Star Wars: The ISB’s Fearsome History Within the Empire

Bryan Young
TV Streaming
TV Streaming Sci-Fi Star Wars

The Imperial Security Bureau has been a long-feared association in the Star Wars universe from its earliest days of expansion. A rough analogue in numerous ways to the real-world Gestapo from Nazi Germany, the Imperial Security Bureau worked to root out spies and dissent across the Empire, doing its best to prevent the spread of Rebellion and ensure the Empire would last forever.

Our first glimpse of the ISB came in A New Hope, when Wullf Yularen appeared in his striking white uniform aboard the Death Star. We’ve also seen the ISB at work on the show Star Wars Rebels, but thanks to the new Disney+ show Andor, we’re getting an inside look at the bureaucracy and inner workings of the secret police of Emperor Sheev Palpatine in a way we never have before.

Let’s take a look at the history of the association as we know it, and what we can learn as we continue watching Andor.

COMPNOR

A propaganda poster for COMPNOR

“How will the Emperor maintain control without the bureaucracy?” – General Cassio Tagge

To start, it might be helpful to understand where the Imperial Security Bureau sits inside of the Imperial bureaucracy, and that leads us straight to COMPNOR. COMPNOR stands for the Commission for the Preservation of the New Order and it was originally created as an association dedicated to the preservation of the Republic. When Palpatine became Emperor, its name changed and it became a tool used by Palpatine to shape public opinion about the Empire and how it functioned.

COMPNOR were responsible for vast amounts of propaganda and had numerous different sub-agencies that had different functions beneath them. Some of their sub-groups included the Imperial Office of Customs, the Coalition for Improvements, and, more sinisterly, the Imperial Security Bureau.

Everything COMPNOR did, if it was Customs or Commerce, was in service of keeping the Empire at the top of the hierarchy in the galaxy, with Sheev Palpatine as its ongoing head. The vast majority of COMPNOR was completely benign and even beneficial in the galaxy, but because of the seedy underbelly of its more clandestine work, the entire association was rife with the corruption that ran rampant in the Empire.

The ISB’s Early Days

The ISB as represented in 'A New Hope'

In the earliest days of the Imperial Security Bureau, they were a little agency whose tasks included the decommissioning and dismantling of Separatist ships and war surplus to ensure they would pose no threat to the New Order. In those early days, they were also tasked with quashing dissent and pockets of dangerous ideas across the galaxy, even making seditionist artists “disappear.” There were major branches that grew within the ISB. The Enforcement branch is tasked with supporting field agents of the ISB as they conduct their dark work. By the time the Empire ended and the ISB disbanded, the Interrogation branch was the second largest department inside the association and was tasked with extracting information from beings across the galaxy in the name of preservation of the New Order.

The largest department was Surveillance, tasked with listening in on the entire galaxy. The Re-Education department was focused on so-called brainwashing away resistance to the Empire. Internal Affairs was an important component of the ISB as well, looking to root out sedition from within — an ISB Agent with the Internal Affairs division was stationed on every Star Destroyer in the fleet to keep watch on things. The Investigations division is much of what we see in Andor, as they scrub through information looking for any signs of Rebel activity, with the aim of suppressing it.

Loyalty Officers

Loyalty Officer Uddra

Loyalty Officers existed inside the ranks of the Imperial Security Bureau, and they were assigned to detachments and ships across the galaxy to enquire treason inside the ranks of the Empire. One such Loyalty Officer was Sinjir Rath Velus, whose story is documented in Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath books. Velus was stationed on Endor, overseeing all of the troops who crewed the Shield Generator station protecting the second Death Star. Velus participated in all manner of torture and interrogation on behalf of the Empire, but finally defected when the Rebels were victorious at the Battle of Endor.

Others, like the fanatical Emarr Ottkreg, were stationed aboard Star Destroyers, a mobile listening post for the ISB aboard every ship. They reported directly to the ISB and could enquire anybody in their purview for matters as easy as easy breaches of conduct to full blown treason.

Yularen

Wullf Yularen aboard the Death Star

Perhaps the most well-known officer in the Imperial Security Bureau would be Colonel Wullf Yularen. Yularen got his begin in the Republic Navy and fought with distinction alongside Anakin Skywalker in the Clone Wars. After the end of that conflict and the creation of the Empire, he was asked by Palpatine to personally leave the Imperial Navy and join the ISB. He changed ranks from Admiral to Colonel and was first tasked with seeking disloyalty in the Imperial Senate itself. It’s no wonder that Mon Mothma in Andor is terrified of the net closing in around her when someone like Colonel Yularen is sniffing around everything she’s up to in order to ensure it doesn’t benefit the Rebels.

Yularen worked closely with the infamous Thrawn as well in his pursuit to match wits against, and ultimately destroy, the rebel agent known as Nightswan. Later, that team, pairing the best of the Imperial Navy and the Imperial Security Bureau, would go to work doing their best to uncover the identity of the secret agent known as Fulcrum. Fulcrum was feeding information to the Rebels and causing problems for the ISB and had to be stopped.

Ultimately, Yularen met his destiny aboard the Death Star when the Rebels he failed to quash destroyed it.

Agent Kallus and the Rebel Hunters

Agent Kallus is the rebel spy
Agent Kallus

A key operate of the Imperial Security Bureau was fighting against the consistent fires of rebellion sparking across the galaxy. One of the most gifted agents in the ISB at this work was Alexsandr Kallus, a personal protégé of Colonel Yularen. He fought against Saw Gerrera and his partisans on Onderon, was on hand for the genocide of the Lasat people, and spent a year hunting the Rebels of Phoenix Squadron. Eventually, though, the more he witnessed and atrocities he dedicated in the Empire’s name, the more he knew he could no longer continue in the Imperial Security Bureau.

As a double-agent, Kallus was hunted relentlessly while sowever inside the ISB framework, but used the bureaucracy of the association to his advantage to continue hidden as long as he could. The thing Kallus learned was that anybody who dared to become a double-agent from inside the ISB had to be beyond careful. The ISB was nothing short of ruthless in its pursuit of spies, often killing them.

Kallus was one of the fortunate few able to escape the clutches of the Imperial Security Bureau and joined the Rebels in their fight against the Empire. After the war, he made his way to Lira San to be forgiven for his part of the genocide of the Lasat.

Andor‘s Era

The ISB at their convention table on Coruscant
The ISB on Coruscant

With the ISB on Andor, we can see a lot of these different departments at work and how they function. It appears that Dedra Meero works in Investigations, taking all of the data made available to her from surveillance, internal reports, and interrogation. Blevin, her rival, works at the same level, but seems more interested in keeping his job than doing any actual work to maintain the Empire. They both report to Major Partagaz, who oversees the unit, and he reports to Yularen himself.

As they work inside their system, it’s interesting to see how they jockey for power and have to watch their backs, even from each other. Internal Affairs could be listening at any time. The ISB threw a lot of individuals in prison, but perhaps they’d built a prison for themselves as well…

New episodes of Andor debut Wednesdays on Disney+. You can check out more about the ISB at Wookieepedia.

For further reading about the construction of the Imperial Security Bureau, there are worse places to look than the Star Wars: Imperial Sourcebook, published by West End Games in 1989. Although the book is firmly rooted in the Legends of Star Wars, it’s been cited as a key resource for the production team behind Andor as they flesh out the new canon behind this insidious organization.


Bryan Young
Bryan Young is an award-winning author, filmmaker, journalist, and comics writer. He's the co-author of the new Robotech Roleplaying Game and writer for outlets ranging from StarWars.Com and The Huffington Post to Syfy and /Film. His latest novel is BattleTech: Honor's Gauntlet.