** totalitarian secret police forces

Authoriatarian/Totalitarian Secret Police Forces

Figure 1.--Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beria was appointed by Stalian to head the NKVD. He would be the longest serving and most influential of all the sadistic Soviet NKVD chiefs (1938-53). The NKVD was not only a secret police agency, but administered the vast Soviet Gulag and spy network. He was brutal toward subordinates and fawning toward Stalin. Here he is with Stalin's daughter Svetlana, attempting to ingratiate himself with Stalin. He reportedly wanted his son to marry her to unite the two families. Her mother despised Beria. After Stalin's death, Svetlana's in her autobiography attempted to blame Beria for Stalinist atrocities and vindiate her father.

A necessary part of any totalitarian regime is a secret police force that has the authority to act outside of any legal contraints. They over see large scale killing and concentration camp systems. The various Soviet secret police forces (NKVD and KGB) and the NAZI Gestapo, a SS unit, are the two most famous such forces. The SS was the orhganization conducting the genocidal Holocaust aginst the Jews, but weith oklamsd for a much largerr killing program after they won the War. There are quite a few other secret police forces operated by both authoritative and totalitarian regimes. In totalitarian systems, a foreign intelligence organizatin is included within te structure of the secret police. In democraic systems there are also foreign inteligence operations, but the organization sructure is more varied. The difference between these units and those in totalitarian systems is that they are constrained by law.


Gestapo (NAZI Germany)

Gestapo is a term used to describe the NAZI secret police. The actual organizaion is complicated and varied over time. Both Göring and Himmler as well as well as Heydrich and other NAZI luminaries played major roles in the development and administration of the Gestapo. The Gestap was created by the NAZIs within in weeks of seizing power. The Geheime Staatspolizei (Gestapo--Secret State Police) was created by Hermann Göring. When Hitler was made Chancellor in January 1933, it was part of a coalition government. Hitler insisted that the NAZIs be given the Interior Ministry. (In America Interior many national parts and forrests. In other countries Interior normally means the police, which of course is why Hitler insisted on it.) Göring, was made the Prussian minister of the interior. (Prussia was the most important German state.) Göring immediately reorganized the police by separating the espionage and political units of the Prussian police and staffed these units with committed NAZIs. Göring took command of this new police unit on April 26, 1933. While this was underway, Heinrich Himmler was reshaping the Party small Schutzstaffel (SS-Protective Echelon) unit from Hitler's personal body gurd to a powerful state security body. Himmler in April 1936 he was given command of the Gestapo which was then integrated within the SS structure. Himmler later in 1936 merged the Gestapo with the Kriminalpolizei (Kripo--Criminal Police). This newly integrated unit was named the Sicherheitspolizei (Sipo--for Secret Police). The former name of Gestapo, however, is generally used rather than Sipo. With the onset of World War II in 1939 the Sipo or Gestapo was again reorganized. The Sipo was incorporated into the intelligence branch of the Wehrmacht, the Sicherheitsdienst (SD--Security Service). Sipo became the Reichssicherheitshauptamt (RHSA--Reich Security Central Office) of the SD. Himmler put his trusted deputy, Reinhard Heydrich, in charge of the RHSA or Gestapo. These constant organizational changes mean that the responsibilities and priorities of the Gestapo varied over time and overlapped with other NAZI security units. In the months leading up to the invsion of Poland, the RHSA formed the notorious Einsatzgruppen (Task Force) which carried out mass killings of Jews in Poland and then on a larger scale in the Soviet Union after the 1941 invasion. The Gestapo operated without any legal restrictions. They were authorized to make arrests without any legal restraints. They also were authorized to use torture and even execute those arrested without trial. Many arrested by the Gestapo simply disappeared in the concentaion camps. There were trials, but compliant NAZI judges guarnted that defendants would be convicted.

STASI (Communist East Germany)

The Soviet Union in the countries it occupied set up secret police forces modeled on the NKVD/KGB. The force established in Germany after World war II was the Staatssicherheit (Ministry of State Security --STASI/MfS). Like the KGB, it combined foreign and domestic operations within the same organization. It developed into one of the most sucessful secret police forces. It also operated a botable foreign espionage operation. The STASI engaged in extensive phone taps and other electronic surveilance. Huge numbers of East Germans were involved with the STASI. Wives spying on husbands and children on parents. Notably, half of its agents inserted in the West working were working on scientific and technological espionage. In this effort they achieved some success. The benefits to East Germany, however, seem limited. The STASI had 8,000 people in Berlin working on spy devices One author maintains that "technology was at the heart" of te STASI's spy operations. [Macrakis] The STASI both borrowed frim abroad and developed their own devices. One of the most notable STASI operations was the drugging of athletes, including children, to enhance acivement in international competitions, including the Olympics.

Italy: OVRA

Benito Mussolini completed the March on Rome (October 29, 1922). The King Victor Emanuel appointed him primeminister. Italy was still, however, a parlimentary democracy and Mussolini still face opposition parties. A new Parliament convened (June 1924). The Socialist leader, Giacomo Matteotti, led the opposition and denounced Mussolini and the Fascists for their use of intimidation and force in the elections. The Fascists promptly murdered him. There was a national outcry against Mussolini and the Fascists. The opposition parties withdrew from the parliament whuch became known as the Aventine Secession. It was a grave mistake because it gave Mussolini absolute control of the parliament. And Mussolini proceeded to use the force availavle to completely eliminate the opposition. The Fascist Parliament passed a law on association which outlawed all political opposition (1926). Also a secret police force was established--the Organizzazione per la Vigilanza e la Repressione dell'Antifascismo (OVRA). The Fascists and new OVRA arrested more than ten thousand anti-fascists (1925-26). They were sentenced to death, but for the most part exiled.


Kenpeitai (1881-1945)

The Kenpeitai meaning Military Police Corps (憲兵隊) was the military police force of the Imperial Japanese Army created (1881). It was not onluy a conventional military police whiuch most armos have. It also became a secret police force. It was mist active in the territoiries occupied by the expanding Japanese Empire. The Kenpeitai became infamous during World War II for its brutality. They arrested and killed woth no pretense of judicial restraint anyone suspected of not only resiustabnce activities, but while groups suspcted of being anti-Japanese. The Kenpeitai were deeply involved in many of the barbaric Japanese war crimes during World War II. While the actions during the the Oacufic War are best knowm, the Kenpeitai reign of terror began in eranest with the actiins in CVhina berginning with the invasion of Manchurtia (1931). While institutionally an army unit, the Kenpeitai commonky acted as the military police for the Imperial Japanese Navy. This was dome under he direction of the Admiralty Minister. The IJN had a much smaller unit-- the Tokkeitai.


The Tokkeitai or Special Police Corps (特警隊) was the abbreviatiom for Tokubetsu Keisatsutai meaning Naval Secret Police (特別警察隊). It was comparable but much smaller than the better known Imperial Japanese Army's Kempeitai. At first the Tokkeitai was callked the General Affairs Section and concerned itself with naval police and personnel work within the Navy: personnel, discipline and records. It gradually took a more active role, largely prevent the Army's the Kempeitai from meddling in Naval affairs. While s Smaller and more low-key than Kempeitai, it was no less brutal. It is only less infmnaous than the Kempeitai because the IJN did not occupy large areas like the IJA. The Tokkeitai was primarily active in the islamds area areas of the South Pacific and other Naval Control Area. It used the same commissar roles to deal weith any duspected of resuastance activitoes or even anti-Japanese. It monitoired naval personnel under the security doctrine of Kikosaku. The Tokkeitai was attached to navy unitsa nd served as akind of colonial police force. They ewere involved in the same kind of barbaric actgionsd as the Kenpeitai such as the 'Comfort women' --rounding up women in Indonesia, Indochina and China for sexual slavery.

Tokku--Thought Police (Imperial Japan)

The Tokku or The Thought Police was the Japanese secret police force. The Japanese as they began building an overseas empire formed the Kempei Tai. Only subsequently was a domestic secret police service firmed. The Ministry of Justice set up the creation of the Special Higher Police (the Tokubetsu Koto Keisatsu or Tokko (1901). It became known as the “Thought Police. The Tokko, a branch of Japan’s Ministry of Justice, was formed in 1901 as the Kempei Tai’s civilian counterpart. the Thought Police informed the general public that they would welcome information and leads from ordinary Japanese citizens on suspicious or unpatriotic behavior (1930). This included mere conversations. Civilians responded and began spying on their neighbors. This cut across class barriers. Domestic servants began reporting private conversations of their employers. And the Thought Police acted on these reports. One source suggess that over 50,000 people were arrested (1933-36). This was even before the War in China. The charge was having “dangerous thoughts”. We are not yet sure just how these individuals were handeled.


Okhranka (Trarist Russia)

The Отделение по Охранению Общественной Безопасности и Порядка or Department for Defense of Public Security and Order (Okhrana) was the secret police force of the Tsarist Empire. It was created by Tsar Alexander II after a second assasination attempt (1880). Count Loris-Melikov helped to create the Okhranka under Ministry of the Interior (MVD). The Special Corps of Gendarmes and Third Section of the Imperial Chancellery were combined to form the new unit. Ironically Alexander II was a relatively liberal Tsar/ He was the Tsar who fteed the serfs. And the Okhranka did not succeed in preventing the Tsar's assasination.

Soviet Secret Police Forces (Soviet Union)

The Bolsheviks and other revolutionaries were brutally treated by the Ocrana, the Tsarist Secret Police. After the Bolsheviks seized power, many included Lenin were convinced that they needed their own secret police to deal with counter revolutionaries. The Bolshevik secret police was created only 2 months after the October Revolution (December 1917). The Bolshevik used the Cheka to firmly establish their rule. It was to be temporary expedient that Lenin assured the population that would be dibanded when the party has consolidated their hold on power. The Cheka was organized by Feliks Dzerzhinskii. It was at first only authorized to investigate "counterrevolutionary" crimes. In the struggle with counter-revolutionaries, however, the Cheka began a much broader campaign against of terror against the propertied classes. The Cheka often resorted to summary execution without trials. Some Bolsheviks were outraged with the Cheka's brutality. Lenin and other Bolsheviks were convinced that the Cheka's campaign of terror was necessary. While tghe Bolshevik's victory in the Civil War (1918-21) Lenin did disband the Cheka. The responsibilities were transferred to the State Political Directorate/United Department of Political Police (OGPU/GPU) (1922). The power of the GPU were more limited than that of the Cheka. This changed, however, with the rise to power of Joseph Stalin. Stalin perpetually obsessed with threats to his power again invested the secret police with virtually limitless extra-llegal powers. The GPU was renamed the People's Comissariat (later Ministry) for Internal Affairs (NKVD/MVD) (1934). Under Stalin the secret police were no longer subject to party control or any legal constraints. The NKVD was authorize to act against subversive elements, oversee prisons and labor camps, as well as the reducation of political prisoners. The NKVD became the person tool of Stalin which used it not only to purge the Pary but to wage a campaign of terror against the Soviet people. Stalin in the 1930s initiated a campaign against peasants to collectivize agriculture which was followed by purges and the Great Terror. Stalin conventiently purged the heads of the secret police that carried out his crimes. His last secret police head was Lavrenti Beria. When Stalin died (1953), the Soviet leadership purged Beria from the Communist Party and had him executed before he could use his power to seize power himself. The NKVD in the de-Stalinization era was renamed the KGB. The Gulag was slowly reduced and the Stalinist Terror receeded. The Soviets leaders, however, until the advent of Gorbechev continued to use the secret police to suppress political and religious thought and to act without any real legal

Ustachi (Fascist Croatia)


Macrakis, Kristie. Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi's Spy-Tech World


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Created: 1:46 AM 12/28/2008
Last updated: 8:57 PM 11/14/2021