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The KGB played an important role in furthering Soviet foreign policy objectives abroad. In addition to straightforward intelligence collection and counterintelligence, the KGB participated in the Kremlin's program of active measures. KGB officials also contributed to foreign policy decision making. The main foreign intelligence arm of the Soviet state was reorganized, reauthorized, and renamed several times. It was called the Cheka or VChK (1917-22), the GPU (1922-23), the OGPU (1923-34), the NKVD (1934-41, 1941-43), the NKGB (1941, 1943-46), the MGB (1946-47, 1952-53), the KI (1947-52), the MVD (1953-54), and the KGB (1954-91). The KI was subordinated to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 1949 to 1952.


The First Chief Directorate of the KGB was responsible for KGB operations abroad. The longtime head of the First Chief Directorate, Vladimir Kriuchkov, who had served under Andropov and his successors, was named head of the KGB in 1988.

The Second Chief Directorate also played a role in foreign intelligence in 1989. It recruited agents for intelligence purposes from among foreigners stationed in the Soviet Union, and it engaged in counterintelligence by uncovering attempts of foreign intelligence services to recruit Soviet citizens.

First Chief Directorate

The First Chief Directorate was responsible for all international Soviet clandestine activities, apart from military intelligence collection by the GRU and political initiatives of the Communist Party itself.

Illegals Directorate (Directorate S)

Directorate S recruited, trained, and managed KGB officers assigned to foreign countries under false identities. Most of the staff of the Directorate have either served as illegals, or have served abroad under diplomatic cover.

Scientific and Technical Directorate (Directorate T)

Directorate T was created from the former Department 10 in 1963 to intensify the acquisition of Western strategic, military and industrial technology. By 1972 Directorate T had a headquarters staff of several hundred officers subdivided into four Departments in addition to specialists stationed at major Soviet embassies around the world. The Directorate's operations were coordinated with the scientific and technical collection activities of other KGB elements, and with the the State Scientific and Technical Committee ( GNTK ).

Planning and Analysis Directorate (Directorate I)

Directorate I was established in 1969 to review past operations as a guide to improving future initiatives, although in practice it was said to function more as a dumping-ground for aging or inept officers.

Information Service (Special Service I)

Special Service I was responsible for the correlation and dissemination of routine intelligence collected by the First Chief Directorate, apart from technical intelligence collected and processed by Directorate T. Other related responsibilities included publication of a weekly intelligence summary for Party leaders, briefing officers prior to foreign assignment, conducting special studies at Central Committee direction. The products of the Information Service did not consist of finished estimative intelligence, but rather of raw reports that were provided to senior leaders who drew their own conclusions.

Counterintelligence Service ( Special Service II)

Special Service II was tasked countering foreign intelligence agencies, including penetrating foreign security, intelligence and counter-intelligence services to undermine their effectiveness in countering the activities of the KGB. Special Service II was also responsible for the security officers tasked with monitoring Soviet civilians stationed abroad, including Soviet nationals working as correspondents, trade representatives, Aeroflot clerks, or any other capacity.

Disinformation Department (Department A)

Department A was responsible for clandestine initiatives and campaigns to influence foreign governments and publics, as well to shape perceptions of individuals and groups hostile to Soviet interests. The majority of the Departments activities were implemented by other KGB elements, or other Soviet organizations. The czarist secret police (Okhrana) had deployed the entire range of active measures to marginalize or defeat domestic dissident groups.

In May 1959, the Soviet leadership transformed the KGB from a domestic repressive apparatus into a more sophisticated tool for influencing foreign affairs, one that included a KGB active measures department called Department D. According to CIA testimony in 1961, the KGB produced at least 32 forgeries of official U.S. documents in the previous 4 years (some went undetected) covering diverse topics but all portraying the United States as a major threat to world peace with imperial designs on the Third World.

In 1971, the Soviets again upgraded Department D, making it a “Service” (Service A) and placed it under the direction of a KGB general. In this organizational structure, the Soviets built up a formidable disinformation bureaucracy of some 700 officers52 and integrated it with their larger active measures and strategic intelligence operations, which involved thousands of other personnel. As CIA Director William Casey would later note, “perhaps the most important characteristic of the Soviet active measures program [was] its centralization and integration”.

The term "active measures" is a direct translation of the Russian aktivnyye meropriatia, which was a catchall expression used by the KGB for a variety of influence activities. Non-Soviet sources sometimes defined active measures narrowly as covert Soviet techniques to influence the views and behaviors of the general public and key decisionmakers by creating a positive perception of the Soviets and a negative perception of opponents (that is, perception management).

KGB influence activities did include setting up and funding front groups, covert broadcasting, media manipulation, disinformation and forgeries, and buying agents of influence. However, this understanding of active measures is too narrow. Soviet active measures went beyond overt and covert operations to manipulate perceptions and into the realms of incitement, assassination, and even terrorism. Soviet leaders made no major distinction between overt propaganda and covert action or between diplomacy and political violence.

The Soviet covert action system itself was extremely centralized. Field officers were given very little leeway to take initiatives. Almost everything was considered at the center, in Moscow, and it was worked up in aspects of Soviet foreign security policy. So the Soviets were in a position to react and act quickly if it was something that was in their game plan. But if an event occured out of the blue which didn't automatically fit within the existing guidance game plan, there was no KGB chief of residency that was going to take an initiative, and it would take considerable time back in Moscow before the Soviets could go forward with something.

In fact, that was one of the main reasons that the International Information Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was set up in 1978, when Leonid Mitrofanovich Zamyatin was taken out of Tass and brought in to head this new department, because the reaction time was too long and they weren't properly selling themselves abroad, they felt, and they weren't reacting properly to situations. As a result, the Politburo empowered Zamyatin and his first deputy Falin, who was for many years, Soviet Ambassador to Bonn, to make decisions on the spot.

CIA estimated in 1980 that the KGB covert action budget totalled $3.3 billion - maybe $3 billion primarily propaganda, and maybe $363 million, just roughly breaking it down, as being more traditional covert action. Of the total, Tass is $550 million, and Novosti, which was another $500 million. Pravda was estimated to take about $250 million a year. Izvestia took $200 million a year, New Times $200 million a year. The Radio Moscow foreign service ran, by CIA estimates, $700 million a year. A variety of smaller activities included the KGB foreign residencies, estimated at $100 million a year; the support to the national liberation fronts $200 million a year; the special programs, such as for the anti-neutron bomb, CIA figured that the Soviets put $100 million into that, and they put another $100 million into their counter INF program. They had the support to the two different international departments under the CPSU which ran about $150 million. The press sections in the various Soviet embassies around the world spend, by CIA estimates, about $50 million a year. And then their clandestine radios, such as Radio Baku, ran another $100 million. The Soviet Union spent $63 million a year on a variety of international organizations, just sustaining them for the purpose of propaganda and covert action. Trade unions would fit in here. These figures were not necessarily all that is spent, for instance, on Tass and Novosti. This was CIA's best esimate; what is probably primarily devoted to foreign propaganda and related activities.

The Reagan administration set up a classified working group on Soviet active measures that operated out of the National Security Council (NSC) staff, and some who attended these meetings were also members of the group operating out of State. The classified group at the NSC used a wider range of methods and addressed a broader set of Soviet active measures than the unclassified interagency working group led by the Department of State (and later the United States Information Agency [USIA]).

Executive Action Department (Department V)

Department V was responsible for "wet affairs" (mokrie dela) -- murders, kidnappings, and sabotage -- which involve bloodshed. Previously known as the Thirteenth Department or Line F, the Department was enlarged and redesignated in 1969, and tasked with sabotaging critical infrastructure so as to immobilize Western countries during future crises. The Department employed officers stationed in Soviet embassies, illegals stationed abroad, and the services of professional.

The Soviet state security service (KGB) resorted to abduction and murder to combat what are considered to be actual or potential threats to the Soviet regime. These techniques, frequently designated as "executive action", could and were employed abroad as well as within the borders of the USSR. They have been used against Soviet citizens, Soviet emigrés, and even foreign nationals. A list of those who fell victim to such action over the years would be a very long one and would include even the co-founder of the Soviet state, Leon Trotsky.

The executive action component of the Soviet government was 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 kidnapings.

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 this type of executive action, although the GRU reportedly can undertake such operations under certain circumstances.

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.

Many known or suspected executive action cases in the post-war period involved the use of poison rather than guns or explosives. It was conceivable that the Soviets tended to favor poisons because murders can be accomplished more surreptitiously in this manner and in some instances without leaving easily recognizable traces of foul play. Drugs were also used to incapacitate a person temporarily for abduction purposes.

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 13th Department was believed to be divided into sections (otdeleniye) or directions (napravleniye) by countries or groups of countries, such as, for example, the United States ("the main 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 Britian. 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 November 1961 a Soviet intelligence officer, Bogdan Stashinskiy, surrendered to the West German police, stating that he had, acting under official orders, assassinated two individuals during the previous few years: Lev Rebet, a Ukrainian emigré writer, and Stepan Bandera, the prominent leader of the Ukrainian Nationalist movement. In both cases, a similar type of weapon was used: a gun which fired vaporized poison which killed almost instantly upon being inhaled. The properties of the killing agent were such that, until the defection of the assassin, both victims were officially believed to have died from heart attacks. In the case of Bandera, however, there was some unconfirmed suspicion of potassium cyanide poisioning, although there was insufficient evidence to prove it.

Geographic Departments

The operational core of the First Chief Directorate lay in its geographical departments [numbering ten in the early 1970s and growing to eleven by the late 1980s]. The geographic Departments were responsible for the majority of the KGB enterprises abroad. The duties of this department included the staff of KGB "legal" Residencies [rezidenty] in Soviet embassies, operating under legal cover while engaged in intelligence collection, espionage, and active measures, as well as KGB illegals [apart from those operating under assignment from the Executive Action and Disinformation Departments]. They also managed operations initiated through international communist-front organizations, as well as other agent of influence operations.

    1st Department

    United States and Canada

    2nd Department

    Latin America

    3rd Department

    United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, and Scandinavia

    4th Department

    Federal Republic of Germany, Austria

    5th Department

    France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Ireland

    6th Department

    China, North Vietnam, North Korea

    7th Department

    Japan, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the rest of Asia

    8th Department

    Arab nations, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Greece, Iran, Afghanistan, and Albania

    9th Department

    English-speaking nations of Africa

    10th Department

    French-speaking nations of Africa

Other Departments

11th Department

The 11th Department, formerly known as the Advisers Department, conducted liaison with counterpart services in Cuba and Eastern European countries.

12th Department

The 12th [Cover Organs] Department provided KGB personnel with cover jobs in other Soviet institutions, as diplomats, journalists, tourists, or delegates to conferences.

13th Department

The 13th Department provided secure communications with Residencies, officers, and agents in the field.

14th Department

The 14th Department supplied forged passports and other documents, invisible writing materials, incapacitating chemicals, and other technical devices required in Foreign Directorate operations. Specialists in Soviet embassies monitored local communications and provided technical assistance to the Residency.

15th Department

15th Department maintained the operational files and archives of the First Chief Directorate.

16th Department

The 16th Department performed routine personnel functions and recruits prospective staff officers for the First Chief Directorate. Many officer candidates were recruited from the Institutes of International Affairs and Eastern Languages in Moscow.

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Page last modified: 23-09-2017 12:58:36 ZULU