Kevin P. Riehle: The Russian FSB

The Russian FSB: A Concise History of the Federal Security Service is an introduction to Putin’s formidable intelligence and security organization. Read on for a Q&A with the author to learn about how the book came to be; the importance of imagery to Russian security efforts; what has changed for FSB officers today; and more.

How did you come to write this book?

I have been studying Russian intelligence services for a number of years. When I learned that Georgetown University Press was planning a series on intelligence and security services, I saw it as a good venue for a book on the topic. There is not much scholarship on the FSB available in English, so the book provides information to an English-language readership that is otherwise difficult to find.

How do the images support/bolster the messages conveyed in your book?

The book contains copies of Russian postage stamps that commemorate the 100th anniversaries of Russian state security and counterintelligence. Those stamps typify the important place intelligence and security services hold in Russian society and the Russian government’s efforts to glorify them as patriotic organizations.

The book contains a chart that shows how Soviet-era KGB elements have been perpetuated through various reorganizations of post-Soviet Russian intelligence and security services. It demonstrates the continuity of the KGB in today’s Russian services, especially the FSB.

The book also contains a screenshot from a video produced by graduates of the FSB Academy in 2016, in which they celebrated openly and audaciously their graduations. It shows the changes in Russian society that the FSB faces, as it needs to attract young people raised with social media who may not fully understand the need for confidentiality in an FSB officer.

When doing research, did you find things that surprised you?

The amount of attention paid to pre-Soviet security and police services and the encouragement to FSB officers to model themselves after tsarist-era predecessors was surprising. Additionally, the book lists the U.S. government organizations that fulfill the functions that fall within a single FSB, showing the breadth and power of the FSB as an institution.