Introduction - KGB (Soviet Union), the Committee for State Security, Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti.
The Sword and the Shield
The KGB was the Soviet Union's premier security agency, secret police, and intelligence agency, from 1954 to 1991. This name is still commonly used today to describe the current Russian agencies - it happens both in former Soviet republics and in the Western press, when referring to Russian Federation's Federal Security Service (FSB). The term KGB is also used in a more general sense to refer to the successive Soviet State Security organizations before 1954 (starting with the Cheka in 1917). It is also worth mentioning that KGB has kept its original name in Belarus.
The KGB encompassed a very wide range of 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 Federal Protective Service, and the Secret Service in the United States, or by the twin organizations MI5 and Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) in the United Kingdom. The "western" readers may find it hard to imagine the scale and role of the KGB - not only it monitored and analyzed almost every aspect of the lives of Soviet citizens, but was able to compete and triumph over various Western intelligence agencies. Needless to say, it is considered the most powerful internal security organization to have ever existed. I will write more about its functions and organization a bit later in this or other articles.
The KGB drew most of its inspiration from the secret service associated with the Bolshevik Party. It was commonly said that "Soviet Union can't be imagined without the KGB and vice versa".
From dust to dust
The first of the forerunners of the KGB, the Cheka, was established on December 20, 1917. Headed by Felix Edmundovich 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", it replaced the Tsarist Okhranka and became the ultimate tool of power for the Bolshevik party.
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, Lavrentiy Beria consolidated the Russian Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD) and the MGB into one body—the MVD; within a year, Beria was executed and MVD was split. The reformed MVD retained its police and law enforcement powers, while the second, new agency, the KGB, assumed internal and external security and intelligence 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 failed 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.