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The KGB (Комитет Государственной Безопасности, Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti = "Committee for State Security"), not to be confused with the Centre of Moscow, that is only a nickname for the part of Moscow within Sadovoye (Garden) Ring) and its predecessors, the State Sec of the USSR as well as its (technically) civilian foreign intelligence agency, though it used a military ranking system.

The name of this article is the way Soviet intelligence is referred to in the works of John le Carré, but was also an internal name used by the KGB. Soviet spies in other countries, like Stirlitz from Seventeen Moments of Spring, used the "Centre" moniker to denote their bosses in Moscow.


The first thing you'll need to know is that the Soviet state security service was named "KGB" only after 1954.

It was originally formed in 1917 as the Cheka/VCheKa ("Extraordinary Commission"/Vserossiyskaya Cherezvychaynaya Komissiya), shortly after the October Revolution and led by Felix Dzerzhinsky. It was originally supposed to be a temporary body to ensure security during the 'extraordinary" circumstances of the October Revolution and later Russian Civil War (hence the name). But, by the end of the war, it had grown powerful enough to make itself... somewhat less temporary under 'Iron Felix' Dzherzhinsky. Indicative of Iron Felix's status within the party was that he was the only one who ignored Lenin's smoking ban (in party meetings) and got away with it. Fortunately for the country, Dzherzhinsky's unfortunate death from a heart attack in 1926 prevented the organisation from amassing even more power. Also, it originally dealt only with suppressing dissidents, but acquired a foreign intelligence section in 1920.

During Stalin's time, the OGPU ("Joint State Political Directorate/gosudarstvennoye politicheskoye upravlenie") later merged into the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs/Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del), which played a central role in the Purges. After the purge of NKVD Chief Yagoda in the first show trials of '36, the purges were extended to wider society in the so-called "Yezhovshchina" or Great Purges after the replacement NKVD chief Nikolai "The Bloody Dwarf" Yezhov. To fulfill the inflated quotas set by overzealous local leaders and approved by senior leaders (including, ultimately, Stalin in Order 00447), several branches of the NKVD resorted to pulling in just about everyone who was using a fake passport or had a criminal record. Once it became clear that they had interrogated and imprisoned, or even executed, at least a hundred thousand people who had not been guilty of the specific crimes they were accused of, numerous NKVD officers were imprisoned or executed for their crimes in turn.

By 1938, Stalin realized that Yezhov's purges had been killing off an irreplaceable amount of the expertise needed for national defense and industrial production, especially against a certain growing threat to the west. Cue the latter's removal, unperson-ing, and replacement with trusted subordinate Lavrentiy Berianote  within two years.

During the purges themselves, people from the persecuted classes (criminals, intellectuals, 'Kulaks' and their family members) felt that almost any one of them could be taken at any time. Consequently, many of them liked to believe that denunciations were important in determining whom the NKVD arrested. In fact, denunciations were irrelevant. The NKVD decided who to arrest independently of denunciations, and paid heed to or ignored them entirely as they wished. Believing in the power of the denunciations was a psychological defense mechanism by which people from persecuted demographics could feel that they had some measure of control over the fates of themselves and those close to them.

In the 1970s the popular historian Robert Conquest heard that one man had denounced 69 individuals and another had denounced an entire factory with 250 employees. He told his readers that they had probably all been arrested as a result. Closer examination has led to the conclusion that in reality, the insane ramblings of both men were entirely ignored in both cases. Denunciations meant nothing. Prior convictions, on the other hand, were critical.

Beria was less trigger-happy but, unfortunately, completely insane. That said, another take on Beria views him as a pragmatic man (and also a serial rapist) who was brought in specifically to do something with the unholy mess the Great Purges turned into. Since he was the first person to lose in the political infighting which came after Stalin's death, there is plenty of opportunity to suspect Written by the Winners and scapegoating in his case, with a number of researchers denying the sexual crimes as well, but that's a subject yet to be resolved.

Stalin never trusted or liked Beria, who had a well-deserved reputation as a depraved sexual predator, even if he did consider him a useful attack dog. Stalin once went crazy with worry upon hearing that his own beloved daughter was alone in a house with the NKVD chief, and sent armed men to escort her away. Even as early as 1942, he told Beria's personal aide to "Send me everything this asshole writes down," just in case the need arose to have him purged like his predecessors (doesn't say that much, actually; in Stalin's times, it was normal and none too secret procedure with all officials, since he could feel the need to purge anyone sooner or later).

Luckily, Beria proved to be a ruthless, but efficient administrator, and quickly cleaned up the house and reined the purges in, even starting a judicial review on the cases tried during his predecessors. In fact, some people who suffered the Great Purges were rehabilitated during Stalin's regime. After that, Beria continued to serve as a Stalin's right hand man,note  using his sinister reputation as a motivational tool. It proved to be his undoing later though.

As for the NKVD itself, after the war it became the MGB (Ministry for State Security) in 1946. It lost foreign intelligence for a while and in 1953 was merged into the Ministry for Internal Affairs for a year by Beria. After Stalin's death Beria, as well as many other Politburo members, took part in a fierce competition to get supreme power. The first part of this consisted of everyone joining forces against Beria, who was considered too dangerous to live, let alone rule the USSR. After he was safely dead, the remaining Politburo members could have a nice, civilized power struggle in which the losers were merely disgraced and demoted, as opposed to being shot.

It's said that Beria begged for his life before he was shot, something people considered a kind of poetic justice given that he sent so many others to their deaths without mercy (to give a measure of the difference in accounts about him, other rumors claim he actually tried an Open Shirt Taunt, but failed due to the high quality of said shirt). Another rumor is that during his arrest he, surprised and agitated, was personally shot by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, whom Khruschev reportedly brought specifically in case of him resisting, and his later public process was actually a sham. (This rumor probably inspired the similar scene in David Weber's Ashes of Victory, with Admiral Theisman shooting the Committee of Public Safety Chairman and State Sec's head Oscar Saint-Just, allegedly based in large part on Beria.) Yet another legend involving Beria — again, of arguable veracity, but collecting stories is what we do here at TV Tropes — is that he intended to make peace with the Western Allies had he won the power struggle, seeing no use in making the bid for world domination when he could just settle for a nice little country-sized Torture Cellar. But enough of Beria for now.

Becoming the KGB in 1954, the body spent the rest of its time conducting internal repression and foreign espionage (though internally it was not all repression — the KGB handled high-profile crime the same way the FBI does). Its head from 1967-82, Yuri Andropov, would become leader of the USSR for two years from 1982 until his death in 1984.

Soviet intelligence engaged in some very successful intelligence operations against the West before and during the Cold War, including:

  • Getting key information on the Manhattan Project.
  • Getting five agents, later known as the Cambridge Five, into pretty high positions in British intelligence. Their names were Harold "Kim" Philby, Donald Maclean, Anthony Blunt, Guy Burgess and John "Fiery" Cairncross. Kim Philby wound up running the Russia desk - the irony was not lost on him. They almost got Philby to the head of SIS itself before SIS caught on and he defected to the USSR.
  • Cultivating the mole John Anthony Walker, who offered information on US naval technology that helped make the "Victor III" and "Akula" classes significantly quieter than their predecessors.
  • Cultivating a British mole Melita Norwood, who worked at the Woolwich Arsenal and who supplied secrets pertaining to the British nuclear program to the KGB right until the USSR dissolved. Unlike Walker, she was not caught until long after the fall of the USSR, and escaped conviction due to old age.
  • Finding and assassinating Leon Trotsky, one of the original leaders of the October Revolution, who just wouldn't shut up in his criticism of Stalin. Stalin was convinced that Trotsky was an all-powerful leader with an army of revolutionaries who was going to kick his ass, when really, he was just an old man whose son's chief adviser was himself a KGB agent. Still he was noisy as hell and extremely politically inconvenient when Stalin was trying to improve the USSR's foreign relations.
  • Several other acts of sabotage and assassination. It isn't unusual for Police in European states to occasionally dig up booby traps (called Molniya Devices — Russian for "Lightning") and document piles left behind by the KGB. Some are still active, often with fatal consequences for the ones making the discovery.

The KGB also engaged in some other assassination operations, mainly of defectors, working with other allied organisations to do this. The most infamous was the 1978 assassination of Georgi Markov, a Bulgarian dissident living in London, involved an umbrella firing pellets filled with Ricin. The statute of limitations recently expired on that case, with no one being brought to justice. They were suspected to have been behind the attempted assassination of (Polish) Pope John Paul II in 1981 by Mehmet Ali Agca - which turned out to be a false assumption as the assassin claimed that it had been ordered by the Iranians. Allegations that Lee Harvey Oswald was in the KGB's employ have little to substantiate them. The service itself, however, naturally denied all these accusations, stating that they renounced such methods since just after the war. But then, they would say that, wouldn't they?

However, not all of these attacks were successful. One low moment for the KGB in 1954 being when an officer by the name of Nikolai Khokhlov sent to supervise the assassination of a lead figure of a Frankfurt-based group of Russian anti-communists, went to his target's flat, told the guy that had been sentenced to death by Moscow and that he was in charge of the group sent to kill him... but that he wasn't going to kill him. Then (once the target had presumably calmed down) Khokhlov, who had an attack of conscience, went to the authorities to defect and much publicity ensued. His wife back in the USSR (who said she would leave him if he did the murder) got sentenced to five years of internal exile and three years later, the KGB tried to kill him with thallium or polonium, but he survived. He eventually ended up a psychology professor in California and survived until 2006.

In addition to killing people, the KGB also liked to engage in sexual compromise operations (which they called Kompromat) and sent forged documents purporting to be from Western intelligence agencies etc. to unsuspecting or friendly journalists. It's alleged that their successor, the FSB, still does the Honey Trap thing. Any comment on the relevance of this to current affairs is best discussed elsewhere.

After its role in the failed August 1991 coup, the organisation was dissolved, being separated into several independent agencies, such as the FSO (Federal Protection Service), FSK (Federal Counterintelligence Service), FPS (Federal Border Control Service), etc. This model, however, proved largely unworkable, and most of these services were later reamalgamated into one. This KGB successor, the FSB (Federal'naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti — Federal Security Service) is now the main domestic security service. Foreign intelligence, on the other hand, remained independent, called the SVR (Sluzhba Vneshnei Razvedki — Foreign Intelligence Service), as did the FSO — something that fiction writers tend to forget.

The FSB also eventually inherited the Border Guard service from the KGB (after about a decade of its functioning as an independent organization), including its maritime component, and as such is also responsible for Coast Guard duty. This FSB's pocket navy is not that big and is armed with relatively small warships, but most of them are quite modern and well equipped, compared with the Navy proper, as the FSB tended to be better financed and had lower operational expenses, so it could afford ordering new ships. Same is the situation with the land component, the Border Troops. In times of war both are to be folded into the regular military.

The current President of Russia, Vladimir Putin, was a KGB officer; he has brought many of his ex-KGB colleagues into powerful positions in government. Ever since Putin took power, the joke about the SVR and FSB (and especially the FSB) has been "new name, same friendly service."

By the way, the Belarussian branch of the KGB wasn't dissolved. It still exists under this very name, though at least border control functions were transferred to a separate committee. Contrast with neighboring former Soviet republic Lithuania, which has turned their old KGB building into a museum of sorts against such forces (having been subject to the Okhrana, the Gestapo, and the KGB will give you a healthy distaste for secret policenote ).


The KGB was run by the Chairman of the KGB, who led a Collegium that included a number of First Deputy and Deputy Chairmen, as well as Directorate heads.

Key units in the KGB included:

  • First Chief Directorate (Foreign Operations): Dealt with foreign operations. This moved out of the overcrowded Lubyanka Building to a dedicated facility (now SVR HQ) in Yasenevo in the early 1970s. During this time, the man assigned to move the archives — a chap called Vasiliy Mitrokhin — took extensive notes on them, which he would later take to the UK. Most of what we know of the KGB today comes from his work.
    • This included Vympel — also known as Directorate T. It was a special operations group dealing in things like sabotage.
    • The most infamous part, however, was Directorate S — also known as the Illegals Division. These were the spies who infiltrated into other nations, with deep-cover identities and perfect secrecy. Reportedly, many of them are still active.
    • There was also Service A — whose job was disinformation. They did stuff like putting fake articles and news items into Newspapers, Journals, Radio and TV Broadcasts, and generally screwing with the public's mind. That's right, these guys were dealing in "Fake News" before it was even a thing. How effective it was, is somewhat hazy, since they had the bad habit of exaggerating their success. They're still at it, just more discreet. The actual impacts of this, or lack thereof, are best discussed elsewhere.
    • There was Line X — who stole scientific and technological data. They infiltrated firms like Lockheed Martin and Boeing to swipe their plans, as well as details on defence contracts by the US Military and other military secrets worldwide. The biggest Line X source was Japan, which was prone to corporate corruption and which, consequently, provided a wealth of data on classified military projects as well as vital science and technology data. The overall failure was simply that the USSR's economic model was too inefficient to apply the stolen concepts properly.
    • In addition to all of this, it also carried out extensive analysis and study of the situation outside the USSR, which shaped the Soviet foreign policy view quite considerably. However, they had the bad habit of telling the Politburo what they wanted to hear, with unfortunate results like the Cuban Missile Crisis.
  • Second Chief Directorate: Internal political control. These were the guys people called Commissars.
  • Third Chief Directorate: Monitoring the armed forces.
  • Seventh Directorate (Surveillance): Monitoring foreigners and suspect Soviets.
    • Included the still-existing Alfa Group, the KGB equivalent to Spetsnaz GRU, responsible for counter-terrorist operations and other stuff of that nature, including storming the Presidential Palace in Kabul in the opening attacks of the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan.
      • Officially named simply "A" Directorate (originally it was the "A" Team of the 7th Main Directorate) in 1972 after the Munich Olympics attacks, when it became apparent that the terrorist threat would only increase.
  • Eighth Chief Directorate - Monitored all internal, foreign and overseas communications. Handled cryptologic equipment, as well as all R&D on them.
  • Border Troops Directorate: Patrolled the borders, including with frigates.

Not to be confused with the GRU

It is important to not to confuse the KGB with the GRU (Glavnoje Razvedyvatel'noje Upravlenije- Main Intelligence Directorate). The latter, still existing, is a military intelligence service and existed partly as a military check on the power of the KGB. The GRU primarily focused on external intelligence and security, while the KGB dealt with the internal, but there are exceptions to this rule in both camps. Regardless, the KGB gets more attention in fiction.

The difference is similar to the difference between the CIA and the NIS (Naval Intelligence Service) or USAMI (US Army Military Intelligence). The two services also notoriously don't get along, largely because GRU considers itself the heir to the old Tsarist military intelligence (given how large a percentage of the former Tsarist officers joined the Red Army, bringing their institutional experience, it isn't much of a stretch), while KGB/FSB were/are "those Bolshevik upstarts". For their part, during the early Soviet period the Cheka/NKVD regarded the GRU as "those bourgeois remnants", and so the mutual hostility was born.

In fiction

The KGB and its predecessors have featured in thousands of works of fiction, mostly set during the Cold War. Naturally, they are Villains by Default. The only time KGB agents aren't evil is when they're fighting a Renegade Russian.

KGB agents have a reputation for ruthlessness and a distinct lack of scruples. Their ladies are often a Honey Trap or The Baroness and the organisation attracts assassins like rotten meat attracts flies. Torture is definitely on the menu.

Operatives can often be found in the refugee community, often in the role as "illegals", with fake identities and "legends" (entire falsified backgrounds).


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    Anime & Manga 
  • In Black Lagoon, a former KGB officer shows up as a contact of Balalaika during the Yakuza arc: since she's a former Soviet army officer (and actually heavily hinted to be a GRU agent herself), she hates his guts and ends up framing him for some of her activities against the Yakuza she's fighting; when they then kill him, she's able to justify escalating her actions against the Yakuza to her superiors.

     Comic Books 
  • Supervillain KGBeast from the DC Universe. And then of course, there's his protégé, NKVDemon.
  • Spirou and Fantasio in Moscow has the duo "recruited" to help KGB track down Fantasio's cousin Zantafio, who is posing as the rightful Heir to the Czar.
  • Marvel Comics:
    • Marvel's Black Widow was an ex-KGB agent, while her successor, Yelena Belova, worked for the FSB.
    • Bucky Barnes was, as the Winter Soldier, the KGB's most feared assassin.
    • The immortal Eternals Valkin and Druig (as well as minor characters Aginar and Zarin) infiltrated the KGB during the Cold War. Valkin used his role to calm tensions between the USSR and the West, hoping to avoid open war. Druig, on the other hand, reportedly enjoyed the power and potential for malice that the role gave him.

  • The Bourne Supremacy: Kirill (played by Karl Urban) is an FSB agent who works as a gun-for-hire for oligarch Yuri Gretkov to assassinate Bourne and frame him for the theft of CIA documents; this fails, so Bourne later tracks him to Moscow.
  • The Assignment (1997) involves a plot to frame terrorist Carlos the Jackal as a CIA informant so the KGB will kill him; the climax has a KGB Alfa Group assaulting the safehouse that Carlos is staying in.

  • A great number of James Bond villains (in the books anyway) are Soviet agents of some sort: in the films, the KGB-affiliated bad guys are usually renegades — General Gogol, the head of the KGB for most of the Roger Moore era, only goes as far as Friendly Enemy status in For Your Eyes Only, and in A View to a Kill he even gives Bond a medal.
  • The antagonists in many of John le Carré's novels, particularly the Smiley books, work for Russian intelligence, which is referred to as "Moscow Centre" throughout, as mentioned above.
  • A majority of Tom Clancy's fictional works involve the KGB or its successors; until the The Sum of All Fears, people of Moscow Centre were always cast as the antagonists, though infrequently as outright villains.
  • In Harry Turtledove's Worldwar, several of the Soviet characters have to deal with NKVD interference During the War. As this is an Alternate History, the butterfly effect means that the service is still called the NKVD by the 1960s, at which point its leader Lavrenti Beria launches an unsuccessful coup.
  • Appear in various roles in Martin Cruz-Smith's Gorky Park series of books, particularly the earlier ones that took place during the Cold War. Notably, in the second book, Polar Star, Renko discovers that a suspect in his investigation works for the GRU, and once he gets him alone, is able to get him to spill everything he knows simply by implying that he is with the KGB by using what is implied to be their catchphrase note 
  • A quite sympathetic, if indirect, portrayal of a Soviet secret police officer in Doctor Zhivago. Zhivago's half brother, Yevgraf, is a high-ranking secret police official. His help is indispensable in ensuring Zhivago's survival.
  • Pavel Rusanov, one of the patients in Cancer Ward, is a KGB official and a thoroughly unpleasant individual who frequently comes into conflict with less ideologically conformist patients.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The KGB plays a key role in Airwolf, stealing the titular chopper in the pilot and making several attempts to steal it again through the series.
  • Irina Derevko in Alias was a KGB agent on a deep cover mission, sent to seduce and marry Jack Bristow.
  • The main characters in The Americans are deep cover KGB agents in early 1980s USA.
  • Former KGB agents show up all the time in Burn Notice; most frequently, they are no longer in government service (typically as freelance assassins, "security consultants", or gangsters, although sometimes they show up in association with The Cartel, especially if the Cartel in question is Venezuelan). A few show up as legitimate or only half-shady business owners (the businesses usually being nightclubs). The Russians who are in government service tend to be portrayed much more sympathetically.
  • One episode of Deadliest Warrior featured agents of this group versus that of the CIA.
  • The Assets prominently features the KGB, as they manage their American asset Aldrich Ames and arrest all the spies that Ames betrays to them.

    Web Original 
  • Covert 81 features a fictional black ops section of the KGB called Chameleonnote . It is placed under the Fifteen Directorate (Security of Government Installations) for concealment reasons.

    Video Games 
  • Appear as the secondary group of antagonists in Destroy All Humans! 2, where they destroy the Furon mothership, killing Orthopox, before attempting to kill Crypto. Most of the Mooks are depicted as vodka-drinking people with an obsession of cabbage and rabbits.
    • Natalya Ivanova, Crypto's ally and Love Interest, is a rogue member of the KGB, who is aware of their corruption. Her boyfriend, Sergei, is also a member.
  • Metal Gear Solid 3: Ocelot is a KGB double agent spying on GRU's Colonel Volgin. Except he's really a CIA agent spying on both of them.
    • In addition, a lot of the political strife comes from Volgin's section of GRU seceding from the Soviet Union in an attempt to take power. The KGB (embodied in the few soldiers guarding Sokolov in the Virtuous Mission) don't want that, but because the GRU is vastly superior to them, they can't do anything about it.
  • Alpha Protocol: Alexi Dravic. He is only mentioned in one paragraph in the Alpha Protocol dossier, but he is (was?) apparently ex-KGB and a major rival of Yancy Westridge. He is seemingly a legend amongst the espionage community, enough to earn him the moniker of "Red Baron of modern espionage".
  • Leisure Suit Larry 2: Looking for Love (in Several Wrong Places) has Larry evade the KGB after he accidentally steals an onklunk holding top secret U.S. government microfiche, unbeknownst to him; if he ever gets captured, he will be TORTURED TO DEATH by the KGB with... alto saxophone reeds.
  • Phantom Doctrine is a Cold War / Spy Fiction game set in 1983, and one of its campaigns features a KGB operative codenamed "Kodiak" as the player's avatar.