“Legitimacy Machine”

State Security in the Power Strategy of Bulgarian Communist Party

Author: Momchil Metodiev

Published by the Institute for Studies of the Recent Past, Open Society Institute and Ciela Publisheres
Sofia 2008

This book is result of the extensive research of Momchil Metodiev conducted as part of the Communism Research Project.


State Security services are usually referred to as the political police of the communist regime – the institution aiming to hush up dissidents or non-conformist voices in the era of communism. Such an approach towards the State Security annals could hardly be considered inaccurate. However, it does not encompass the whole information about the essence and mission of the State Security in that period of history. Parallel to its repressive functions, this system is conferred with a much more extensive task – to procure the missing political legitimacy of the regime. At the end of the 1950s newly adopted regulations assigned to the Secret Service a role of a mediator between the Communist Party leadership and the society as a whole. Thus this institution was supposed to bridge the gap between the Party nomenclature and the citizens, to “provide information” about already made political decisions, to control their implementation and to further update political leaders on the way various resolutions had been accepted. This applied to all structures of the system – the Intelligence and Counter -intelligence Head Directorates were required not only to prevent the emergence of political opposition, but also to actively promote the rightness of the Party’s decisions among the general public.

The classic State Security was established in the beginning of the 1960s, when it was shaped along a scheme, which remained more or less unchanged until the fall of the communist rule. However, certain modifications were introduced, which, though few in number, held great importance – the formation of the Sixth Directorate in 1967; the transformation of the State Security Investigations Department into a Head Directorates for Investigations in the framework of the Ministry of Interior in 1979 and finally – setting up of the Directorate for Economic Counter-intelligence in 1986. As a result of these reforms by the end of the communist regime the State Security operated within the following format:

Operative Directorates:

  • First Head Directorate – International intelligence work (including Science and Technology as well as Culture and History intelligence)
  • Second Head Directorate – Counter-intelligence
  • Third Directorate – Military counter-intelligence
  • Fourth Directorate – Economic counter- intelligence
  • Fifth Directorate – Security and protection
  • Sixth Directorate – Combating ideological diversion, counter-revolutionary, nationalistic and other activities against the state
  • Regional Departments of the Ministry of Interior, which include State Security divisions

Non-operative structures:

  • Directorate for technical support (which until 1986 was known as Fourth Directorate) Seventh Directorate – Central Directorate for Information (created in 1969 and known as such since 1979)
  • Head Directorate for investigations in the Ministry of Interior (until 1979 – the Investigations Department in State Security)
  • Archives and Information Directorate (until 1986 – Department “Registry and Archives”)

The distinction between operative and non-operative Directorates was based on the importance of the State Security agents’ activity for their functioning. Among the above listed structures there were some, whose activity still remains barely known to the public. There is a lot of ambiguity in regard with the tasks, performed by the Fourth Directorate. Until 1986 this was the Directorate for technical support, whose responsibility was to ensure the necessary technical assistance for the microphone and telephone tapping, checking of the correspondence, issuing of false identity documents or carrying out graphological analyses. In 1986 the number Fourth was given to the newly established Directorate for Economic counter-intelligence, which exercised monitoring and control over the activity of foreign companies operating in Bulgaria and dealt with the euphemistically called “secret transit commerce” – i.e. smuggling in favour of the state. Quite contradictory remains the place of the Investigation as well – an institution, which could be justly described as one of the most macabre among the Secret Services. It was authorized to recruit the so called “chamber agents”, i.e. prisoners, who were supposed to provide information about other detainees. Initially the Investigation department was positioned as a body within the State Security, but later in 1979 it was transferred to the Ministry of Interior as Head Directorate for Investigation.

The data about the number of officers, employed by State Security as well as the number of agents they worked with, is rather scarce too. It is known that in 1962 the staff members of State Security were approximately 6200, while in the next 27 years the system multiplied several times. On the basis of indirect evidence one could rather safely conclude that by the end of the communism the number of employees in the State Security structures amounted up to 15 000. According to one of the few officially available statistics the number of annually recruited secret agents since the mid 1950s to the end of the regime varied between 50 000 and 65 000.

The political loyalty towards the Bulgarian Communist Party (BCP) remained always the cornerstone of State Security diverse activities. Nearly all documents issued by its various Directorates consistently included the magic formula, that their staff members ought to be “boundlessly faithful to the Party”. Another expression of the same philosophy was the BCP Secretary General Valko Chervenkov’s declaration to State Security chiefs in 1954, in which he described the Security Service as “the eyes and the ears of the Party”. Approximately at this time BCP leadership took a course towards clear and unambiguous partition between the Party nomenclature and the political police, restriction of opportunities for the State Security to take part in the decision-making process and administrating of constant control over its divisions.

The Party made use of different mechanisms to exercise such a control. The most powerful one was the direct monitoring of the overall activity of the State Service by a specially designated for this purpose Department in the Central Committee of BCP, whose work on its turn was scrutinized by one of the Secretaries of the Committee. After 1965 this supervision was persistently in Todor Zhivkov’s hands. Another control instrument was the figure of the Minister of Interior, who always came from the Party highest echelon – from the central executive body (Angel Tsanev), Comsomol activist (Angel Solakov) or from the Party regional offices (Dimitar Stoyanov and Georgi Tanev). An expert from the power structures of the Ministry of Interior was never appointed Minister. Some former employees of State Security expressed later on in their memoirs subdued discontent over the issue, which comes as an indication of a certain tension between the “professionals” and the “politicians” in the Ministry.

In the prolonged situation of immovability of once appointed Ministers, the Party designed another mechanism for control – the Collegium of the Ministry of Interior. The overt mission of this structure was to prevent the concentration of too much power in the hands of the Minister. The Collegium was authorized to direct all controversial matters straight to the Central Committee. That was also the body that took responsibility for the most important resolutions concerning the work of the Ministry of Interior and ensured the necessary level of anonymity for making unpopular decisions.

The cut out distinction between Party nomenclature and the State Security substantially restricted the opportunities for “political career” open to officers in the system, who had to put up with only second-rate positions. Most examples of State Security officers, who received limited access to the political power, date from the 1980s. These were mostly Intelligence officers, who succeeded to advance in their careers and become Deputy Ministers or ambassadors, after formally retiring from the State Security system. Such were the cases with Deputy Ministers of Foreign Affairs Zhivko Popov and Luben Gotsev. In 1979 Petar Bashikarov resigned from the position of Deputy chief of Department at First Head Directorate of State Security and started working for the Ministry of International Commerce, where later on he was entrusted the post of First Deputy Minister.

The recruiting of BCP members as secret agents was one of the most sensitive issues throughout the years in view with the dividing line between the State Security and the Party elite. The approach had undergone changes in time, but nevertheless there was always a steady tendency for the party members to have privileges compared to other citizens. The general rule, introduced in 1960, read that State Security might employ Party members only in exceptional cases. This highly restrictive regulation was obviously unacceptable to the State Security and was revised no later than 1965. In the spirit of the new instructions the employment restriction was valid only for the BCP and Comsomol nomenclature and did not prevent regular communists being recruited mainly in the Intelligence sector. Other Directorates kept theoretically their right to hire secret agents from the Party, but only “by exception”.

All these proscriptions aimed at nothing, but the definite separation of the political leadership and the political police, so that State Security did not have any instruments for direct or indirect influence over the political decision making process. Until the archives of State security remain closed, there is no reliable way one could assess how far these instructions were applied and to what extent the Party members benefited from the privileges, they were awarded. We could safely assume, however, that towards the end of the regime State Security and its Sixth Directorate in particular focused much more their attention on Party leadership and for that purpose they must have needed enough agents among the Party members.

In its activity the State Security used a couple of major tools, which could be generally grouped into three main categories – direct repression, the agents’ work and the consequent “active” or “acute measures”. Different periods within the history of the communist state demanded a more pronounced preference towards different categories. No doubt, until the beginning of 1950s a leading role was attributed to the direct repression, while in the years of destalinization the emphasis was put on agents’ doings. The two major lines of work in State security – Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, applied thoroughly identical methods of action.

The only difference in this hierarchy was purely terminological – while the term “secret agent” in the Intelligence unit is designated only to officially enrolled Bulgarian citizens, in the structure of the Counter-Intelligence the term was applied to all collaborators to the system (residents, agents, confidentials, providers of meeting point and conspiratorial premises).

Both Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence Directions in the State security had completely identical methods of recruitment of agents, which were based either on political allegiance, or some form of dependence – material or other. There was a preference for people, who shared the communist beliefs and were convinced in the rightness of their actions, as these agents were most reliable and cost effective. However, the defeat in the Cold War propaganda war after 1968 led to a rapid decrease in the number of those, willing to cooperate only on the basis of political allegiance and by the end of the regime the number of people enrolled through dependence and blackmailing was increasing. Most often that happened through some discrediting material, procured in various ways, including the usage of special technical means.

The aim of the Bulgarian Intelligence was to collect information about states and regions, which were located in geographical proximity and therefore Bulgarian Intelligence Services had better opportunities for field work than their Soviet colleagues. This was valid for all three major spheres of Intelligence activity, which were managed by the First Head Directorate of State Security – Foreign Policy, Science and Technology, Culture and History. In the first Cold War years priority was given to Greece and Turkey, the so called “less developed Arab and African states” and the Middle-East countries in particular. After 1966 China and Albania were also added to this list.

The three above mentioned departments in the Intelligence Directorate were also assigned the task to ensure the political legitimacy of the regime either through invention of good “propaganda” news, or through acquiring of technological innovations data from the West. This justified the existence of the seemingly unnecessary department “Culture and History Intelligence” (CHI), whose main objective was to gather and promote information about the Bulgarian culture and history. CHI aimed at providing the party leadership with historical facts, that would enhance the international prestige of the country and hence – that of the ruling regime.

In the wide spectrum of methods, used by the Intelligence officers in their work, a very special place was reserved for various forms of repression. In the majority of the cases the victims were representatives of the Bulgarian emigration abroad. The BCP Political Bureau Decision, dated 27 December 1966, altered significantly the comparatively tolerant policy towards emigrants adopted in the mid 1950s. The new strategy required firm control and restraint of contacts between Bulgarian citizens and expatriates. A special State Security report from the same year authorized the Secret Services to forcefully kidnap and bring back to the country active members of the hostile emigration. Since the mid 1970s the whole operative work regarding Bulgarian emigration was entirely concentrated in the Intelligence Directorate, which alone could exercise control over the agents, sent abroad. Two more documents marked further the general policy for countering the emigration and restricting the opportunities for Bulgarian citizens to travel abroad – the BCP Political Bureau Decision (1977), which was expanded in the directive of the Minister of Interior (March, 1978).

Another initiative of the Intelligence to legitimize the communist regime focused on integration of agents in international organizations with Bulgarian participation. This scheme was widely used since the beginning of the 1970s, although most probably it had existed even before that. With its consolidated vote, dictated by the USSR, the Eastern European Bloc could substantially influence the activities of those organizations and enjoy the benefits of such an advantage. In this way the Intelligence had the chance to “produce” positive news, which by themselves were events of considerable importance for the general public within the frame of a strictly closed totalitarian system. Each media success also opened ways for boosting communist propaganda in other countries as well.

The practice of “inventing” biographies was yet another tool, used by State Security in its efforts to justify the regime before and after its fall. This practice was once again initiated by the Intelligence and later on widely applied within the country as well. In professional slang, this was known as the “agent’s legend”, but technically that meant the elaboration of an acceptable and convincing biography of the respective officer. One of the dilemmas of the transition period from communism to democracy was that many former State Security officers used later on their legends as an evidence for their successful and compelling professional careers. A good example in that respect is the “invented” biography of Ivan Gaitanjiev – an Intelligence officer in the period 1974 – 1991, who worked under the cover of a Bulgarian Telegraph Agency correspondent in China and the US. Being a well-known journalist, he was elected Member of Parliament (in the 36 and 37 National Assembly) and is currently an ambassador, although his career during the communist rule was clearly directed by the Intelligence. Another name to be mentioned is that of Raiko Nikolov, who in the last years of communism changed several ambassador posts and recently published three biographical books about his rich diplomatic career. In the BCP archives, however, one could still find his first professional assessment, made by State Security in 1950, immediately before he started working as an agent in the Bulgarian Embassy in Paris. This is actually a credible illustration of the way the fall of the communist regime and the end of State Security made it possible for former employees of the system to attain publicity through their parallel life stories.

The task of providing political legitimacy to the communist governmental system within the country was performed jointly with the Second Head Directorate (Counter-Intelligence), Third Directorate (Military Counter-intelligence), Sixth Directorate (Combating ideological diversion) and Fourth Directorate (Economic counter- intelligence). These units pursued their goals in ways very similar to those of the Intelligence. Direct repression had once again a leading role. The individual rights of “suspects” were brutally violated – their correspondence was checked, telephones and homes – bugged, and they themselves were under constant surveillance for a certain period of time. In case this operation accumulated enough data for “hostile to the regime” activity, the next step of the “realization” would be the person in question to be turned to the Investigation bodies and eventually sued for political crimes.

The legitimacy of the regime was supported with the help of Counter-Intelligence agents as well, who among other things had to “exert a positive influence over a wider range of citizens”. According to the State Security rules the number of agents in a public or state institution could be considered sufficient only when “the situation is under full control and could be directed in accordance with the State Security discretion”. The availability of such network of officers and agents made possible its mobilization for spreading rumours and manipulating public opinion in any preferred by the regime direction.

The “invention of biographies” was unquestionably a major instrument in the arsenal of the Counter-Intelligence too. Although the Second Head Directorate did not make use of other state institutions to cover its activity, it also had certain mechanisms to motivate its employees. A number of documents from that period prove that Counter-Intelligence agents were awarded various incentives, whose importance and value depended on those of the agent himself. In this sense those State Security officers, who were more diligent, could rely on the “discreet” support of the system, when it was necessary for their professional advancement.

Within the system of the communist regime the Committee for State Security held an intermediate position between the ruling party, all other state institutions and components (administrative bodies, conventional public organizations), and citizens’ privacy or associations of Bulgarian emigrants. The relations between these three levels were strictly hierarchical. At the very top of the pyramid was placed the communist party, which made all political decisions regarding the ruling of the country. Immediately under it was State security, which, roughly speaking, was authorized to control the implementation of these decisions. In this sense State Security played, figuratively said, the role of auto suspension for the regime. On one hand it had to reduce the vibrations by repressing those who expressed discontent from the government, on the other hand – to actively provide the missing political legitimacy to the Party leadership. Therefore it would be quite oversimplified to look at State Security only as a mechanism for repression or as a political police. Its role was much more extensive – it was the keeper of the status-quo, who had to guarantee the stability of the regime