The KGB, which stands for Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopanosti, was the Soviet state security agency that began official operations on March 13, 1954. However, it had its origins in earlier Soviet secret police organizations dating back to the Cheka, which formed in 1917. The KGB was a massive and powerful organization that continued to operate until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. Some experts even argue that because so many former KGB members are in positions of authority in the country, in a certain sense the KGB still operates today.

Early Soviet State Security Organizations

Shortly after Vladimir Lenin came to power in 1917, he set about forming the state security agency known as the Cheka. This organization was empowered to investigate and execute summary justice against any activities it deemed counterrevolutionary. After the Civil War ended in 1921, the Cheka was disbanded and its powers were transferred to the GPU, or State Political Directorate. Later, under the leadership of Joseph Stalin, this organization was renamed the People's Comissariat for Internal Affairs, or NKVD. The NKVD is the organization that carried out Stalin's Great Terror of the 1930s, which saw an estimated 1 million people killed and 20 million more sent to prison camps in the gulag.

Formation of the KGB

When Stalin died in 1953 the leader of the NKVD was the loyal Stalinist Lavrenti Beria. Beria made an attempt to seize power after Stalin's death, but was ultimately vanquished by the new Communist Party chairman, Nikita Khrushchev. When Khrushchev took over party leadership, he wanted to distance himself from Stalin, Beria and the purges of the NKVD. This led to the formation of the new state security organization, the KGB. After the KGB was formed in 1954, its first task was to purge the government of anyone associated with Beria, who had been executed at the end of 1953.

The Dissolution of the KGB

By the late 1980s the KGB had grown to a massive 500,000 members with great power and jurisdiction in all aspects of Soviet life. Because of their great power, members of the KGB were among the fiercest opponents of Communist Party Chairman Mikhail Gorbachev's reforms, seeing such reforms as a threat to their very existence. For this reason, in August 1991, eight leading members of the KGB, including its chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov, attempted a coup to oust Gorbachev. However, the coup was a failure. Gorbachev refused to step down, and the attempted coup ultimately led to the end of the Communist Party, the disbanding of the Soviet Union and also, therefore, the end of the KGB.

The KGB After 1991

On Oct. 24, 1991, the KGB was officially dissolved into several smaller organizations, most notably the Foreign Intelligence Service, or FSB. However, it is not easy to unilaterally destroy an organization with 500,000 members who are not keen to give up power. Former FSB and KGB members are now in positions of authority across many spheres of Russian life: the media, the government, the military and large parts of the economy. Most notably, President Vladimir Putin is a former member of both the KGB and FSB. Research conducted by Olga Kryshtanovskaya at the Russian Academy of Sciences indicates that 25 percent of Russia's bureaucrats come from the armed forces, security forces and the FSB. For this reason, though the KGB no longer officially exists, its former members and like-minded individuals wield enough power to ensure that the KGB philosophy survives. Because, as Mr. Putin himself put it, "There is no such thing as a former Chekist."