double," who handed over his or her identity to assist in the fabrication, or a "dead double," whose identity was altered by the KGB itself. These legends were usually supplemented by the agent living out the role given to him by the KGB in a foreign country before arriving at his final destination. One of the KGB’s favorite tactics was to send agents bound for the United States through its Ottawa residency in Canada.

KGB agents practiced standard espionage craft such as the retrieval and photographing of classified documents using concealed cameras, code-names in communication to disguise agents, contacts, and targets, and the use of dead letter boxes to relay intelligence. In addition, the KGB made skillful use of agents provocateurs, who infiltrated a target’s entourage by posing as sympathizers to the target’s cause or group. These agents provocateurs were then used to sow dissent and influence policy in the target group or help arrange kidnapping or assassination operations.

History of the KGB

The evolution of the KGB originates with the establishment of the Cheka six weeks after the Bolshevik Revolution, in order to defend the nascent Bolshevik state from its powerful, "bourgeois" enemies, chief among them the White Army. The Cheka set out to brutally suppress dissent and interrogate and torture suspected counter-revolutionists. It was credited by Lenin with playing a key role in the new regime’s survival. With Lenin’s approval, a new foreign intelligence department of the Cheka, the INO (Innostranyi Otdel) was established on December 20, 1920, the precursor to the First Chief Directorate (FCD) of the KGB. The Cheka itself was renamed the State Political Directorate (Объединённое государственное политическое управление or ОГПУ/OGPU), a name it would retain throughout much of Stalin’s early reign.

The OGPU continued to expand its operations at home and abroad; however, the growing paranoia of Stalin, which would foreshadow the later period of the purges, strongly influenced the performance and direction of the intelligence agency. Under Stalin, the politically-motivated pursuit of conspiracies against the state, like the Trotskyists and later the "Right deviationists," became a central focus of intelligence. As Stalin acted as his own intelligence analyst, the role of intelligence processing was subordinated to that of collection, and often reports submitted to Stalin were designed to only reflect what he wanted to hear. This period in the KGB’s history culminated in the eventual liquidation of many intelligence officers and chaos within the organization’s internal and external operations during the Great Purges, such as the conviction of former KGB chairmen Genrikh Yagoda and Nikolai Yezhov for treason. Yezhov ironically was the one who denounced Yagoda and carried out the Terror under Stalin’s orders from 1936 to 1938.

The agency, renamed the NKGB and later part of the NKVD, sought to rebuild itself after the disaster of Stalin’s purges. Under Lavrenty Beria it continued its sycophantic role of producing intelligence to corroborate Stalin’s own conspiracy theories while simultaneously achieving some of the deepest penetration of Western powers ever achieved by any intelligence agency. The next major organizational shuffle was to come in 1947 in the form of the KI (Komitet Informatsii), the brainchild of Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, which would centralize the intelligence system by combining the foreign intelligence services of the agency, renamed the Ministry for State Security (MGB), and the GRU, placing the ambassador in a foreign embassy at the head of the both the MGB’s and the GRU’s legal residency. The KI unraveled after Molotov fell out of favor with Stalin.

Meanwhile, Beria, now the head of the MVD, had been consolidating his power with the ambition to succeed Stalin as leader of the Soviet Union. Following Stalin’s death in 1953, Beria merged the MGB into the MVD. Fearing an attempt at a coup d'état, Beria’s colleagues in the Presidium united against him, charging him with "criminal anti-Party and anti-state activities" and executing him for treason. The MGB was split off from the MVD, undergoing its final renaming to become the KGB.

The next KGB chairman to possess high ambitions was the relatively youthful Aleksandr Shelepin (chairman from 1958–1961), who helped in the coup against Khrushchev in 1964. His protégé at the KGB, Vladimir Semichastny (1961–1967), was sacked, and Shelepin himself was sidelined from the powerful post of chairman of the Committee of Party and State Control into the unimportant chairmanship of the Trade Union Council by Brezhnev and the Communist Party, whose memories of Beria were still fresh in their minds.

In 1967, Yuri Andropov, the longest serving and most influential KGB chairman in its history, began his tenure at the head of the KGB. Andropov would go on to make himself heir-apparent to Brezhnev, helped by the general secretary’s growing feebleness, and succeeded him in 1982. Andropov’s legacy at the KGB was an increased focus on combating ideological subversion in all its forms, no matter how apparently minor or trivial.

Vladimir Kryuchkov, the last of the KGB chiefs, grew dismayed at Gorbachev’s efforts to open up Soviet society (''glasnost'') and was one of the principal organizers of the 1991 coup. However, declining respect for the KGB and other factors had fatally weakened the Soviet regime, and following the coup’s failure, the KGB was officially disbanded on November 6, 1991. Its successor agency, the FSB, now performs most of the functions of the former KGB, though the largest, most important directorate of the KGB, the FCD, was broken off and became the SVR (Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki).

KGB operations within the United States

Pre-Cold War

As the Soviet regime had viewed the United States as a lower priority target than Britain and other European countries, the KGB had been slow to establish an agent network there. Responsibilities for infiltration thus fell to the GRU, which recruited Julian Wadleigh and probably Alger Hiss, who began providing documents from the State Department.

The KGB (at that time the NKVD) first made its presence known in 1935, with the establishment of a legal residency under Boris Bazarov and an illegal residency under Iskhak Akhmerov. The Communist Party of the U.S.A. (CPUSA) and its general secretary Earl Browder assisted with recruitment efforts, and soon the KGB’s network was providing high-grade intelligence from within the United States government and defense and technology firms.

Among the most important agents gathering political intelligence recruited during this time period were Laurence Duggan and Michael Straight, who passed classified State Department documents; Harry Dexter White, who performed a similar role in the Treasury Department: and Lauchlin Currie, an economic adviser to Roosevelt. A notorious spy ring, the Silvermaster group run by Greg Silvermaster, also operated at this time, though it was somewhat detached from the KGB itself. The KGB thus succeeded in penetrating major branches of the United States government at a time when the U.S. had no significant countervailing espionage operations in the Soviet Union. When Whittaker Chambers, a former courier for Hiss and others, approached Roosevelt with information fingering Duggan, White, and others as Soviet spies, his claims were dismissed as nonsense. At the Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam conferences, Stalin had vastly better intelligence about the United States than either Roosevelt or Truman had about Stalin and the Soviet Union.

In scientific intelligence the KGB achieved an even more spectacular success. British physicist Klaus Fuchs, recruited by the GRU in 1941, was part of the British team collaborating with the United States on the Manhattan Project. Fuchs was the most prominent agent handled by Julius and Ethel Rosenberg in their spy ring. The New York residency also infiltrated Los Alamos with its recruitment of then nineteen-year-old Harvard physicist Theodore Hall in 1944 with Lona Cohen serving as his courier. The stealing of the secrets to the atomic bomb was only the capstone of the Soviet espionage effort in the scientific community. Soviet agents reported back information on advancements in the fields of jet propulsion, radar, and encryption, among others.

The unraveling of the KGB’s network came about as a result of some key defections, like that of Elizabeth Bentley and Igor Gouzenko, and the Venona project (VENONA) decrypts. Bentley, a courier to the Silvermaster group, had fallen out with Akhmerov and started informing on her former spies to the FBI in 1945. Her efforts, and the resulting "spy mania" in the United States, led to the recall of most of the senior staff, leaving the spy network temporarily headless. Information on VENONA, which threatened to compromise the entire spy network, caused shock and panic within KGB headquarters. However, damage was minimized as KGB agent William Weisband and then SIS Washington Kim Philby passed on information about VENONA and agents it identified from 1947 onwards, 5 years before the CIA was informed. Still, the KGB had to rebuild most of its operations from scratch, and never again would achieve such thorough penetration of a foreign power.

Cold War

The KGB attempted, largely without success, to rebuild its illegal residencies in the United States during the Cold War. The residue effects of the Second Red Scare and McCarthyism and the evisceration of the CPUSA severely damaged KGB efforts at recruitment. The last major illegal, Vilyam Genrikhovich Fisher ("Willie" Vilyam Fisher), better known as Rudolf Abel, was betrayed by his assistant Reino Häyhänen in 1957, in all likelihood leaving the KGB without a single illegal residency in the United States, at least for a major span of time.

Legal residencies were more successful. The KGB’s recruitment efforts turned towards mercenary agents recruited because of monetary, not ideological, reasons. It was particularly successful in gathering scientific intelligence, as firms such as IBM remained lax while security within the government tightened. The one notable and significant exception was the highly successful Walker spy ring, which enabled the Soviets to decipher over one million classified U.S. messages, and directly led to the development of the Akula Class submarine, which addressed a significant advantage that the U.S. had in submarine technology. As the Walkers were taken off line in 1985, the KGB scored its most important intelligence coup of the Cold War with the walk-ins of Aldrich Ames (that same year) and Robert Hanssen (who started spying in 1979), who compromised dozens of undercover Soviet agents, including Gordievsky, who was now on the verge of being appointed as head of the British legal residency. Walker, Ames, and Hanssen were paid millions of dollars for their effort.

KGB operations in the United Kingdom

Pre-Cold War and the Cambridge Five

Heydar Aliyev was the first Muslim member of KGB in 1944.

Soviet intelligence collection in the United Kingdom before the Cold War was greatly aided by the fact that the security of sensitive places, such as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, MI5, and MI6, was weak and did not suspect Soviet or Communist espionage attempts. Arnold Deutsch, a brilliant academic, targeted the University of Cambridge for recruitment opportunities since the first of the Five to come to his attention, Kim Philby, was a graduate of Trinity College. Through Cambridge, Deutsch eventually recruited Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean, John Cairncross, and Anthony Blunt, all of whom were to assume high-ranking positions in either the Foreign Office or the intelligence community.

Key operations included:

  • Kim Philby, as head of Soviet counter-intelligence in MI6 (Section IX), was able to neutralize the United Kingdom’s counterespionage efforts against the Soviet Union.
  • Philby, as SIS Washington station commander, had access to the VENONA decrypts and was able to notify the Soviet Union of the unmasking of many of its agents, including Klaus Fuchs, whom the agency failed to save, and Maclean, who was exfiltrated to the Soviet Union while under surveillance, accompanied by his friend Burgess.
  • Cairncross, in his position at Bletchley Park, provided intelligence on the Ultra decrypts that was instrumental in the Soviet victory in the Battle of Kursk.

In addition, all five members were able to furnish thousands of classified documents to the Soviet Union, heavily compromising many sections of British classified science, policies, and intelligence.

The eventual downfall of the five began with the flight of Maclean and Burgess. Burgess, who had been rooming with Philby in Washington, immediately placed Philby under suspicion, and he resigned his high-level position under pressure. Blunt and Cairncross would soon be discovered as well.

Cold War

One of the KGB’s most important sources of scientific intelligence, Melita Norwood, who held a secretarial position at the Non-Ferrous Metals Association which dealt with the British atomic energy and weaponry research, remained undetected, and continued to provide important information regarding nuclear research and other areas of scientific progress to the KGB for four decades. In general, the collection of scientific and technological intelligence continued to prosper, but political intelligence declined. Operations suffered a disastrous setback after the mass expulsion of 105 KGB and GRU officers in September, 1971 (Operation FOOT), following information provided by the defector Oleg Lyalin. The KGB in Britain never fully recovered.

KGB operations in the Soviet bloc

The KGB, along with its satellite state intelligence agency allies, monitored extensively public and private opinion, subversion, and possible revolutionary plots in the Soviet Bloc during the Cold War. It played an instrumental role in the crushing of the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the destruction of the 1968 Prague Spring, and "socialism with a human face," and general operations to prop up Soviet-friendly puppet states in the bloc.

During the Hungarian uprising, the chairman of the KGB, Ivan Serov, personally visited Hungary in order to supervise the "normalization" of Hungary following the invasion of the Red Army. The KGB monitored incidences of "harmful attitudes" and "hostile acts" in the satellite states, taking note of things as minute as listening to pop music. But it was during the Prague Spring that the KGB was to have the greatest role in bringing down a regime.

The KGB began preparing the way for the Red Army by infiltrating Czechoslovakia with a large number of illegals posing as Western tourists. In classic KGB fashion they attempted to gain the confidence of some of the most outspoken proponents of the new Alexander Dubcek government in order to pass on information about their activities. Additionally, in order to justify a Soviet invasion, the illegals were tasked with planting evidence that rightist groups with the help of Western intelligence agencies were planning to overthrow the government. Finally, the KGB prepared hard line, pro-Soviet members of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (CPC), such as Alois Indra and Vasil Bilak, to assume power following the invasion. The betrayal of the often courageous leaders of the Prague Spring did not leave untouched the KGB's own agents, however; the famous defector Oleg Gordievsky would later remark, "It was that dreadful event, that awful day, which determined the course of my own life"[1] The KGB’s success in Czechoslovakia would be matched by a relatively unsuccessful suppression of the Solidarity labor movement in Poland in the 1980s. The KGB had forecast future instability in Poland with the election of the first Polish Pope, Karol Wojtyla, known better as Pope John Paul II, who had been categorized as subversive through his sermons criticizing the Polish regime. Though it accurately foresaw the coming crisis in the Polish government, the KGB was hindered in its attempts to crush the nascent Solidarity-backed movement against the one-party state by the Polish United Workers' Party (PUWP) itself, who feared an explosion of bloodshed if they imposed martial law as the KGB suggested. The KGB, with the help of their Polish counterparts, the Służba Bezpieczeństwa (SB), succeeded in installing spies in Solidarity and the Catholic Church, and coordinated the declaration of martial law along with Wojciech Jaruzelski and the PUWP (Operation X). However, the PUWP’s vacillating, conciliatory approach had blunted the KGB’s effectiveness, and the movement would fatally weaken the PUWP government later on in 1989.

Suppression of dissent

One of the KGB’s chief preoccupations during the Cold War was the suppression of unorthodox beliefs, the persecution of the Soviet dissidents, and the containment of their opinions. Indeed, this obsession with "ideological subversion" only increased throughout the Cold War, primarily due to the rise of Yuri Andropov in the KGB and his appointment as chairman in 1967. Andropov declared that every instance of dissent was a threat to the Soviet state that must be challenged. He mobilized the resources of the KGB to achieve this goal.

Under Khrushchev, the tight controls over subversive beliefs had been partially relaxed following his denunciation of Stalinist-era terror in a secret speech. This resulted in the reemergence of critical literary works, most notably the publication of One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, in 1962, by Alexander Solzhenitsyn. However, following Khrushchev’s fall from power, the Soviet state and the KGB quickly moved to crack down on all forms of dissent. The KGB routinely searched the homes and monitored the movements of prominent dissidents in an attempt to find incriminating documents. For example, a search in 1965 of Moscow dissidents turned up manuscripts given by Solzhenitsyn (codenamed PAUK, or spider, by the KGB) to a friend that contained allegedly "slanderous fabrications."

The KGB also tracked down writers who published their work anonymously abroad. The infamous case of Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel, who were put on trial in 1965 for their writing of subversive texts, illustrates the reach and obsession of the KGB in its ideological war. Sinyavsky, going by the pseudonym of "Abram Tertz," and Daniel, using the alias of "Nikolai Arzhak," were caught by KGB surveillance of their apartment flats in Moscow after a tip-off from an agent planted within the Moscow literary world.

Soon after the Prague Spring, Andropov set up a Fifth Directorate, whose express purpose was to monitor and crack down on dissent. Andropov was especially concerned with the activities of the two leading Soviet dissidents, Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, declared to be "Public Enemy Number One" (The Sword and the Shield, 325) by Andropov. Andropov was unsuccessful in expelling Solzhenitsyn until 1974, while Sakharov was exiled to the closed Soviet city of Gorky in 1980. The KGB actively, though unsuccessfully, sought to prevent Sakharov from being awarded the Nobel Prize for peace. It promoted the candidacy of Yuri Orlov, although it is unclear how much influence they were able to wield.

The KGB employed multiple methods to infiltrate the dissident community. It planted agents who appeared to sympathize with the dissidents’ cause, employed smear campaigns to discredit the more public figures like Sakharov, and prosecuted dissidents in show trials or harassed the more prominent ones. In prison, Soviet interrogators attempted to wear down their charges while sympathetic KGB stool pigeons tried to gain their confidence.

Eventually, with the emergence of Mikhail Gorbachev and his policy of glasnost, persecution of dissidents was given relaxed priority in the KGB, as Gorbachev himself began to implement some of the policy changes first demanded by the dissidents.

Other notable KGB operations

NKVD Headquarters on Lubyanka Square were designed by Aleksey Schusev.
  • Early in the KGB’s history, it scored a number of successes against counter-revolutionary elements like the White Guards, by luring prominent leaders into the Soviet Union to be executed with skillful, imaginative use of provocateurs (Trust Operation).
  • The KGB was used by Stalin to infiltrate and undermine Trotskyists’ movements. Trotsky himself was assassinated by a KGB agent, Ramón Mercader, in Mexico in 1940.
  • The KGB favored the spread of disinformation to discredit its enemies and promote the truth. Disinformation efforts, termed active measures, were headed by Service A of the FCD.
  • The KGB planned elaborate sabotage operations in the event of the outbreak of war behind enemy lines, planting arms caches in strategic locations.

James Jesus Angleton, the CIA's counter-intelligence chief, on information provided by KGB defector Anatoliy Golitsyn, feared that the KGB had moles in two key places: (i) the CIA's counter-intelligence section, and (ii) the FBI's counter-intelligence department. With said moles in place, the KGB would be aware of and therefore could control U.S. counter-spy efforts to detect, capture, and arrest their spies; it could protect their moles by safely re-directing investigations that might uncover them, or provide them sufficient advance warning to allow their escape. Moreover, KGB counter-intelligence vetted foreign sources of intelligence, so that moles in that area were positioned to stamp their approval of double agents sent against the CIA.

In retrospect, in the context of the capture of the Soviet moles Aldrich Ames and Robert Hanssen, it appears Angleton's fears—then deemed paranoid—were well-grounded. Still, his officially disbelieved assertions cost him his counter-intelligence post in the CIA.

Occasionally, the KGB conducted assassinations abroad—mainly of Soviet Bloc defectors, and often helped other Communist country security services with their assassinations. An infamous example is the September 1978 killing of Bulgarian émigré Georgi Markov in London. Bulgarian secret agents used a KGB-designed umbrella gun to shoot Markov dead with a ricin-poisoned pellet.

Also there are disputed allegations that the KGB was behind the assassination attempt against the Pope John Paul II in 1981 and the death of Dag Hammarskjöld in an air crash in 1961.

The highest-ranking Soviet Bloc intelligence defector, Lt. Gen. Ion Mihai Pacepa described his conversation with Nicolae Ceauşescu who told him about "ten international leaders the Kremlin killed or tried to kill: Laszlo Rajk and Imre Nagy of Hungary; Lucretiu Patrascanu and Gheorghiu-Dej in Romania; Rudolf Slansky, the head of Czechoslovakia, and Jan Masaryk, that country’s chief diplomat; the shah of Iran; Palmiro Togliatti of Italy; American President John F. Kennedy; and Mao Zedong." Pacepa provided some additional details, such as a plot to kill Mao Zedong with the help of Lin Biao organized by KGB and noted that "among the leaders of Moscow’s satellite intelligence services there was unanimous agreement that the KGB had been involved in the assassination of President Kennedy."[2]


The KGB was a national intelligence and security agency for the Soviet Union, and directly controlled the republic-level KGB organizations; however, as Russia was the core republic of the Soviet Union, the KGB itself was also Russia's republic-level KGB. The CPSU directly controlled the KGB and guided its operations.

Senior staff

The Senior staff consisted of a Chairman, one or two First deputy chairmen, and four to six deputy chairmen.

The KGB Collegium—a Chairman, deputy chairmen, Directorate chiefs, and one or two republic-level KGB organization chairmen—affected key policy decisions.


The KGB was organized into directorates, with certain directorates assigned a “chief” status due to their importance. Some were:

  • The First Chief Directorate (Foreign Operations)—responsible for foreign operations and intelligence-gathering. This chief directorate had many sub-directorates of its own.
  • The Second Chief Directorate—responsible for counterintelligence and internal political control of citizens and foreigners in the Soviet Union.
  • The Third Chief Directorate (Armed Forces)—controlled military counter-intelligence and the political surveillance of the Soviet armed forces.
  • The Fourth Directorate (Transportation Security)
  • The Fifth Chief Directorate—also responsible for internal security; originally combatted political dissent; later assumed tasks of the Second Chief Directorate, such as controlling religious dissent, monitoring artists, and publications censorship; it was renamed Directorate Z (to Protect the Constitutional Order) in 1989
  • The Sixth Directorate (Economic Counterintelligence and Industrial Security)
  • The Seventh Directorate (Surveillance)—handled surveillance, providing equipment to follow and monitor activities of both foreigners and Soviet citizens.
  • The Eighth Chief Directorate—responsible for communications, monitoring foreign communications, and the cryptologic systems used by KGB divisions, KGB transmissions to overseas stations, and the development of communications technology.
  • The Ninth Directorate (Guards) (later the KGB Protection Service)—40,000-man uniformed guard force providing bodyguard services to the principal CPSU leaders (and families) and major Soviet government facilities (including nuclear-weapons stocks). It operated the Moscow VIP subway system, and the secure government telephone system linking high-level government and CPSU officers; it became the Federal Protective Service (FPS) under Boris Yeltsin.
  • The Fifteenth Directorate (Security of Government Installations)
  • The Sixteenth Directorate (Communications Interception and SIGINT) —upgraded from Department to Directorate, operated the Soviet Union's government telephone and telegraph systems, thus ensuring successful interception of all communications of interest to the KGB.
  • The Border Guards Directorate—245,000-man border security force dealt with smuggling along the Soviet Union's borders with terrestrial, naval, and air force contingents.
  • The Operations and Technology Directorate—encompasses all the laboratories and scientific research centers for creating bugging, taping, and shooting devices (including Laboratory 12 which created poisons and psychotropic substances)

Other sections

The KGB also contained these independent sections and detachments:

  • KGB Personnel Department
  • Secretariat of the KGB
  • KGB Technical Support Staff
  • KGB Finance Department
  • KGB Archives
  • Administration Department of the KGB, and
  • the CPSU Committee.
  • KGB OSNAZ, (Spetnaz or Special Operations) detachments such as:
    • the Alpha Group,
    • the Beta Group, the Delfin, and
    • the Vympel, etc.; missions and command-control structures remain unknown.
  • Kremlin Guard Force—beyond control of the Ninth Guards Directorate. The uniformed Kremlin Guard Force were the bodyguard of the Praesidium, et al.; it later became the Presidential Security Service PSS.

The Evolution of the KGB

(as depicted in The Sword and the Shield, xv)

December 1917 Cheka
February 1922 Incorporated into NKVD (as GPU)
July 1923 OGPU
July 1934 Reincorporated in NKVD (as GUGB)
February 1941 NKGB
July 1941 Reincorporated in NKVD (as GUGB)
April 1943 NKGB
March 1946 MGB
October 1947 – November 1951 Foreign Intelligence transferred to KI
March 1953 Combined with MVD to form enlarged MVD
March 1954 KGB

(as depicted in The Sword and the Shield, Appendix A)

KGB Chairmen 1917 – 1991
Felix Edmundovich Dzerzhinsky (Cheka/GPU/OGPU) 1917 – 1926
Vyacheslav Rudolfovich Menzhinsky (OGPU) 1926 – 1934
Genrikh Grigoryevich Yagoda (NKVD) 1934 – 1936
Nikolai Ivanovich Yezhov (NKVD) 1936 – 1938
Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria (NKVD) 1938 – 1941
Vsevolod Nikolayevich Merkulov (NKGB) 1941 (February – July)
Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria (NKVD) 1941 – 1943
Vsevelod Nikolayevich Merkulov (NKGB/MGB) 1943 – 1946
Viktor Semyonovich Abakumov (MGB) 1946 – 1951
Semyon Denisovich Ignatyev (MGB) 1951 – 1953
Lavrenti Pavlovich Beria (MGB) 1953 (March – June)
Sergei Nikiforovich Kruglov (MGB) 1953 – 1954
Ivan Aleksandrovich Serov (KGB) 1954 – 1958
Aleksandr Nikolayevich Shelepin (KGB) 1958 – 1961
Vladimir Yefimovich Semichastny (KGB) 1961 – 1967
Yuri Vladimirovich Andropov (KGB) 1967 – 1982
Vitali Vasilyevich Fedorchuk (KGB) 1982 (May – December)
Viktor Mikhailovich Chebrikov (KGB) 1982 – 1988
Vladimir Aleksandrovich Kryuchkov (KGB) 1988 – 1991
Vadim Viktorovich Bakatin (KGB) 1991 (August – November)


  • Russian President Vladimir Putin started out his career in KGB working in the Fifth Directorate, monitoring the activities of the students of the Leningrad University. He later worked for the KGB in East Germany.
  • In the post Soviet republic of Belarus, the KGB still operates under the same name and near identical insignia. Belarus is also the birthplace of Felix Dzerzhinsky, one of the founders of the Cheka.


  1. Christopher Andrew, and Vasili Mitrokhin. The Sword and the Shield. (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 261.
  2. Ion Mihai Pacepa, The Kremlin’s Killing Ways: A long tradition continues. Retrieved July 31, 2007.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Andrew, Christopher, and Vasili Mitrokhin. The Sword and the Shield: The Mitrokhin Archive and the Secret History of the KGB. New York: Basic Books, 2000. ISBN 0465003125
  • Andrew, Christopher and Vasili Mitrokhin. The Mitrokhin Archive: The KGB in Europe and the West. Gardners Books, 2000. ISBN 0140284877
  • Mitrkhin, Vasili and Christopher Andrew. The World Was Going Our Way: The KGB and the Battle for the Third World. Basic Books, 2005. ISBN 0465003117
  • Maclean, Rory. Stalin's Nose: Across the Face of Europe. HarperCollins, 1992. ISBN 978-0006545170

Further reading

  • Albats, Yevgenia and Catherine A. Fitzpatrick. The State Within a State: The KGB and Its Hold on Russia—Past, Present, and Future. Farrar Straus Giroux, 1994. ISBN 0374527385
  • Barron, John. KGB: The Secret Works Of Soviet Secret Agents. Bantam Books, 1981. ISBN 0553232754
  • Birstein, Vadim J. The Perversion Of Knowledge: The True Story of Soviet Science. Westview Press, 2004. ISBN 0813342805
  • Бережков, Василий Иванович. Руководители Ленинградского управления КГБ : 1954-1991. Санкт-Петербург: Выбор, 2004. ISBN 5935180359 (in Russian)

External links

All links retrieved October 4, 2022.


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