The KGB was the USSR's most prominent security agency and existed from 1954 to 1991. KGB is the Russian abbreviation for Committee for State Security. Oft-noted fall guy Lavrentiy Beria ran the KGB's precursor. Upon his death the security forces were split into the statewide police and the new KGB, which ran all internal and external security and intelligence functions. The dissolution of the KGB occurred after its head used agency resources to aid the August 1991 coup attempt to overthrow the government of Mikhail Gorbachev.
Partially due to the monolithic nature of this agency, there were fewer checks and balances than the United State's multidepartmental system. The organization was considered notorious within Soviet culture, and to western observers and the general western public as well. In 1967, Yuri Andropov was made head of the organization and immediately ruled that all dissenters, including those with religious motivation, were a threat to the state. This lead to a hardening of the Gulag system, as chronicaed in Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn's seminal book The Gulag Archipelago. Although the organization is now gone, its methods of opperation and constituents have had lasting impact. As noted previously, Leonid Brezhnev's successor Yuri Andropov was a former head of the KGB. Current Russian President Vladimir Putin also came from KGB ranks, which may partially explain his hard-line approach to government.
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