Third Section

   Following a failed coup by liberal officers in December 1825, Tsar Nicholas I sanctioned the first modern Russian security service, the Third Section of the Imperial Chancery in 1826. The Decembrist risings indicated to Nicholas and his more conservative advisors that there was a need for greater surveillance of the population. The Third Section worked in concert with the paramilitary Corps of Gendarmes to extend its reach to urban and rural areas. The Russian archives show that Nicholas paid a great deal of attention to the staffing of the Third Section, and he read and commented on its reporting.
   From its beginning, the Third Section targeted intellectuals suspected of revolutionary thoughts and deeds. Count Aleksandr Benkendorff, head of the section in 1826–1844, and his successors tended to rely on informers and agents provocateurs employed by the Corps of Gendarmes. Despite efforts to modernize the Third Section, it failed to defeat populist revolutionary movements such as Narodnaya volya (People’s Will), which assassinated a number of senior tsarist officials in the late 1870s. The Third Section had poor relations with other security bureaucracies and was incompetent against an organized terrorist organization. Worse yet, it was often penetrated by the terrorist organizations it was sworn to defeat. In 1880 Tsar Aleksandr II abolished the organization, replacing it with a secret chancery under Count Loris-Melikov. But it was too late: in 1881 Narodnaya Volya assassinated the tsar, still poorly served by his secret service. The failure of the Third Section to defeat political radicalism, and the escalation of political terrorism in 1880–1882, led to the formation of the Division for the Protection of Order and Social Security, better known as Okhrana.

Historical dictionary of Russian and Soviet Intelligence. . 2014.

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