History of Russian Government Agency The KGB Part 1

About the Russian government agency the KGB, history and information about the organization.




On Dec. 20, 1917, shortly after the Bolshevik Revolution, the new Union of Soviet Socialist Republics formed its first intelligence agency, the Cheka, an acronym for the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counterrevolution and Sabotage. It was headed by Feliks Dzerzhinsky, who ran the organization until his death in 1926. Today, a statue of Dzerzhinsky adorns the front of KGB headquarters, the modern-day successor to the Cheka, in Moscow.

An intelligence force operating both internally and externally was not unprecedented in Russian society. Most of the czars had some sort of secret police force for keeping tabs on suspected troublemakers and prominent citizens. These forces also occasionally took on foreign assignments.

The KGB exists today as the latest successor to a host of other Soviet spy agencies, known to the rest of the world by their initials. The Cheka's name was changed to the GPU in 1922, followed by a number of other name changes, including the OGPU, NKVD, NKGB, MVD, and MGB. But while the Soviet espionage network has been renamed, reorganized, and purged, the changes have been largely cosmetic. The structure and functions have remained basically the same.


After the Russian Revolution, the Cheka began to eliminate the internal enemies of the new Russian regime. This policy reached its height under the tyrannical leadership of Joseph Stalin and his security chief, the equally ruthless Lavrenti Beria. Under their stewardship, what was then known as the NKVD gained its deserved reputation for terror as it set about crushing Stalin's real and imagined enemies. It carried out most of the dirty work of Stalin's purges, organizing the executions and the labor camps used for dissidents.

The NKVD also set about eliminating leaders of anti-Soviet exile groups based mostly in Europe. Even--or especially--leaders of the Communist opposition to Stalin were singled out as victims. Probably the most prominent person assassinated by the NKVD was Leon Trotsky, one of the founding fathers of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky, living in exile in Mexico, was stabbed in the head with an ice ax on Aug. 20, 1940, by a Russian agent who had wormed his way into Trotsky's confidence. (See "Assassinations," Chap. 9)

The modern-day KGB was born on Mar. 13, 1954, one year after Stalin's death and Beria's downfall--he had tried to seize the reins of power--and later execution. Before that the spy organization had been known as the MGB. This change in initials did offer some changes in policy also. After Beria's death, deposed spy chiefs were no longer executed, as had happened to all the others following Dzerzhinsky. In its early years the KGB assassination program continued. In one case a Soviet defector, Nikolai Khokhlov, nearly died of thallium poisoning at the hands of the KGB, and Ukrainian leader Stefan Bandera was murdered in Munich, West Germany, by a KGB agent. By early 1963, however, assassination as a routine practice had been curtailed somewhat.

Today, the KGB is the largest espionage organization in the world, spending an estimated $2 billion annually. However, it not only combines the functions of the FBI and CIA, but also guards Soviet leaders, enforces currency violations, oversees a border patrol of an estimated 300,000 troops, and involves itself in a host of other activities.

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