How Dictators Staff Their Secret Police: Evidence from Argentina's Battalion 601
Who serves in a secret police? Research has studied the decisions of dictators to oppress their citizens, but little is known about the regime agents that carry out repression. This paper studies the composition of a secret police force. We expect that dictators recruit ambitious but underachieving officials as agents to maximize compliance. To secure a future career in the regime bureaucracy such officials are likely to loyally serve the dictator. We test this argument with an analysis of Battalion 601--the notorious intelligence unit during Argentina's last dictatorship (1975-1983). Using archive-based data on more than 4,000 officers, we study biographic differences between members of Battalion 601 and the personnel in any other part of the army. Our results demonstrate that officers who underperformed early on in their career were more likely to serve in the Battalion. The findings offer insights into the inner workings and the stability of authoritarian regimes.