- The key to the success of the Soviet security services, from the Cheka to the KGB, was a huge stable of informants. Semyon Ignatiev, chief of state security during Joseph Stalin’s last years, stated that his service had 10 million informants in 1952. During World War II, it is estimated that 22 million Soviet citizens served as informants. And the KGB is reported to have had more than 10 million informants at the time of the collapse of the Soviet Union. During the collectivization of agriculture, informants were recruited among the poorest peasants to identify rich peasants (kulaks) who had hidden grain and animals and had refused to join collective farms. Pavel Morozov, a young boy who informed on his father and was subsequently murdered by his family, became a national hero.Informants who turned in their neighbors received major cash rewards and were selected for Communist Party membership. Many suffered Morozov’s fate as well. During the Yezhovshchina, informing was driven by a demand for the name of traitors and dissidents. According to Nikita Khrushchev, one woman informer caused the arrest of hundreds of residents of Kiev in 1937–1938.During World War II, the security service and Smersh recruited informers at all levels of Soviet society. Smersh was responsible for recruiting informants in every battalion of the Soviet army. Informers were also recruited in every village and housing bloc, as well as in forced labor camps; a recent American study found that 12 percent of Soviet military personnel were informants. Information from informants allowed the security service and Smersh to question nearly 7 million people and arrest 2 million during the course of the war. After the war, informers continued to be recruited in every state and nonstate institution, including in the few working churches and the many penal institutions. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, while serving a sentence in a gulag, was approached by a security officer and offered the opportunity to inform. Ahistory of the Russian Orthodox Church identified the majority of the church leadership as active informers. People informed for a variety of reasons: vengeance, securing privileges such as foreign travel, and patriotism all played a part. It was far harder to refuse offers to inform than Westerners realize. In many cases, Soviets informed to protect themselves and their families from more intensive investigations of their private lives. The post-Soviet security services almost certainly continue to recruit informants. While many Russians see the heritage of informants as a sad relic of the Soviet age, it seems inconceivable that any generation of Russian security specialists will abandon this tool.
Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. Robert W. Pringle. 2014.
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