Russian History


Internal Security Before 1991

The KGB had been an integral feature of the Soviet state since it was established by Nikita S. Khrushchev (in office 1953-64) in 1954 to replace the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (Narodnyy komissariat vnutrennikh del--NKVD), which during its twenty-year existence had conducted the worst of the Stalinist purges. Between 1954 and 1991, the KGB acquired vast monetary and technical resources, a corps of active personnel numbering more than 500,000, and huge archival files containing political information of the highest sensitivity. The KGB often was characterized as a state within a state. The organization was a rigidly hierarchical structure whose chairman was appointed by the Politburo, the supreme executive body of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU--see Glossary). Key decisions were made by the KGB Collegium, a collective leadership including the agency's top leaders and selected republic and departmental chiefs. The various KGB directorates had responsibilities ranging from suppressing political dissent to guarding borders to conducting propaganda campaigns abroad. At the end of the Soviet period, the KGB had five chief directorates, three smaller directorates, and numerous administrative and technical support departments.

In contrast to the United States government, which assigns the functions of domestic counterintelligence and foreign intelligence to separate agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), respectively, the Soviet system combined these functions in a single organization. This practice grew out of the ideology of Soviet governance, which made little distinction between external and domestic political threats, claiming that the latter were always foreign inspired. According to that rationale, the same investigative techniques were appropriate for both foreign espionage agents and Soviet citizens who came under official suspicion. For example, the KGB's Seventh Chief Directorate, whose task was to provide personnel and equipment for surveillance operations, was responsible for surveillance of both foreigners and Soviet citizens.

The KGB's branches in the fourteen non-Russian republics duplicated the structure and operations of the unionwide organization centered in Moscow; KGB offices existed in every subnational jurisdiction and city of the Soviet Union. The KGB's primary internal function was surveillance of the Soviet citizenry, using a vast intelligence apparatus to ensure loyalty to the regime and to suppress all expressions of political opposition. This apparatus served as the eyes and ears of the party leadership, supplying information on all aspects of Soviet society to the Politburo.

The First Chief Directorate was responsible for KGB operations abroad. It was divided into three subdirectorates, responsible respectively for deep-cover espionage agents, collection of scientific and technological intelligence, and infiltration of foreign security operations and surveillance of Soviet citizens abroad. Segmented into eleven geographical regions, the First Chief Directorate placed intelligence-gathering officers in legal positions in embassies and elsewhere abroad. Such activities increased markedly after détente with the West in 1972 permitted many more Soviet officials to take positions in Western and Third World countries. In the 1970s and 1980s, as many as 50 percent of such officials were estimated to be conducting espionage.

The KGB Security Troops, which numbered about 40,000 in 1990, provided the KGB with coercive potential. Although Soviet sources did not specify the functions of these special troops, Western analysts believed that one of their main tasks was to guard the top leaders in the Kremlin, as well as key government and party buildings and officials at the major subnational levels. Such troops presumably were commanded by the Ninth Directorate of the KGB.

The Security Troops also included several units of signal personnel, who reportedly were responsible for installation, maintenance, and operation of secret communications facilities for leading party and government bodies, including the Ministry of Defense. Other special KGB troops performed counterterrorist and counterintelligence operations. Such troops were employed, together with the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs (Ministerstvo vnutrennikh del--MVD), to suppress public protests and disperse demonstrations. Special KGB troops also were trained for sabotage and diversionary missions abroad.

The Internal Troops were a component of the armed forces but were subordinate to the MVD. Numbering about 260,000 in 1990, the Internal Troops were mostly conscripts with a two-year service obligation. Candidates were accepted from both the active military and civilian society. Four schools trained the Internal Troops' officer corps.

The Internal Troops supported MVD missions by aiding the regular police in crowd control in large cities and by guarding strategically significant sites such as large industrial enterprises, railroad stations, and large stockpiles of food and matériel. A critical mission was the prevention of internal disorder that might endanger a regime's political stability. Likely working in concert with KGB Security Troops, the Internal Troops played a direct role in suppressing anti-Soviet demonstrations in the non-Russian republics and strikes by Russian and other workers. Most units of the Internal Troops were composed solely of infantry with no heavy armaments; only one operational division was present in Moscow in 1990. In this configuration, the Internal Troops also might have been assigned rear-echelon security missions in case of war; they performed this duty in World War II.

Regular police forces, called the militia, which were the direct responsibility of the MVD, also played an important role in preserving internal order and fighting corruption; regional and local jurisdictions had no police powers. The Procuracy was the chief investigatory and prosecutorial agency for nonpolitical crimes, with a hierarchical organization that provided procurators (state prosecutors) at all levels of government. Although the new Russian government made several changes in the laws and organization of criminal justice after 1991, the overall system of internal security retained many of the characteristics of its Soviet predecessor.