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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: 10 Nefarious Secret Police Forces Throughout History

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Secret police forces have existed since time immemorial, from the Frumentarii of Ancient

Rome to the mass digital surveillance of today.

And while theyre more commonly associated with some of the most nefarious dictatorships

on the planet, these unaccountable, state-funded heavies with a license to snoop have become

increasingly and unnervingly banalperhaps even cynically expectedall over the world.

More than a hundred secret police forces were set up in the last century alonenot least

in the US and Europewith many more following today.

And with so many examples to choose from, here are ten of the absolute worst.


OVRA (1927-1945)

Largely dependent on civilian tip-offs, the Italian OVRA (Organization for Vigilance and

Repression of Anti-Fascism) even had informants with informants of their ownincluding Bice

Pupeschi (Informer Number 35) and her private network of almost 40 subordinate spies.

Between 1926 and 1943, 17,000 citizensmostly anti-fascist thinkers and intellectualswere

confined to ruralsurveillance enclaveswhere their lives were tightly controlled.

160,000 others, including Jews, were subject to ammonizione (restrictions on their activities

and movements).

Some of those grassed up and arrested were guilty of nothing more than telling jokes

about Mussolini.

OVRA was also notorious for enforcing a kind of sexual fascism, actively preventing abortions

and demonizing homosexuality.

The goal, apparently, was to strengthen the Italianrace.”

Throughout his time in power, though, Mussolini had a powerful rival: the Roman Catholic Church.

Despite agreeing on a great many issuesincluding theproblemof Jews (and also despite

attempts to forge a Vatican-Fascist alliance)—there remained a mutual distrust between them.

For this reason, OVRA set about gathering intelligence on senior Catholic pederasts,

planning to blackmail them into submission.

Mussolini himself is said to have enjoyed reading reports on some of the saucier priests

sex livesincluding that of Pope Pius XIs close personal friend Monsignor Camillo Caccia

Dominioni, a cardinal who lured young boys to his apartment for sex.


COINTELPRO (1956-1971)

The aptly named COunter INTELligence PROgram was set up during the 1950s as the federal

governments response to beatniks, hippies, pacifists, and pretty much anyone else who

questioned the status quo.

As a secret branch of the FBI, the organization listed, surveilled, infiltrated, discredited,

and disrupted various left-leaning individuals and political organizationsfrom Vietnam

War protesters to civil rights activists (including feminists, African Americans, and even Native


But they were mostly interested in discrediting the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., whose

increasing influence (and upcoming Nobel Peace Prize) had become infuriating to J. Edgar

Hoover himself.

As part of their campaign against him, COINTELPRO agents broke into and bugged Dr. Kings

home, then sent him a letter (purportedly from a disillusioned admirer) decrying his

allegedadulterous actsandimmoral conduct.”

Evidence, in the form of a dubious audio recording, was enclosed and sent to his wife.

The letter finished by appearing to call for his suicide, promising 34 days untilhis

filthy, abnormal fraudulent self [was to be]bared to the nationand ending, ominously, with:

There is only one thing left for you to do.

You know what it is.”

Right-wing groups like the Ku Klux Klan were also monitored, but were evidently deemed

less of a threat.

In fact, when an undercover COINTELPRO agent was involved in the KKK murder of civil rights

activist Viola Liuzzo in 1965, the Klansmen were let off lightly amid vicious rumors that

Liuzzo was a Communist who abandoned her children to have interracial sexual relations with


Indeed, the FBI is also known to have actually financed and armed certain right wing groups,

including the Secret Army Organization, to carry out attacks on black rights activists,

political protestors, and left-wing academics.

COINTELPRO officially came to an end in 1971 and Hoovers successor, Clarence Kelley,

kind of apologized forsome of [their]activities.”

But, tellingly, he also had the gall to defend them, whitewashing the entire program asgood-faith

efforts to prevent bloodshed and the wanton destruction of propertyinthe violent



The Mabahith (1924-present)

The longest-running secret police force on this list belongs to Saudi Arabia, a nation

known for its bizarre commitment to tyranny.

More formally known as al-Mabahit al-Ammah, or the General Investigation Directorate,

the Mabahith are so paranoid about controlling the Saudi populace that even kids are detained

without trial and subject to ongoing torture.

At least 12 have been sentenced to death.

In September 2014, 13-year-old Murtaja Algariras became yet another shameful statistic, arrested

for traveling to see his father in Bahrain without first notifying the state.

The boy spent a month in solitary confinement and a total of two years and eight months

in prisonall without formal charge or trial.

During this time he was mercilessly beaten and tortured.

All of this was of course in direct contravention of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,

as well as the UN Human Rights Councilof which Saudi Arabia remains a curiously oblivious


Last year, aged just 16, Murtaja was moved to a notorious Mabahith-controlled prison,

where further torture will likely secure the confessions needed to convict him and maybe

even sentence him to death.


The Stasi (1950-1990)

The Stasi, or Staatssicherheit (state security) service, of East Germany had around 280,000

citizens on the payrollwhich happens to be more employees than Starbucks pays worldwide.

Officially, the agency employed just 90,000 people full-time, but a network of 189,000

inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (unofficial collaborators, or IMs), comprised the trueshield and

swordof the state.

Actually, this army of civilian spies may have numbered as many as 500,000or even

2 million if occasional informers are included.

To put this in perspective, the Gestapo during WWII had just 40,000 officials and the whole

of Germany (80 million people) to keep an eye on, while the Stasi had at the very least

four times that many agents and barely 17 million citizens to monitor.

So, while under the Nazis there was a Gestapo officer for every 2,000 people, under the

Stasi there may have been one informant for every 8.5 citizensa spy at every dinner

party, in other words, and certainly one for every building.

Worse, the Stasis reign of terror lasted decades longer than the Gestapos.

The Stasis IMs (pejoratively nicknamed Spitzel) came from all walks of life and pervaded

every facet of East German society.

Colleagues informed on colleagues, teenagers spied on their classmates, and even children

kept reports on their parents.

In fact, its thought that up to 10,000 IMsa sizeable chunk of the totalwere

under the age of 18.

Nobody was out of bounds; doctors, lawyers, teachers, journalists, and even clergymen

and celebrities were signed up to spy for the stateoften through bribery or blackmail.

Confessionals were bugged, bathrooms were filmed, targets were stalked, and private

records were ransacked.

The idea was to gather as much dirt as possible on pretty much every citizenjust on the

off chance they might one day question the state.

And if they did, the state was ready to hit back, implementing their infamous strategy

of Zersetzung toshut downindividuals and groups via tailor-made campaigns of sadistic

psychological warfare.

These might involve practically anything, from sowing discord among friends, to blackmail

and bribery, to sneaking into apartments and rearranging the furniture.

The Stasi were also known for tampering with alarm clocks, putting socks in the wrong drawers,

slashing tyres, and ordering goods in the victims nameall calculated to wear their

subjects down.

Such was the extent of the Stasis data collection that the agency left behind 111

kilometers of paperwork (measured spine to spine), more than 1.4 million photos and recordings,

and 39 million index cards.

According to the DDR Museum in Berlin, this is more documentation than was collected in

the whole of Germany (not just the Eastern half) from the Middle Ages to Hitlers defeat.


The 610 Office (1999-present)

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) consolidates its ideological position on various contentious

issues through what they callcentral leading groups”—secretive think tanks headed by

the Politburo Standing Committee.

The most notorious of these in recent times has been theLeading Group for Preventing

and Handling the Problem of Heretical Organizations,” which seeks to monitor and suppress potentially

dangerous religions (like, you know, Buddhism).

But when it was founded in 1999, the group was more specifically focused on crushing

the Falun Gong movement, a spiritual discipline whose numbers had swelled to more than 100

million people.

Falun Gong itself is a relatively benign qigong school that teaches zhen (truthfulness), shan

(benevolence), and ren (forbearance); however, any organization with more members than the

88 million-strong CCP itself is naturally a threat to the government.

Hence Falun Gongs founder Li Hongzhi was officially branded aseviland his followers

systematically terrorized.

The 610 Office (named for its creation on June 10, 1999) has been key to implementing

this policy.

Of course, there were plenty of other security agencies for the CCP to call upon, but Secretary

General Jiang Zemin feared the widespread prevalence of Falun Gong, even within the

Party, had compromised their impartiality.

Being totally unaccountable and necessarily extralegal, the 610 Office, it was hoped,

could rapidly deal with the problem, unhampered by obstacles like the law.

Almost two decades later, however, theyre still at it.

Their methods are centered around the physical and psychological torture of Falun Gong practitioners,

seeking to reeducate them if possible and exterminate them if not.

Many, including 42-year-old fabric shop owner Ren Shujie, are plucked off the street and

sent to work at forced labor campsoften to assemble products for export to the West,

such as cuddly animals, cotton underwear, and wax candle tealights.

In their time off, theyre beaten, drowned, deprived of sleep, and shocked with electric


Another victim, Gao Rongrong, was electrified so badly over the course of 7 hours that her

face was severely burned.

Desperate to escape, she leapt from a second floor window and broke several bones.

However, she was continually monitored at the hospital and later abducted again, this

time dying in custody.

Sadly, many journalists even outside of China are afraid to report on the issue, fearing

that criticism of the government could limit their professional access or worse.


Tonton Macoute (1958-1986)

Under FrançoisPapa DocDuvalier, and later his young son Jean-Claude (“Baby Doc”),

Haiti was a nightmarish place to live.

Between them, they oversaw the imprisonment and execution of tens of thousands of civiliansa

fact thats all the more appalling given that Papa Doc was a medical doctor.

Of course, they couldnt have done it alone.

Shortly after his rise to power, François Duvalier established the terrifying Tonton

Macoute (orUncle Gunnysack”), a violent secret police force named after the child-eating

Santa Claus of Haitian Creole folklore.

The Duvaliers were also supported by the US government, which knowingly armed and trained

the Tonton Macoute to enforce what they calledpeace and stability,” albeit of the kind

found in cemeteries.

Over the course of 27 years, the machete-wielding Tonton Macoute, in their distinctive straw

hats and sunglasses, muted opposition by murdering people at random.

The idea was to make ordinary Haitian civilians scared to death of their leader, whohaving

enshrined Vodou as a national religionclaimed to be Baron Samedi himself, the loa or spirit

of the dead.

Victims were raped, cut open, or beaten to a bloody pulp in the street and then left

there to rot as a warning to everyone else.

More often, though, much like their folkloric namesake, the Tonton Macoute simply spirited

people away in the night.

Some of the worst atrocities were committed at the capitals Fort Dimanche, theAuschwitz

of Haiti,” under the sadistic watch of Madame Max Adolphe.

As Papa Docsright hand womanand chief of the all-female branch of the Tonton

Macoute, the Fillettes Laleau, Madame Max had a diabolical reputation to uphold.

Among other barbaric acts, she is said to have inserted a live rat into a pregnant womans


Unusually, members of the Tonton Macoute were generally unpaid, but in exchange for their

loyalty they could pretty much do as they wished.

And, for many recruits, finally assuming the role of oppressor after years of being oppressed

was enough of its own reward.


The Cheka (1917-1922)

Lenins Commissar for Internal Affairs, Felix Dzerzhinksy, knew exactly what he was

doing when he set up the All-Russian Extraordinary Commission for Combating Counter-Revolution

and Sabotage (VChK, or Cheka, for short).

He knew it changed things; he knew a death squad in black leather trench coats went against

the Soviet ideal of a police force withclean hands, a cool head, and a warm heart.”

But, as he put it in 1918, “terror is an absolute necessity during times of revolution.”

The Cheka (or Chekists, as they were called) were pioneers of secret policing, introducing

the Gulag system of prison camps and a truly bewildering variety of tortures.

As the enforcers of a burgeoning Bolshevik empire, Chekists were expected to do whatever

was necessary to prevent its enemies from organizing, and by the end of the Russian

Civil War (1918-1921) they had more than 200,000 membersand perhaps the same number of victims.

Methods, which varied from one Cheka police force to the next, included sawing through

victimsbones, crushing their skulls with a vice, pushing them into furnaces or scalding

hot vats, and dousing them in water in the winter to form literal, living ice statues.

In Kharkov, the Cheka preferred to use theglove trick,” boiling victimshands

in water and peeling back the skin, while in Voronezh they favored rolling people around

in barrels studded with nails.

Meanwhile, the Chekists of Kiev were known for placing a rat in a cage against victims

bellies and gently applying heat, in turn forcing the rodent to chew through the body

to survive.

In 1922, the Cheka was formally disbanded, having successfully handled the counter-revolutionary

threatas was planned from its inception.

However, the secret police were not abolished entirely; their functions were simply transferred,

under the same leadership, to the somewhat less repressive agency, the State Political

Directorate, or GPU.

And, just 12 years later, Joseph Stalin renamed it the Peoples Commissariat for Internal

Affairs (NKVD) and waged a new Great Terror of his own.

The genie was out of the bottle; the Cheka had laid a formidable blueprint and an all

too convenient precedent for the many secret police forces to follownot just the NKVD

(1934-1943), but also the NKGB (1941 and 1943-1946), the MGB (1946-1954), the KGB (1954-1991),

and even the FSB of today (1995-present).


The Santebal (1971-1979)

The terrifying efficiency of Pol Pots Khmer Rouge, which claimed some 2 million lives

in Cambodiamore than 20% of the populationin just four devastating years, took more than

revolutionary zeal.

The shadowy Santebal (Khmer forkeeper of the peace”) was indispensable to the

regime, tasked with consolidating power, extracting false confessions, and exterminating civiliansall

while keeping detailed, meticulous records.

A digitized archive of more than 100,000 documents from just one prison camp (Tuol Sleng, or

S-21) highlights the sheer bureaucratic burden of genocide, and these are just the papers

that survived; most were summarily destroyed.

Tuol Sleng (“Hill of the Poisonous Trees”) was by far the most notorious of the Khmer

Rouges death camps, holding up to 20,000 prisoners (1,500 at a time) between 1976 and


Of these, only 7 were found alive by the liberating Vietnamese army in 1979, apparently having

leveraged their skills for clemencypainting propaganda and torture scenes, for example,

or repairing overused typewriters.

Otherwise, as many as 100 prisoners were killed each day, often starved, drowned, or skinned


Some had their organs removed without anaesthetic, while others had their blood intravenously

drained to see how long they survived.

Rape was also common (although technically against the rules) and babies were beaten

to death.

The man in charge of all this was Kaing Guek Eav (akaComrade Duch”), a math teacher

with monstrous attention to detail.

It wasnt until 2010 that he was formally charged for his war crimes and sentenced to

life in prison.


The Kempeitai (1881-1945)

Nicknamed theJapanese Gestapo,” the Kempeitai were so excessively ruthless, both

inside and outside of Japan during WWII, that the Imperial Japanese Navy had its own military

police forcethe Tokkeitaito protect itself from their agents.

Having been cherry-picked for advanced training on the basis of superior intelligence, fitness,

and political reliability, every member of the Kempeitai had extraordinary powers to

arrest and indefinitely detain practically anyone they wishedincluding personnel of

a higher rank than their own.

And, much like the samurai whose code they pretended to follow, the Kempeitai had no

qualms whatsoever about working with the criminal underworldso long as it furthered their

aims of terrifying Japanese subjects and prisoners throughout East Asia into brutal and abject


Anyone they took into custody was automatically presumed to be guilty and very often tortured

to death.

In Singapore alone, the Kempeitai are thought to have killed 20,000-50,000anti-Japanese

operatives,” often for little more than having a tattoo or being able to speak English.

Extracting confessions from detainees was naturally a grisly business.

According to survivors, the Kempeitai often pumped their victims full of water before

jumping or standing on their stomachs.

They also poked wooden skewers through their eardrums, dislocated limbs, burned sensitive

body parts, staged executions, and threatened to kill their families.

As time went on they came to regard other races as somehow less than human and supplied

a great many foreign prisoners, including women and children, to the notorious Unit

731a human experimentation program that claimed tens of thousands of lives.

They also thought nothing of wiping out villages abroad, including the Burmese community of

Kalagon whose 600 inhabitants were all blindfolded, bayoneted, and disposed of in nearby wells.


The Gestapo (1933-1945)

Also known as Geheime Staatspolizei (or secret state police), the Gestapo needs no introduction.

For their role in the Holocaust, theyre among the best known police forces on this

list, eclipsing many others for their sheer efficiency and scope.

Werner Best, the administrative chief of the Gestapo, described the organization as a kind

ofdoctor to the German national body,” tasked with locatingdestructive germs

andusing all appropriate means to get rid of them.”

But, like any doctor, they were only ever seen by thesick.”

Despite rumors that agents were everywhere, there were so few in reality (at least compared

to other secret police forces) that most ordinary Germans probably never met one.

As for who thesickwere exactly, this tended to change over time.

In the beginning, the Gestapo were mainly looking for political virusesopposition

party members, resistance movements, and the likebut they soon started rounding upvermin”—the

Jews, gypsies, Slavs, and homosexuals.

One of the Gestapos most notorious methods ofdiagnosiswas to crush suspects

testicles in a vice.

And victims who confessed to the crimes they were accused of were sent to concentration

camps to die.

The Gestapos efficiency and thoroughness in rooting out possible toxins, especially

in newly conquered territories, owed much to the cooperation of others.

Local police forces, postal workers, civil servants, railway security officers, intelligence

agencies, and even civilian informers all had a role to play.

In Vichy France in 1943, a whole new paramilitary organization, the Milice Française (French

militia), was set up to aid the Gestapo in suppressing the French Resistance.

One of the most notorious torture chambers, in fact, lay a short distance from the Eiffel

Tower in Paris.

Here, within soundproofed walls, victims were burned alive until only their handprints on

the walls remained.

Yet throughout their reign of terror, Gestapo agents firmly believed in the work they were

doing; they truly believed it was goodjust as anydoctormight.

In fact, Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, who helped set up the Gestapo, commended them

on their ability tocopewith the sight of so many corpses and still remaindecent

to the end.

The Description of 10 Nefarious Secret Police Forces Throughout History