|The emblem of the East German Ministry for State Security|
The Stasi was founded on 8 February 1950. It was modelled on the Soviet MGB, and was regarded by the Soviet Union as an extremely loyal and effective partner organization. Wilhelm Zaisser was the first Minister of State Security of the GDR, and Erich Mielke his deputy. Zaisser, who tried to depose SED General Secretary Walter Ulbricht after the June 1953 uprising was after this removed by Ulbricht and replaced by Ernst Wollweber. Wollweber resigned in 1957 after clashes with Ulbricht and Erich Honecker, and was succeeded by his deputy, Erich Mielke.
Early on the Stasi waged a campaign against Jews, who were already subject to widespread discrimination and violence in the Soviet Union. The Stasi censored the fact that Jews had been victims during the previous regime and in one instance, took gold from the bodies of Jews. The Stasi labeled Jews as capitalists and criminals.Gypsies were also blamed.
Between 1950 and 1989, the Stasi employed a total of 274,000 people in an effort to root out the class enemy. In 1989, the Stasi employed 91,015 persons full time, including 2,000 fully employed unofficial collaborators, 13,073 soldiers and 2,232 officers of the National Volksarmee, along with 173,081 unofficial informants inside East Germany and 1,553 informants in West Germany. In terms of the identity of Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (IMs) Stasi informants, by 1995, 174,000 had been identified, which approximated 2.5% of East Germany's population between the ages of 18 and 60.10,000 IMs were under 18 years of age.
While these calculations were from official records, according to the federal commissioner in charge of the Stasi archives in Berlin, because many such records were destroyed, there were likely closer to 500,000 Stasi informants. A former Stasi colonel who served in the counterintelligence directorate estimated that the figure could be as high as 2 million if occasional informants were included.
Full time officers were posted to all major industrial plants (the extensiveness of any surveillance largely depended on how valuable a product was to the economy) and one tenant in every apartment building was designated as a watchdog reporting to an area representative of the Volkspolizei. Spies reported every relative or friend who stayed the night at another's apartment. Tiny holes were drilled in apartment and hotel room walls through which Stasi agents filmed citizens with special video cameras. Schools, universities, and hospitals were extensively infiltrated.
The Stasi had formal categorizations of each type of informant, and had official guidelines on how to extract information from, and control, those who they came into contact with. The roles of informants ranged from those already in some way involved in state security (such as the police and the armed services) to those in the dissident movements (such as in the arts and the Protestant Church). Information gathered about the latter groups was frequently used to divide or discredit members. Informants were made to feel important, given material or social incentives, and were imbued with a sense of adventure, and only around 7.7%, according to official figures, were coerced into cooperating. A significant proportion of those informing were members of the SED; to employ some form of blackmail, however, was not uncommon. A large number of Stasi informants were trolley conductors, janitors, doctors, nurses and teachers; Mielke believed the best informants were those whose jobs entailed frequent contact with the public.
The Stasi's ranks swelled considerably after Eastern Bloc countries signed the 1975 Helsinki accords, which Erich Honecker viewed as a grave threat to his regime because they contained language binding signatories to respect "human and basic rights, including freedom of thought, conscience, religion, and conviction." The number of IMs peaked at around 180,000 in this year, having slowly risen from 20,000–30,000 in the early 1950s, and reaching 100,000 for the first time in 1968, in response to Ostpolitik and protests worldwide. The Stasi also acted as a proxy for KGB to conduct activities in other Eastern Bloc countries, such as Poland, where the Soviets were despised.
The Stasi infiltrated almost every aspect of East German life. In the mid-1980s, a network of IMs began growing in both German states; by the time East Germany collapsed in 1989, the Stasi employed 91,015 employees and 173,081 informants. About one of every 63 East Germans collaborated with the Stasi. By at least one estimate, the Stasi maintained greater surveillance over its own people than any secret police force in history. The Stasi employed one full-time agent for every 166 East Germans. The ratios swelled when informers were factored in; counting part-time informers, the Stasi had one informer per 6.5 people. By comparison, the Nazi Gestapo employed one secret policeman per 2,000 people. This comparison led Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal to call the Stasi even more oppressive than the Gestapo. Additionally, Stasi agents infiltrated and undermined West Germany's government and spy agencies.
In some cases, spouses even spied on each other. A high profile example of this was Vera Lengsfeld.
People were imprisoned for such reasons as trying to leave the country, or telling political jokes. Prisoners were kept isolated and disoriented, knowing nothing of what was going on in the outside world.
After the mid-1950s, Stasi executions were carried out in strict secrecy, and were usually accomplished with a guillotine and, in later years, by a single pistol shot to the neck. In most instances, the relatives of the executed were not informed of either the sentence or the execution.
After the Berlin Wall fell, X-ray machines were found in the prisons. Indeed, three of the best-known dissidents died within a few months of each other, of similar rare forms of Leukemia. Survivors state that the Stasi intentionally irradiated political prisoners with high-dose radiation, possibly to provoke cancer in them.
The Stasi perfected the technique of psychological harassment of perceived enemies known as zersetzung – a term borrowed from chemistry which literally means "corrosion" or "undermining".
By the 1970s, the Stasi had decided that methods of overt persecution which had been employed up to that time, such as arrest and torture, were too crude and obvious. It was realised that psychological harassment was far less likely to be recognised for what it was, so its victims, and their supporters, were less likely to be provoked into active resistance, given that they would often not be aware of the source of their problems, or even its exact nature. Zersetzung was designed to side-track and "switch off" perceived enemies so that they would lose the will to continue any "inappropriate" activities.
Tactics employed under zersetzung generally involved the disruption of the victim’s private or family life. This often included breaking into homes and messing with the contents - moving furniture, altering the timing of an alarm, removing pictures from walls or replacing one variety of tea with another. Other practices included mysterious phone calls or unnecessary deliveries, even including sending a vibrator to a target's wife. Usually victims had no idea the Stasi were responsible. Many thought they were losing their minds, and mental breakdowns and suicide could result.
One great advantage of the harassment perpetrated under zersetzung was that its subtle nature meant that it was able to be denied. That was important given that East Germany was trying to improve its international standing during the 1970s and 80s.
Zersetzung techniques have since been adopted by other security agencies, particularly the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
Other files (the Rosenholz Files), which contained the names of East German spies abroad, led American spy agencies to capture them. After German reunification, it was revealed that the Stasi had secretly aided left-wing terrorists such as the Red Army Faction, even though no part of the RAF had ever been ideologically aligned with East Germany.
Directorate X was responsible for disinformation. Rolf Wagenbreth, director of disinformation operations, stated "Our friends in Moscow call it ‘dezinformatsiya'. Our enemies in America call it ‘active measures,’ and I, dear friends, call it ‘my favorite pastime'".
Stasi experts helped to build the secret police of Mengistu Haile Mariam in Ethiopia.
Fidel Castro's regime in Cuba was particularly interested in receiving training from Stasi. Stasi instructors worked in Cuba and Cuban communists received training in East Germany. The Stasi chief Markus Wolf described how he set up the Cuban system on the pattern of the East German system.
The Stasi's experts worked with building secret police systems in the People's Republic of Angola, the People's Republic of Mozambique, and the People's Republic of Yemen (South Yemen).
Stasi experts helped to set up Idi Amin's secret police.
Stasi organized, trained, indoctrinated Syrian intelligence services.
Stasi experts helped Kwame Nkrumah to build his secret police. When Ghanaians overthrew the regime, Stasi Major Jurgen Rogalla was imprisoned.
The Stasi sent agents to the West as sleeper agents. For instance, sleeper agent Günter Guillaume became a senior aide to social democratic chancellor Willy Brandt, and reported about his politics and private life.
The Stasi operated at least one brothel. Agents were used against both men and women working in Western governments. "Entrapment" was used against married men and homosexuals.
Martin Schlaff, According to the German parliament's investigations, the Austrian billionaire's Stasi codename was “Landgraf” and registration number "3886-86". He made money by supplying embargoed goods to East Germany.
Sokratis Kokkalis, Stasi documents suggest that the Greek businessman was a Stasi agent, whose operations included delivering Western technological secrets and bribing Greek officials to buy outdated East German telecom equipment.
Red Army Faction (Baader-Meinhof Group) was A terrorist organization which killed dozens of West Germans and others.
The Stasi ordered a campaign in which cemeteries and other Jewish sites in West Germany were smeared with swastikas and other Nazi symbols. Funds were channelled to a small West German group for it to defend Adolf Eichmann.
The Stasi channelled large amounts of money to Neo-Nazi groups in West, with the purpose of discrediting the West.
The Stasi worked in a campaign to create extensive material and propaganda against Israel.
Murder of Benno Ohnesorg, A Stasi agent carried out the murder, which stirred a whole movement of left-wing protest and violence. The Economist describes it as "the gunshot that hoaxed a generation".
Operation Infektion, The Stasi helped the KGB to spread HIV/AIDS disinformation that the United States had created the disease. Millions of people around the world still believe in these claims.
Sandoz chemical spill, The KGB reportedly ordered the Stasi to sabotage the chemical factory to distract attention from the Chernobyl disaster six months earlier in Ukraine.
Investigators have found evidence of a death squad that carried out a number of assassinations (including assassination of Swedish journalist Cats Falck) on orders from the East German government from 1976 to 1987. Attempts to prosecute members failed.
The Stasi attempted to assassinate Wolfgang Welsch, a famous critic of the regime. Stasi collaborator Peter Haack (Stasi codename "Alfons") befriended Welsch and then fed him hamburgers poisoned with thallium. It took weeks for doctors to find out why Welsch had suddenly lost his hair.
Documents in the Stasi archives state that the KGB ordered Bulgarian agents to assassinate Pope John Paul II, who was known for his criticism of human rights in the communist block, and the Stasi was asked to help with covering up traces.
A special unit of the Stasi assisted Romanian intelligence in kidnapping Romanian dissident Oliviu Beldeanu from West Germany.
In 1975 Stasi recorded a conversation between senior West German CDU politicians Helmut Kohl and Kurt Biedenkopf. It was then "leaked" to the Stern magazine as a transcript recorded by American intelligence. The magazine then claimed that Americans were wiretapping West Germans and the public believed the story.
Recruitment of informants became increasingly difficult towards the end of the GDR's existence, and after 1986, there was a negative turnover rate of IMs. This had a significant impact on the Stasi's ability to survey the population, in a period of growing unrest, and knowledge of the Stasi's activities became more widespread. The Stasi had been tasked during this period with preventing the country's economic difficulties becoming a political problem, through suppression of the very worst problems the state faced, but it failed to do so.
Stasi officers reportedly had discussed rebranding East Germany as a democratic capitalist country to the West, but which would be in practice taken over by Stasi officers. The plan specified 2,587 OibE officers who would take over power (Offiziere im besonderen Einsatz, “officers on special assignment”) and it was registered as Top Secret Document 0008-6/86 of 17 March 1986. According to Ion Mihai Pacepa, the chief intelligence officer in communist Romania, other communist intelligence services had similar plans. On 12 March 1990 Der Spiegel reported that the Stasi was indeed attempting to implement 0008-6/86.
On 7 November 1989, in response to the rapidly changing political and social situation in East Germany in late 1989, Erich Mielke resigned. On 17 November 1989, the Council of Ministers (Ministerrat der DDR) renamed the Stasi as the "Office for National Security" (Amt für Nationale Sicherheit – AfNS), which was headed by Generalleutnant Wolfgang Schwanitz. On 8 December 1989, GDR Prime Minister Hans Modrow directed the dissolution of the AfNS, which was confirmed by a decision of the Ministerrat on 14 December 1989.
As part of this decision, the Ministerrat originally called for the evolution of the AfNS into two separate organizations: a new foreign intelligence service (Nachrichtendienst der DDR) and an "Office for the Protection of the Constitution of the GDR" (Verfassungsschutz der DDR), along the lines of the West German Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, however, the public reaction was extremely negative, and under pressure from the "Round Table" (Runder Tisch), the government dropped the creation of the Verfassungsschutz der DDR and directed the immediate dissolution of the AfNS on 13 January 1990. Certain functions of the AfNS reasonably related to law enforcement were handed over to the East German Ministry of Internal Affairs. The same ministry also took guardianship of remaining AfNS facilities.
When the parliament of Germany investigated public funds that disappeared after the Fall of the Berlin Wall, it found out that East Germany had transferred large amounts of money to Martin Schlaff through accounts in Vaduz, the capital of Liechtenstein, in return for goods “under Western embargo”. Moreover, high-ranking Stasi officers continued their post-DDR careers in management positions in Schlaff’s group of companies. For example, in 1990 Herbert Kohler, Stasi commander in Dresden, transferred 170 million marks to Schlaff for "harddisks" and months later went to work for him. The investigations concluded that “Schlaff’s empire of companies played a crucial role” in the Stasi attempts to secure the financial future of Stasi agents and keep the intelligence network alive. The Stern magazine noted that KGB officer Vladimir Putin worked with his Stasi colleagues in Dresden in 1989.
During the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, Stasi offices were overrun by enraged citizens, but not before the Stasi destroyed a number of documents (approximately 5%).
As East Germany began to fall, the Stasi did as well. They began to destroy the extensive files that they had kept, both by hand and with the use of shredders.
When these activities became known, a protest erupted in front of the Stasi headquarters. On the evening of 15 January 1990, a large crowd of people formed outside the gates in order to stop the destruction of personal files. In their minds, this information should have been available to them and also have been used to punish those who had taken part in Stasi actions. The large group of protesters grew and grew until they were able to overcome the police and gain entry into the complex. The protestors became violent and destructive as they smashed doors and windows, threw furniture, and trampled portraits of Erich Honecker, leader of the GDR. Among the destructive public were officers working for the West German government, as well as former Stasi collaborators seeking to destroy documents. One explanation postulated as to why the Stasi did not open fire was for fear of hitting their own colleagues. As the people continued their violence, these undercover men proceeded into the file room and acquired many files that would become of great importance to catching ex-Stasi members.
With the German Reunification on 3 October 1990 a new government agency was founded called the Office of the Federal Commissioner Preserving the Records of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR (BStU). There was a debate about what should happen to the files, whether they should be opened to the people or kept closed.
Those who opposed opening the files cited privacy as a reason. They felt that the information in the files would lead to negative feelings about former Stasi members, and, in turn, cause violence. Pastor Rainer Eppelmann, who became Minister of Defense and Disarmament after March 1990, felt that new political freedoms for former Stasi members would be jeopardized by acts of revenge. Prime Minister Lothar de Maizière even went so far as to predict murder. They also argued against the use of the files to capture former Stasi members and prosecute them, arguing that not all former members were criminals and should not be punished solely for being a member. There were also some who believed that everyone was guilty of something. Peter Michael Diestel, the Minister of Interior, opinioned that these files could not be used to determine innocence and guilt, claiming that "there were only two types of individuals who were truly innocent in this system, the newborn and the alcoholic". Other opinions, such as the one of West German Interior Minister Wolfgang Schäuble, believed in putting the Stasi behind them and working on German reunification.
Others argued that everyone should have the right to see their own file, and that the files should be opened to investigate former Stasi members and prosecute them, as well as not allow them to hold office. Opening the files would also help clear up some of the rumors that were floating around. Some also believed that politicians involved with the Stasi should be investigated.
The fate of the files was finally decided under the Unification Treaty between the GDR and Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). This treaty took the Volkskammer law further and allowed more access and use of the files. Along with the decision to keep the files in a central location in the East, they also decided who could see and use the files, allowing people to see their own files.
In 1992, following a declassification ruling by the German government, the Stasi files were opened, leading people to look for their files. Timothy Garton Ash, an English historian, after reading his file, wrote The File: A Personal History while completing his dissertation research in East Berlin.
The ruling also gave people the ability to make duplicates of their documents. Another big issue was how the media could use and benefit from the documents. It was decided that the media could obtain files as long as they were depersonalized and not regarding an individual under the age of 18 or a former Stasi member. This ruling not only gave the media access to the files, but also gave schools access.
Even though groups of this sort were active in the community, those who were tracking down ex-members were, as well. Many of these hunters succeeded in catching ex-Stasi members; however, charges could not be made for merely being a member. The person in question would have had to participate in an illegal act, not just be a registered Stasi member. Among the high-profile individuals who were arrested and tried were Erich Mielke, Third Minister of State Security of the GDR, and Erich Honecker, head of state for the GDR. Mielke was sentenced to six years prison for the murder of two policemen in 1931. Honecker was charged with authorizing the killing of would-be escapees on the East-West frontier and the Berlin Wall. During his trial, he went through cancer treatment. Due to the fact that he was nearing death, Honecker was allowed to spend his final time in Chile. He died in May 1994.
Document shredding is described in Stasiland. Some of it is very easy due to the number of archives and the failure of shredding machines (in some cases "shredding" meant tearing paper in two by hand and documents could be recovered easily). In 1995, the BStU began reassembling the shredded documents; 13 years later the three dozen archivists commissioned to the projects had only reassembled 327 bags; they are now using computer-assisted data recovery to reassemble the remaining 16,000 bags – estimated at 45 million pages. It is estimated that this task may be completed at a cost of 30 million dollars.
The CIA acquired some Stasi records during the looting of the Stasi archives.
Former Stasi officers continue to be politically active via the Gesellschaft zur Rechtlichen und Humanitären Unterstützung e. V. (Society for Legal and Humanitarian Support) (GRH). Former high-ranking officers and employees of the Stasi, including the last Stasi director, Wolfgang Schwanitz, make up the majority of the organization's members, and it receives support from the German Communist Party, among others.
Impetus for the establishment of the GRH was provided by the criminal charges filed against the Stasi in the early 1990s. The GRH, decrying the charges as "victor's justice", called for them to be dropped. Today the group provides an alternative if somewhat utopian voice in the public debate on the GDR legacy. It calls for the closure of the museum in Hohenschönhausen and can be a vocal presence at memorial services and public events.