[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2006, 16:17 GMT
Profile: Russia's secret police
By James Rodgers
BBC News, Moscow

FSB headquarters in Moscow
The Lubyanka is the formidable home of Russia's secret police

"Those chosen to join the FSB of Russia must be trustworthy, and unconditionally loyal to the Fatherland and their profession."

In other words, if you don't think you measure up, don't read on.

FSB are the initial letters of the Russian words Federalnaya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti - Federal Security Service - the country's secret police.

Known as the KGB during the days of the Soviet Union, the secret service was dismantled in 1991 and its successor FSK (Federalnaya Sluzhba Kontrrazvedki or Federal Counterintelligence Service) was reorganised into the FSB in 1995.

The words above are taken from the FSB's website - from the section about how to join.

It warns aspiring agents that they face tough challenges. Another section of the site lists at length the grounds that would stop would-be agents from joining the ranks.

The secret police have long been a part of Russian life. Emperors, Communist Party general secretaries, and presidents have all had a state security force of one form or another.

Russians got used to their presence - pointing out suspected agents or informers with a knowing look, and by tapping of two fingers on the shoulder to suggest imaginary epaulettes.


The cold-war cliche of a man in a trilby hat and a poorly tailored coat lurking in a doorway is a thing of the past.

Like MI5 in Britain, the FSB has gone online. Its website not only offers advice to potential recruits, it also tells members of Chechen armed groups how to give themselves up, telling them their lives will be better if they do so.

It has found its place in 21st Century Russia.

President Putin
President Putin was a member of the KGB

Like many Soviet institutions, the FSB suffered in the chaotic years of the 1990s.

A former KGB officer explained to me recently that he and his comrades saw early on what was coming. They were the best informed people in the Soviet Union, he said.

That made them realise that the USSR was not going to last.

They began to bail out before the communist state collapsed. Many of them soon started successful businesses as security consultants or private detectives - just the sort of people who were in demand in the often dangerous business climate in 1990s Russia.

Putin's KGB past

The FSB's fortunes have changed. The exact figures, of course, are a state secret - but security experts say that the organisation has enjoyed a massive increase in funding since 2000.

That's the year that President Vladimir Putin was first elected. Mr Putin is himself a former KGB officer. So is Sergei Ivanov,currently Russian defence minister, and a possible successor to Mr Putin as president.

In other countries that were once part of the former Soviet bloc, having served in the communist-era security services might be seen as a bad thing.

Not in Russia.

Mr Putin's KGB past may even have helped his election chances in a country which was crying out for stability.

In a BBC webcast in July, Mr Putin even hinted that his experience had helped him as president.

"Working in intelligence," he said, "you need to be informed about a lot of things and you need to be able to work with people and respect your partners."

The week before, Mr Putin had ordered Russian agents to find and destroy those responsible for kidnapping and killing four Russian embassy workers in Iraq.

The message was clear: Russia's enemies should beware.

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific