Putin Celebrates Birth Of KGB – USSR’s Hated Spy Service

Putin Celebrates Birth Of KGB, USSR’s Hated Spy Service

2 CommentsMon, Dec 23 2013 00:00:00 EA19_ISSUES

By J. MICHAEL WALLER, Investor’s Business Daily/Monday December 23, 2013

The bloody birth of the most murderous secret police in history occurred 96 years ago and is being celebrated across Vladimir Putin’s Russia. Always feared, the KGB is now revered.

“In the past, the services worked for the Communist Party and the party ran the state,” says Michelle Van Cleave, former head of U.S. counterintelligence. “Now, the intelligence services are  the state. That’s a very different government structure than we’re  accustomed to.”

Nicknamed Cheka, the All-Russian Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution and  Sabotage existed to smash any and all opposition to Vladimir Lenin’s creation of a utopian socialist society. “We represent in ourselves organized terror — this must be said very  clearly,” proclaimed its first leader, Feliks Dzerzhinsky.

The Cheka became the world’s prototype for industrial-scale mass persecution, torture and human slaughter. For Dzerzhinsky, Lenin and the other Bolsheviks, “extermination” of all opponents was an explicit and planned policy.

As the Cheka evolved under different names — with its officers always calling themselves Chekists — others would study it and copy it.

Building Hitler’s dictatorship in 1930s Germany, the Nazis were fascinated by  the Chekists’ ruthlessness and efficiency. Historian Edward Crankshaw wrote that in the early years of Soviet  collaboration with Nazi Germany, SS Gruppenführer Heinrich Müller  visited the Soviet Union to study how the Chekists operated, and  borrowed that system to design the Gestapo.

Instead of mourning the anniversary of what arguably was the greatest tragedy  of Russia’s 1,000-year history, President Putin is celebrating it. To KGB veterans like Putin, the Cheka  represents the essence of what is Russia and serves as the ultimate  instrument of power. Even today, the official seals of the Russian  security services feature the Cheka’s sword-and-shield emblem.

“The Cheka tradition has thoroughly infiltrated the upper levels of the Russian elite,” says British historian Mark Galeotti, an expert on Russian security and organized crime and a professor at New York University.

Putin spent part of his KGB career in the Soviet-occupied German Democratic Republic (GDR), working closely with the Communist secret police known as Stasi.

After Reuters unearthed documents in 2001 from the Stasi office in Dresden,  where Putin worked, the Moscow Times reported that the Stasi awarded Putin a commendation for his contribution to  “fraternal cooperation between the GDR’s Chekists and the Soviet  security organs against the common enemy.”

Years later, when the U.S. uncovered 11 Russian sleeper agents and sent them  back to Moscow, “Putin greeted them and led them in singing the KGB anthem, the same song from the old Chekist  days,” a former senior intelligence officer tells the American Media  Institute.

“Putin has honed what was the KGB (now known as the foreign SVR and domestic  FSB) into an operational government,” according to John J. Dziak, a  retired senior U.S. intelligence officer and author of “Chekisty,” a definitive history of the Russian intelligence  services.

“Russia’s great strength is because it breaks the rules and gets away with it,”  says Galeotti. “Internationally, Putin has an extraordinarily nuanced  grasp of just how far he can push.”

Western countries don’t push back, Galeotti says, because they know the Russian elites will take reprisals. “Under Putin, the West realizes that there  will be a very strong backlash, and would rather not risk it.”

That attitude only invites more pushing, say American intelligence  officials. “Our president rushing to make nice just reinforces Putin’s  illusion and fantasy that Russia is a great power and it matters as much as it used to,” says former CIA director Michael V.  Hayden.

Russia continues an intensive, aggressive espionage campaign around the world, and particularly against the United States. Van Cleave, National  Counterintelligence Executive (NCIX) in the George W. Bush administration, is blunt:

“Today, there are more Russian intelligence personnel operating in the United  States than there were at the height of the Cold War.”

By law, the Office of the NCIX must submit annual reports to Congress  about foreign intelligence threats. However, that office has not issued  such a report for the public since 2011. While the office has sent classified reports to Congress, their secrecy has all  but erased the issue from public awareness.

“I don’t think the American public realizes the extent of Russian  espionage,” laments Robert W. Stephan, a Russia expert who served nearly 20 years in the CIA.

Dianne Feinstein, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, has encouraged the intelligence community to alert the public about threats from Russia.

In testimony before Feinstein’s committee last March, Director of National Intelligence (DNI) James Clapper reported that Russian espionage is as  urgent a threat as terrorism and international organized crime. “These foreign intelligence methods employ traditional methods of espionage and, with growing frequency, innovative technical  means,” he said.

As if aggressive espionage against free societies wasn’t enough, the  Chekists have another asset: thieves of highly classified U.S.  intelligence information such as four-month National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, who fled to Moscow earlier this year  with four laptop computers crammed with highly classified material.

He has been an intelligence and propaganda boon for Putin and the former  KGB. “They have happily taken him into their embrace, and there’s no  reason to think they have not gotten everything he had,” Van Cleave says.

In addition to the incalculable loss of intelligence information that  Snowden is believed to have handed the Chekists, the American defector  provided Putin with a propaganda bonanza.

Snowden’s leaked information that the NSA was eavesdropping on foreign leaders —  including the private cellphone of German Chancellor Angela Merkel — has driven wedges between the U.S. and longtime loyal allies. “They’ll use every opportunity they can find to try to  separate the U.S. from our allies in Western Europe and elsewhere,” Van  Cleave observes. “If they can undermine confidence or spread suspicion  about the United States, they will do that.”

As they were when they looted Russia’s wealth in the aftermath of the  Bolshevik Revolution, the Chekists today are an organized criminal  syndicate unto themselves, experts say. “In Russia,” Clapper testified, “the nexus among organized crime, some state officials, the  intelligence services, and business blurs the distinction between state  policy and private gain.”

Putin’s political rise illustrates the transformation of Russia. He went from  being a simple KGB officer earning roughly $100 a month to become one of the wealthiest men in Russia — without ever holding a private-sector job.

Upon leaving East Germany for his native St. Petersburg, Putin was one of  several KGB officers who surrounded the city’s reformist mayor, Anatoly  Sobchak. Victor Yasmann, then of the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty Research Institute, reported at the time that  Putin handled hard currency operations for the city — a job that put him in charge of huge quantities of fungible cash with little oversight.

During the Soviet collapse, the KGB made sure its officers were integrated  into the emerging economy as tightly as possible. Soviet law required  all joint ventures with foreign companies to have a KGB officer as a corporate vice president. Soon, Chekists would be  vice presidents of factories, service companies, construction  enterprises, hotels and banks that had Western investors.

The success of economic reformers in St. Petersburg attracted the attention of Russia’s first post-Soviet president, Boris Yeltsin. While Yeltsin  was instrumental in bringing down the Communist Party, he lacked a political base of his own, and threw in his lot with the KGB. He placed Chekists in key posts, naming Putin head of the  Presidential Property Administration, in charge of a vast network of  buildings, land and other assets.

In a short time, Putin had taken control of the country’s internal  security apparatus, the Federal Security Service — which had been the  domestic control machinery of the KGB.

Yeltsin, by now ailing, named Putin prime minister and constitutional successor. Yeltsin resigned suddenly on Dec. 31, 1999, making Putin president.  Alternating between the posts of president and prime minister to observe the term limits set under the new Russian  constitution, Putin has remained in power ever since.

“The criminal organizations that last along generations know how to  institutionalize coercion, and use violence as a last resort,” says  Galeotti. “You want to use deception, co-option, and you want to use threat to deter. Those are precisely what the modern-day  Cheka is very able to do.”

• Waller is a senior writer at the American Media Institute, a nonprofit investigative news service.

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