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KGB badge.The basic organizational structure of the KGB (Organization of the Committee for State Security) was created in 1954, when the reorganization of the police apparatus was carried out. In the late 1980s, the KGB remained a highly centralized institution, with controls implemented by the Politburo through the KGB headquarters in Moscow.

During Soviet times, the secret police, under its various designations, earned a notorious reputation as the eyes and ears - and often executioner - for the state.

The KGB had a broad network of special departments in all major government institutions, enterprises, and factories. They generally consisted of one or more KGB representatives, whose purpose was to ensure the observance of security regulations and to monitor political sentiments among employees. The special departments recruited informers to help them in their tasks. A separate and very extensive network of special departments existed within the armed forces and defense-related institutions.

KGB badge and ID bookletA
lthough a union-republic agency, the KGB was highly centralized and was controlled rigidly from the top. The KGB central staff kept a close watch over the operations of its branches, leaving the latter minimal autonomous authority over policy or cadre selection. Moreover, local government organs had little involvement in local KGB activities. Indeed, the high degree of centralization in the KGB was reflected in the fact that regional KGB branches were not subordinated to the local soviets, but only to the KGB hierarchy. Thus, they differed from local branches of most union-republic ministerial agencies, such as the MVD, which were subject to dual subordination.

Party personnel policy toward the KGB was designed not only to ensure that the overall security needs of the state were met by means of an efficient and well-functioning political police organization but also to prevent the police from becoming too powerful and threatening the party leadership.
1953 Soviet anti-american poster - Vigilance, our weapon!Achieving these two goals required the careful recruitment and promotion of KGB officials who had the appropriate education, experience, and qualifications as determined by the party. Judging from the limited biographical information on KGB employees, the Komsomol and the party were the main sources of recruitment to the KGB. Russians and Ukrainians predominated in the KGB; other nationalities were only minimally represented. In the non-Russian republics, KGB chairmen were often representatives of the indigenous nationality, as were other KGB employees. In such areas, however, KGB headquarters in Moscow appointed Russians to the post of first deputy chairman, and they monitored activities and reported back to Moscow.

The KGB had a variety of domestic security functions. It was empowered by law to arrest and investigate individuals for certain types of political and economic crimes. It was also responsible for censorship, propaganda, and the protection of state and military secrets.

Headquarters of the KGB, Lubyanka, Moscow.
Headquarters of the KGB, Lubyanka, Moscow.

In carrying out its task of ensuring state security, the KGB was empowered by law to uncover and investigate certain political crimes set forth in the Russian Republic's Code of Criminal Procedure and the criminal codes of other republics. According to the Russian Republic's Code of Criminal Procedure, which came into force in 1960 and has been revised several times since then, the KGB had the authority, together with the Procuracy, to investigate the political crimes of treason, espionage, terrorism, sabotage, anti-Soviet agitation and propaganda, divulgence of state secrets, smuggling, illegal exit abroad, and illegal entry into the Soviet Union. In addition, the KGB was empowered, along with the Procuracy and the MVD, to investigate the following economic crimes: stealing of state property by appropriation or embezzlement or by abuse of official position and stealing of state property or socialist property on an especially large scale.
Moscow, guard on the Red Square.
Moscow, guard on the Red Square.

KGB general parade cap.In carrying out arrests and investigations for these crimes, the KGB was subject to specific rules that were set forth in the Code of Criminal Procedure. The Procuracy was charged with ensuring that these rules were observed. In practice, the Procuracy had little authority over the KGB, and the latter was permitted to circumvent the regulations whenever politically expedient. In 1988 closing some of these loopholes was discussed, and legal experts called for a greater role for the Procuracy in protecting Soviet citizens from abuse by the investigatory organs. As of May 1989, however, few concrete changes had been publicized.

Khrushchev's Biography.The intensity of KGB campaigns against political crime varied considerably over the years. The Khrushchev period was marked by relative tolerance toward dissent, whereas Brezhnev reinstituted a harsh policy. The level of political arrests rose markedly from 1965 to 1973. In 1972 Brezhnev began to pursue détente, and the regime apparently tried to appease Western critics by moderating KGB operations against dissent. There was a sharp reversal after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979, and arrests again became more numerous. In 1986, Gorbachev's second year in power, restraint was reintroduced, and the KGB curtailed its arrests.

The forcible confinement of dissidents in psychiatric hospitals, where debilitating drugs were administered, was an alternative to straightforward arrests. This procedure avoided the unfavorable publicity that often arose with criminal trials of dissenters. Also, by labeling dissenters madmen, authorities hoped to discredit their actions and deprive them of support. The KGB often arranged for such commitments and maintained an active presence in psychiatric hospitals, despite the fact that these institutions were not under its formal authority. The Gorbachev leadership, as part of its general program of reform, introduced some reforms that were designed to prevent the abuse of psychiatric commitment by Soviet authorities, but the practical effects of these changes remained unclear in 1989.

In addition to arrests, psychiatric commitment, and other forms of coercion, the KGB also exercised a preventive function, designed to prevent political crimes and suppress deviant political attitudes. The KGB carried out this function in a variety of ways. For example, when the KGB learned that a Soviet citizen was having contact with foreigners or speaking in a negative fashion about the Soviet regime, it made efforts to set him or her straight by means of a "chat."

The KGB also devoted great efforts to political indoctrination and propaganda. At local and regional levels, KGB officials regularly visited factories, schools, collective farms, and Komsomol organizations to deliver talks on political vigilance. National and republic-level KGB officials wrote articles and gave speeches on this theme. Their main message was that the Soviet Union was threatened by the large-scale efforts of Western intelligence agencies to penetrate the country by using cultural, scientific, and tourist exchanges to send in spies.

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