Based on hitherto untapped KGB archives and first-ever interviews with KGB officers, this talk by Professor Amir Weiner from Stanford University explores the history of the Soviet state security apparatus from its inception to present day and seeks to explore key questions: Who was the KGB? Who were its agents, informants and officers? How did they obtain information, and what did they know or want to know about their population? How did KGB officers, many of whom understood that they engaged in unethical activities even by the norms of the Soviet state, justify their actions, such as blackmail, coercion or intimidation? How did the KGB cope with the challenges of the post-Stalin era, particularly the end to mass terror, the spillover of unrest from the restless satellites and the loss of a monopoly over information? How did the KGB adjust to the decline in the party-state authority and the rise of dissent, restless youth and secessionist national movements and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union? Finally, and most importantly, when and how did the KGB’s obsessive gathering of information overwhelm and undermine the organization itself, and ultimately, the Soviet state?
Amir Weiner is a professor of history at Stanford University. He is the author of Making Sense of War, Landscaping the Human Garden and numerous articles and edited volumes on the impact of World War II on the Soviet polity, the social history of WWII and Soviet frontier politics. His forthcoming book, The KGB: Ruthless Sword, Imperfect Shield, will be published by Yale University Press in 2018. He is currently working on a collective autobiography of KGB officers titled Coffee with the KGB: Conversations with Soviet Security Officers.