The KGB is a Russian language acronym for Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti. In English, this translates into “State Security Committee.” The origins of the KGB go all the way back to the reign of Tsar Nicholas II when, in 1881, the secret police force known as the Okhrana was developed.

After the revolution in 1917, and during the first days of the Bolshevik government, Vladimir Lenin transformed the remnants of the Okhrana into an organization called the Cheka in order to consolidate his power. The organization was not created from scratch, but rather inherited much of the techniques, personnel, and political orientation from the greatly feared agencies that preceded it.

The modern KGB was established in 1954 in Moscow to serve as the “sword and shield of the Communist Party,” and was the most durable of a series of security agencies established in Russia, including the NKVD.

During the Soviet era, the KGB’s responsibilities included the protection of the country’s political leadership, the supervision of border troops, and the general surveillance of the population. The KGB was also in charge of gathering intelligence in other nations, conducting counterintelligence, maintaining the secret police, suppressing internal resistance, and conducting electronic espionage. In addition to field agents and analysts, the KGB also employed a military corps and border guards. This agency also enforced Soviet morals and promoted Soviet ideology with propaganda.

Until the breakup of the USSR in 1991, the KGB was the world’s largest spy and state-security machine, involved not only in all aspects of life within the Soviet Union, but also working to isolate the Soviet Union from the rest of the world, especially from the West.