Western and communist countries have had very different approaches to intelligence gathering over the years. The fundamental difference is that the communist approach starts with childhood education and intelligence service secrecy. Western countries on the other hand are far more open in how its population is educated and the plans and objectives of their intelligence services.
It is useful to understand the communist approach and how it has evolved in today’s environment to gain a deeper understanding of how to respond to organisation and State activity from communist countries.
During the Cold War, Eastern Bloc countries were infamous for their strong, and fear-inducing secret police and intelligence services. They were all incredibly ‘successful’ in their endeavours to keep control of their citizens and combat other states. An example of their strength can be seen by the fact that even the former President of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, was able to be placed under arrest by the military and intelligence service (History, 2009).
It is heavily misunderstood by the West how communist countries used and deployed intelligence services during Cold War and how remaining communist regimes are still utilising intelligence and secret police agencies.
Having grown up in a communist country, I have seen first-hand how their intelligence effectiveness starts with childhood education.
Childhood and Intelligence
From the moment you are born in communist regime, everyone is exposed to the communist utopian ideology and socialist way of life. This is based on everyone being equal and working together for the greater good of the State.
As a child, you are exposed on daily basis to stories of the sacrifices and struggles of previous generations in creating the State, fighting for independence and why is important to report things, even as a child, to governing bodies.
Teenage education has even more emphasis on revolution, struggles and sacrifices with the difference that the indoctrination is on a new level – recruitment. This is aimed at recruiting people to attend military school, police courses and for further educating those serving in the army.
By adulthood, people know and thrive on supporting the State through the military, police and other intelligence services.
This approach means there is less need for military/intelligence services to control people as they control each other. In the old Eastern Bloc, hundreds of thousands become voluntarily informants, because of the benefits and protection they offered – not just through fear.
Information gathering was strongly based on ‘analogue intelligence’. Hearsay is incredibly important. Despite a vast majority of people being unhappy with communist State politics, they still choose to whisper any dissent and the established modus operandi is that neighbour’s spy on each other.
Through this vast network of informants, domestic intelligence services will arrest and interrogate people until useful intelligence is provided. The fear factor this creates adds to the success of the communist state in controlling its citizens.
State Control of Intelligence Services
Intelligence services in communist states are controlled by the politburo or high party echelons. By contrast, in Western countries boards, parliaments and ombudsmen have control. Communist regime intelligence services establish an invisible network that checks on each other. For example, in Romania, Securitate was checking on the military and vice versa. In the old Soviet Union, the GRU checked on the KGB, particularly regarding overseas operations, and similarly the Stasi monitored the East German Police.
The mixture of ideology, political influence and childhood education, along with expertise in the art of intelligence, made communist intelligence services brutally efficient.
Communist secret police and intelligence services were highly successful in penetrating and creating networks of informants who as well people actively support the success of communist regimes.
Many people think it was citizens revolting against oppression that led to the destruction of the Eastern Bloc. However, economic failures had a major impact ((Investopedia, 2020). It would be interesting to see what the world would have looked like if the Soviet Union, in particular, had adapted and maintained a strong economy.
Existing communist regimes can be applauded for how they have effectively learnt from the past and adapted to become more robust in ways Western countries have not. Those who survived the 1980’s, have learnt how to add digital to analogue intelligence and expand their hybrid warfare capabilities.
Western organisations and governments would do well to fully understand the depth of communist ideology as part of their strategies, when looking to partner with, seek investment from and even combat, the remaining communist regimes.
As a parting thought, since the fall of the Berlin wall and various subsequent regime changes, the world has seen an influx of thousands of intelligence operatives without an employer. Have you ever stopped to think what they are doing now?
Taking into consideration of the late 80’s with fall of Berlin Wall as a hallmark of dissolving Eastern Block (Warsaw Pact) with latest bastion of that block, removal of Romanian President Nicolae Ceausescu (Investopedia, 2020) and in his removal citizens and military joined forces however Securitate ( security intelligence police apparatus ) mountain defence and prolonged fight in order to crush revolution not only to survive or save Ceausescu.
Even Eastern Block fall into pieces SSSR as a backbone of Eastern Block standing firm and defiant, however less than two years of removal of Ceausescu the leader of SSSR, Mikhail Gorbachev was under house arrest from 18th August 1991
This post was written by Mario Bekes