Directorate S is the department of the KGB that is responsible for the gathering, studying and dissemination of specifically illegally obtained intelligence. The Directorate S illegals program form the main basis for the story behind The Americans.
As one of the many KGB's Directorates (or Lines) that constitute the KGB, Directorate S is responsible for matters relating to illegal intelligence, most famously the training and planting of so called ‘illegals’ in foreign countries. Russian intelligence placed a great emphasis on illegal intelligence as it was believed to be of greater value and return than legal intelligence due illegal agents being able to penetrate a wider range of targets. Heavy surveillance of Russian nationals and their exclusion from any job role that may compromise national security, coupled with the then widespread anti-Soviet climate in the US, made obtaining intelligence via openly Soviet persons virtually impossible. As such, illegal intelligence accounted for the bulk of the Soviet’s intelligence, making Directorate S the most vital part of the KGB’s network.
Chosen from the exclusive ranks of Directorate S, the illegals were trained to be physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of living in a totally alien environment under the deepest of covers for up to 20+ years whilst performing politically controversial and/or potentially fatal missions.
In The Americans the illegals are shown to be a tangible and persistent threat to the US intelligence community. The FBI are shown throughout the show to be out-witted and/or out-manoeuvred on many occasions by the illegals.
Considered the true elite of Soviet intelligence officers, they are revered as heroes by the Russians due to their complete and willing sacrifice of their former and future lives for the cause During "The Deal", Arkady passionately makes the following statement to the radio room operator while Phillip is waiting for assistance with a kidnapped Mossad agent;
'You see every cable. You know I have one of my Directorate S agents in an unsecured safe house, waiting. I won’t leave him there. I’ll get Moscow to make a deal with these people [Mossad] if it costs me my career."
The kidnapped agent compares his worth to that of Phillip's stating "I'm bronze, not platinum, not like you" inferring that the international intelligence community is at least aware of the KGB's illegals program.
Over the course of the show Directorate S has, or attempted to;
- Plant illegal Soviet agents under deep-cover: Phillip, Elizabeth, Leanne, Emmett, Robert, William
- Grooming of second-generation illegals: Jared Connors, Paige Jennings
- Planting of listening devices in Secretary of Defense Caspar "General" (US Army Captain in real life, never a General Officer) Weinberger’s study clock, Agent Gaad’s office, the FBI’s Mail Robot
- Theft of confidential documents relating to: Nuclear X Laser Anti-Ballistic Missile Ray
- Theft of militarised pathogens: Burkholderia mallei
Department Twelve is the Directorate S sub-division responsible for the study, collection, and transit of intelligence and samples of biological agents useful in the event of biological warfare. Of a hugely secretive nature, Department Twelve’s work seems known only to a highly select few - when Arkady questions Tatiana Vyazemsteva over her involvement in the department she refuses to acknowledge either its existence or her involvement.
Tatiana is seen communicating with the Center via the radio room, sending a cable acknowledging the "temporary use of Directorate S operatives". Given the revered status of Directorate S operatives as mentioned above, plus Gabriel's reluctance to involve Elizabeth and Phillip, it is assumed that Department 12 has its own dedicated network of couriers for samples but are able to commandeer other agents when absolutely necessary.