The executive action component of the Soviet government is currently designated the 13th Department of the KGB intelligence directorate (First Chief Directorate). The earliest known predecessor of the 13th Department was the so-called "Directorate of Special Tasks" reportedly established within the NKVD in December 1936 for terror purposes. During World War II terror missions were performed by the NKGB Fourth Directorate, which was responsible for partisan activity behind German lines. In late 1945 or early 1946 this directorate was replaced by a unit of the MGB known as Spets Byuro #1, which was organized to retain Fourth Directorate personnel to support and direct partisan activities behind enemy lines in the event of a future war. In the summer of 1952, however, the long-range aspects of Spets Byuro #1 mission were abandoned, and emphasis was shifted to using all available agents for sabotage and other violent activities. Spets Byuro #1 was given a new, and at present still unknown, designation some time in 1953 and assigned to carry out "special action tasks," such as sabotage, political murders, and kidnappings. With the creation of the KGB in 1954, the executive action component was redesignated as the 13th Department. Although the jurisdiction of the department is global, its main target areas are the United States and members of Western treaty organizations. There is no evidence of the existence of any unit within the Soviet military intelligence component (the GRU) responsible for the type of executive action discussed in this paper, although the GRU reportedly can undertake such operations under certain circumstances.
The 13th Department is believed to be divided into sections (otdeleniye) or directions (napravleniye) by countries or groups of countries, such as, for example, the United States ("the principal enemy"), England, Latin America, etc. At Moscow headquarters the department has approximately 50 to 60 experienced employees, and was last known to be headed by a General Rodin, who under the alias Korovin had previously been the KGB resident in Great Britain. Secrecy about the work of this department is maintained through the careful selection and training of its personnel; the officers do not discuss their experience among others; department documents are not circulated.
In addition to headquarters personnel, the 13th Department has its own support officers in legal residencies in Western countries and in some satellite countries. Such support officers work under the instructions of the legal resident and the 13th Department. One of the more active groups is a unit in East Germany which numbers perhaps 20 to 30 persons. As of 1960 there was a group in China, but it probably no longer exists. Prior to 1955 there was also a group in Austria. In a country in which a support officer of the 13th Department is stationed, the legal resident and the headquarters department for that country are aware of the targets of the 13th Department in that country, although they are not aware of illegal agents who are in direct contact with the 13th Department.
Although the 13th Department is the KGB's executive action component, the Emigr6 (Ninth) Department directs all operations, including assassination operations, against Soviet emigr6s. The Emigr6 Department's assassination operations, however, are believed to be conducted jointly with the 13th Department and sometimes other KGB components-for example, the counterintelligence directorate (Second Chief Directorate).
The 13th Department also supports the Disinformation (12th) Department of the First Chief Directorate in the latter's covert propaganda campaigns aimed at the creation of confusion and panic in Western countries. An example is the campaign conducted, in 1959 and later, for the purpose of creating adverse world opinion toward West Germany. This campaign included setting fire to synagogues and painting swastika signs in public places, and attributing these acts to West Germans. Other operations in which both the 13th Department and the Disinformation Department are involved include attempts to remove the threat to Soviet interests posed by certain members of Western governments. Sometimes this entails arranging for the dismissal of such persons from public office, but in theory at least it could mean "eliminating" them physically.
The defector Khokhlov described two laboratories associated with the executive action department. One produced special weapons and explosive devices; the other developed poisons and drugs for "special tasks." The explosives laboratory was located near Kuchino, outside Moscow, and was responsible for the development and production of weapons, from drawing up blueprints to melting and pouring bullets in no case was assistance obtained from military ordnance or other outside agencies.
The laboratory for poisons was supposedly a large and super-secret installation. No agents were permitted access to it or even knew of its location. Khokhlov could provide no first-hand information on it. Other sources, however, have reported the existence of this type of laboratory dating back to the purges in the late 1930's. A report from one source in 1954 described an experimental laboratory within Spets Byuro #1 known as the "Chamber" (Kamera). This laboratory conducted experiments on prisoners and persons subject to execution to test the effectiveness of different powders, beverages, and liquors, and various types of injections, as well as research on the use of hypnotism to force prisoners to confess. Beside its staff, only certain high-level persons were permitted to enter its premises. Although its existence officially was kept a secret, it was generally suspected or known by many state security functionaries that a unit of this sort was maintained. The Soviet government allegedly abolished the "Kamera" in October 1953, according to an announcement made to selected state security and Party officials, attributing the establishment and operation of the laboratory solely to Beriya and his close associates. Whether or not this step actually was taken does not rule out the possibility, however, that the same type of unit continues to exist in some other form.
Training for executive action operations was conducted at a base in Moscow by a staff of instructors who specialized in such subjects as the use of small arms, jujitsu, code, wireless, driving, surveillance, and photography.
Although executive action operations outside the USSR are planned, directed, and sometimes carried out by state security staff personnel, a mission may also be performed by one or more agents recruited specifically for this prupose. Khokhlov himself, for instance, was categorically forbidden to assassinate Okolovich personally.
Two German agents, Hans Kukowitsch and Kurt Weber, were to carry out the deed under Khokhlov's supervision. This reflected Soviet theory that indigenous personnel would have better access to the target, and also had the advantage of avoiding direct Soviet attribution. It appears from the Stashinskiy case, however, that security considerations ruled out the involvement of non-Soviets in more recent operations.
Even though some sources have made statements to the contrary, it appears that the agents (as opposed to staff employees like Stashinskiy) who perform executive action for the Soviets may be used for more than one mission of this nature. Khokhlov spoke of special executive action units known as "boyevaya gruppa" (literally, combat groups) which consisted of indigenous agents and/or Soviet illegal staff officers situated outside the borders of the USSR on the territory of hostile governments or in close proximity thereto. Such groups were armed and prepared to perform executive actions when required to do so, either in time of peace or war. A group of this type under the direction of the executive action department base at Karlshorst ostensibly was involved in the kidnaping of Dr. Alexander Trushnovich, an NTS leader in West Berlin, in April 1954, Khokhlov believed the abductors to have been recruited and organized by the East German security service at the request of the KGB chief at Karlshorst. The same type of group was mentioned in connection with the abduction of Dr. Linse; the actual abduction was reportedly performed by four German members of a "boyevaya gruppa" from East Germany. It is probable that such teams are a modern variation of the "mobile groups" described by a pre-war source as units dispatched from Moscow to foreign countries to assassinate Trotskyites and state security officers who refused to return to the USSR, as in the case of Reiss and possibly Krivitskv.