The Soviet Union operated perhaps the most sucessful spy networks. The intelligence abnd state security functions were merged in the Soviet state. And the primary focus before the War was on domestic threats to the refime. This led to the Great Purges and an emense Gulag, mostly populated with entirely innocent individuals. In fact, the actual crimals were often used by the authorities to keep the political prioners in line. As part of the Great Purges, Stalin severly weakened Sovier security by purging the military. When war began, the Red Army and Air Force was left without competent commanders at all levels. The greatest intelligence failure of the War, was the Soviet Uniins failure to prepare for the NAZI invasion--Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). This was not, however, a failure of the intelligence servives. Stalin had ampel warning. He even berated military and intelligence functionaries who attempted to warn him. The Soviets operated the most effective spy networks in Germany as well as in Allied countries. he existence of Communist Party organizations and individuals sympathetic to the Soviet Union proved a great asset in recruiting agents. The Red Army although not highly respected by the Wehrmcht, proved very adept as desguising their major offensives during the War. Spy rings in the United States obtained information from the Manhattan Project that helped build a Soviet atomic bomb after the War. We have been able to find little information on Soviet code breaking operations. The Soviets at least by the offensive before Moscow must have come into possession of German Enigma Machines and code settings. What they did with them we do not know.
Lenin and the Bolshevicks established the All-Russian Special Commission for Combating Counter-revolution and Sabotage (VChK/CHEKA) within weeks of the Revolution (December 20, 1917). Officially it was created by a decree of the first Soviet Government--the Council of the People's Commissar (SNK). It was tasked with "combating counter-revolution and sabotage." The VChK proceeded to ruthlessly supress all opposition to the Bolshevicks. Many disidents were simply shot. As Russia moved toward the Civil War, the SNK issued a decree that became known as the Red Terror (September 1918). The VChK with this new authority launched an organized campaign to arrest disidents or perceived enemies of the Doviet state. Many were executed. Others were imprison in concentration or work camps. The Bolshevicks also established the People's Commissariat of Home Affairs (NKVD) (1917 ). It was also responsible for security matters.
The responsibilities of the VChK and the NKVD were not clearly deliniated and in fact overlapped. The NKVD oversaw the Soviet police force (militsia). This situation continued with the OGPU when the VChK was closed.
After the Civil War the VChK was closed (February 1922). This was the first in a series of actions in which the unpopular and feared state security agency was publically abolished. In reality it was simoly renamed. The new state security orhanizatiin was the State Politic Administration of NKVD. There was another reorganization as the Joint State Politic Administration (OGPU) of the SNK (November 1923). Lennin selected Felix Dzerzhinskii--a kind of professional revolutionary to head the agency. He directed oprations until he died in 1926. OGPU was a much expanded agency. Like the VChK, it had responsibility for internal security. But i was also resoinsible as the Soviet state stabilized to conduct intelligence operations abroad and to direct foreign Communist parties in the persuit of the Revolutionary struggle. A Foreign Department (INO) had been created (December 1920). Only after the Civil War, however, could significant resources be devoted to foreign activities. The OGPU used the Communist International (Comitern) to coordinate foreign operations. Although depicted as an international moverment, the Comitern and eventually the foreign Communist Parties that made up the Comitern came under the control of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union through the OGPU.
The next instrument of Soviet state security after the bloody run of the Cheka/ OGPU was the All-Union People's Commissariat of Home Affairs (NKVD) (1934). The NKVD existed as a Russian police unit earlier, but is function as the Soviet security agency only began in 1934. At this time the NKVD was given the sole responsibility for law enforcement and state security, although the military had foreign intelligence/espionage functions. All Union was the Soviet term for national and differentiated agencies from organizations established in individual republics. The NKVD was in part an attempt to create a more coherent organizational structure. It included the Main Agency of State Security (GUGB) which was essentially the OGPU with a new name. Incorporated into the agency was the central agency of Militsia (police), the border and internal guards, and the fire guards. By this time, as a result of both Lennin's and Stalin's policies, the Gulag had grown in the form of labor camps to huge dimensions sqauandering the lives of millions of totally innocent Soviet citizens. A unit of the NKVD was responsible for operating these camps. They also over saw internal deportations. Millions were incarcerated in the Gulag, many of who did not survive. [Solzhenitsyn] Criminals were among those sentenced to the Gulag, but most were wholely innocent victims, convicted of trumped up political charges. The NKVD had three three commanders (Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov, and Lavrentiy Beria. All three were thenselves consumed by the Soviet system. The first two by order of Stalin hoping to shift blames for mass murder to his henchmen which is primarily why he Jews, Soviet sociery was all too willing to blame Jews. Beria was shot after Stalin died by the Sovier leaders fearing he was about to use the NKVD to move against them. The NKVD is best know for the Great Purges oedered by Stalin. NKVD units were given quotas. Many overfilled their quotas to demonstrate their loyalty to Stalin. The NKVD palayed an important tole in World War II, commiting more rocities, this time not only in the Soviet Union, but Eastern Europe as well. The Great Purgges was only one of the many MKVD crimes. The NKVD at Stalin's order conducted mass extrajudicial executions of countless Soviet citizens. Their primary procedure was to torture people arrested until they receive absurd cionfessions. The NKVD administered the Gulag system of forced labor camps which they filled with people arrested , most for no reason. The NKVD was responsible for the repression of the better-off peasantry (meaning the best farmders in the country), as well as the mass deportations of entire nationalities to sparsely inhabited regions of the country where many died because of the primitive cindutions. They were resoinsible for border protection and espionage. Tosh included political assassinations--which ciontinues to be a Russian specialty. They nforced Soviet policy in communist movements around the world as well as in puppet governments, mostly in Easrern Europe. The NKVD was especially vicuiys in Poland, because of tht ciybtry' burning desire for independence and adherence to tghe Vathokic Church. The horrendous regime in North Korea is a NKVD artifact, but notably not China. After this, the NKVD was repaced wuth the KGB which significantly, but did not end terrible abuses.
Stalin chose Nikolai Ezhov to head the NKVD (September 1936). He thus was the principal figure overseeing the Great Terror. During this period about 1.5 million Soviet citizens were arrested for suposed political offenses. About half were sumarily shot. The other half committed to the Gulag.
The Soviets referred to the Great Purges as "Ezhovshina," which meant Ezhov's time. The phrase masked Sralin's involvement. Ezhov of course was only carrying out Stalin's orders. Stalin eventually had Ezhov arrested (December 1938) and executed. It was a clever way of deflecting his responsibility and disposing of the individual who know most about his involvdement. Stalin replaced Ezhov with Lavrenti P. Beria. He would serve as the head of the NKVD, along with other Soviet security agencies until Stlin's death (1953). Beria was then arrested and shot for attempting to gain power. The Great Terror was continued the new NKVD chief. No one knows precisely how many people were intetned in the Gulag. The Purges included all segments of Soviet society. Stalin severly weakened Sovier security by purging the military. When war began, the Red Army and Air Force was left without competent commanders at all levels. Estimates vary widely. At the time of of World War II estimates range 4 to 20 million people. The beginning phase of the War resulted in many new individuals being sent to the Gulag from Poland, the Baltics, and Romania.
The NAZI-Soviet Mon-Aggression Pact (august 1939) made it possible for Hitler to launch World War II. The Soviets cooperated with the NAZIs in many ways. Stalin launched his own jnvasion of Poland two weeks after the NAZIs. He also delivered large quantuties of critical material to the Germans, including oil and critical metals. The Soviets also ordered Communist parties in Britain, France, America, annd other countries not to to oppose the War. The Communist Party in America was ordered to make common cause with the Isolationists and to oppose defense preparations and spending, This was a reversal of policy that stunned the Communist Party faithfulin America and Europe. As far as we know, however, there was never any cooperation among inteligence services, despitte the fact that NAZI Germany and the Soviet Union were after th Non-Agression Pact essentially allies. A rare exception was that Stalin ordered the pro-Soviet Poles to leak the identity of Home Army resistace fighters to the Germans.
The Germans in planning Barbarossa were anxious to destroy as much of the Red Army as possible close in the west close to the launch point. They realized if the Red Army fell back east the problem would become more difficult.
Stalin cooperated with the Germans by moving much of the Ared army west to occupy the new territories acquired as a result of the 1939 NAZI-Soviet Non-Agression Pact. This meant moving units out of prepared defensive positions into unprepared positions. As a result, the Germans achieved huge successes when they launched Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). This was not, however, a failure of the intelligence servives. Stalin had ampel and detailed warnings of Barbarossa. . Both Soviet intelligence reports and the British and Americans warned him. Actually the Soviet ans Americans warnings came fromthe same source--Ambassador Baron Hiroshi Ōshima. He wa a ppular figure in NAZI Germany and given extrodinary access to German military operationa and planning. He reported on what he learned in detail electonically. And this was picked up by American Magic which had broken the Japanese diplomatic codes. Not only did the Americans inform Stalin as to what they learned, but the Sorge Soy Ring in Japan also gained access to these reports. Stalin not only ingnred it all, but became furious with inteligence offers bringing these reorts to him. He was convinced the British and now th American were trying to draw him into av war with NAZI Germany. He was well aware that he would have to fight the Germans, but wanted more time to prepare. He berated military and intelligence functionaries who attempted to warn him. He saw intelience agents warning him of a German invasion as Allied agents provactours, trying to start a war with Germany. After the Germans invasion, these individuls were in further danger because they were right and Stalin was disaterously wrong. It was very dangerous in the Soviet Union to possess information that Stalin had made serious mistakes.
The NKVD played a major role in the Soviet war effort. The NKVD had a range of responsibilities. It organized and supervised troop convoys as well as guarded important industry and state facilities. It was responsible for railroad security--vital for supplies and troop movement. The NKVD had an important engineering corps. It also operated the vast penal colonies--the Gulag. The NKVD carried out the functions of the military police, NKVD men apprehended deserters, and enforced discipline in the military. The NKVD played aajor role in recruiting new troops. NKVD agents were posted to all army and navy units to serve as political officers. They gave ideology lectures and were tasked with identifying anti-Communists and counterrevolutionaries. This usually meant men caught telling jockes about Stalin or making disparaging remarks. This also meant identifying officers who made mistakes. They could be accused with sabotage.
NKVD units were stationed just behind the front lines. Their job was to sumarily shoot any Red Army soldiers who attempted to retreat. One estimate suggests that the NKVD military arm grew to over 0.5 miillion men (March 1944). The NKVD also carried out opperations in occupied areas, including arrests, xshootings, bd deportations in Poland, the Baltic countries, and Romania while still a NAZI ally. The Polish officers killed in the Katyn Forest were conducted by the NKVD. (1940). After defeating the Wehrmact in the East, the Red Army moved into Eastern Europe. Here the NKVD began arresting both NAZI supoporters and anti-Communists. They prepared the Communist take ovrs following the war. .
It manipulated elections and help stage worker demonstrations to generate an appearance of popular support.
Anti-Communists were arrested, interrogated, tortured, deported, or murdered.
The Chief Intelligence Directorate (GRU) was a military intelligence unit which during World war II was organizationally part of the NKVD. Its function was to gather intelligence abroad. Tnhe GRU recruited and trained spies and conducted covert operations in both Axis and Allied countries. One well known GRU operative was Richard Sorge who posed as aman journalist in Japan. He began working in China and Japan (early-1930s). Sorge is credited with provuided warnings of Operation Barbarossa (June 1941). And subsequently learned that the Japanese were not planning to join the the German attack on the Soviet Union. This allowed the Soviets to transfter Siberian units west to participate in the Red army counter-offensive in front of Mioscow (December 1941). The Japanese learned of hios acgtivities and arrested him (October 1941). Stalin refused to intervene to prevent his hanging. The Switzerland-based Die Rote Drei (The Red Three) spy ring was a GPU operation. It was led by Hungarian Alexander Radolfi and provided the Soviets with with detailed military intelligence on the Eastern Friont. The information on German preparations for the Battle of Kursk werre particulzarly important (July 1943). Soviet spy rings in America provided detailed reports on the Americann Manhattan Project.
The Soviets operated very effective espionage networks during World War II. The Soviets operated the most effective spy networks in Germany as well as in Allied countries. Here the Soviets had a great advantage. The existence of Communist Party organizations and individuals sympathetic to the Soviet Union for ideological reasons proved a great asset in recruiting agents. Communists in the West simply refused to believe reports of attrocitoes committed by the Soviet regime before the War. And once the Soviet Union became an ally, America and Britain did not want to press to delve to deeply into reports received such as the Katyn Forrest killins in Poland. The Red Army although not highly respected by the Wehrmcht, proved very adept as desguising their major offensives during the War. Spy rings in the United States obtained information on one of the greatest secrets of the War--the Manhattan Project building the atomic bomb. The information obtained helped the Soviets build an atomic bomb after the War. The Soviets also developed a vert effective spy ring in Britain. There were also Soviet agents operating in Italy and Japan as well as the smaller Axis countries.
We have been able to find little information on Soviet code breaking operations. As far as we can tell, this is a subject that Soviet historians have not addressed, presumably discouraged by the KGB. The Soviets at least by the offensive before Moscow must have come into possession of German Enigma Machines and code settings. What they did with them we simply do not know. We are not sure if the Soviets failed to crack German or other codes and thus do not want to discuss their failure. Or perhaps they did have some success and want to conceal that for security reasons. Other World War II beligerant countries have declassified information on World War II code breaking operations. The more security prone Soviers apparently or not yet ready to open their Workd war II files on code breaking.
Solzhenitsyn, Alexander. Gulag Archepeligo. Solzhenitsyn decribes the operation of the Gulag in chilling detail. He received the Nobel Prize for his ground breaking work.
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