Saturday, September 24, 2011

Stasi – secret service that was better than its mother, KGB

East Germany’s secret service monitored every suspicious activity, they made small holes in the walls of houses for easier surveillance, and they even had a division for garbage analysis that looked for any suspicious material or food that came from the west.

Stasi (abbreviation from Staatssicherheit – State Security, full name was Ministerium für Staatssicherheit – Ministry for State Security) was formed in 1950 on the model of then Soviet’s MGB (Ministerstvo Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti - Ministry for State Security), which was a predecessor of the KGB (Komitet gosudarstvennoy bezopasnosti -  Committee for State Security). Very quickly Stasi emerged as the most important service in the system of KGB and the generals from the Red Square in Moscow. Although, formally, Stasi was an independent agency of East Germany, in reality it was operating in the framework of KGB because the Russians had their people in all directorates of German secret service.

Crucial year for Stasi was 1957 when Erich Mielke was appointed at the head of the service and Markus Wolf, one of the most famous spies on the east side of the Iron Curtain became head of the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA - General Reconnaissance Administration). Wolf cemented his name in the history of spy business because he managed to infiltrate a large number of his men in the political life of West Germany, including Günter Guillaume, head of the cabinet of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. When he was instructed that Guillaume works for the communists, Brandt refused to believe it and said that he had his outmost confidence in him. However, when that turned out to be true, in May of 1974 Brandt was forced to resign from his position.

Stasi infiltrated every pore of East Germany’s life, and it was a service that is perhaps the closest to the realization of Orwell's vision in the book "1984." In every building there was at least one tenant who was in charge of monitoring what was happening in the house council. Every suspicious activity was monitored. In the walls of houses small holes were found that the agents of Stasi used for surveillance of their targets. Stasi even had a Division of Garbage Analysis that was responsible for analyzing garbage for any suspect western foods and/or materials. Stasi was probably the most effective and most brutal secret service of the communist regime. Their ideological enemies disappeared like they never had walked on earth. 

Ten years ago, German "Der Spiegel" revealed that one of Stasi’s methods of liquidation was radiation exposure of prisoners in order to cause cancer. One of the recent movies that has very convincingly demonstrated a police state and Stasi’s mechanisms of monitoring and enforcement is Oscar-winning work of Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, "The Lives of Others".

From the year of its foundation, the number of Stasi’s informants constantly grew, and it reached its peak during the wave of student protests in 1968. If we take into account all the people who in one way or another worked for the secret police, Stasi is certainly a record holder, because, according to the data that was released by the BBC several years back, at one point every seventh citizen of the GDR worked for them.

After the revolution in 1989, officials and agents of the secret police were desperately trying to destroy records in order to hide traces of their activities. They did not know where to begin with the destruction. Around 130 kilometers of files on paper were destroyed and over 50 kilometers on celluloid strip. They left behind 16 000 bags that contained files torn to pieces.

During the revolution in 1989, demonstrators broke in to the Stasi offices, but, by then, a great number of data from their archives had been destroyed. According to official estimates, about five percent of the files were destroyed. Some ten years later began the reconstruction of those documents and it still lasts. About 45 million pages of paper needs to be reconstructed, and that will cost about $ 30 million. However, the rest of the files that weren’t destroyed were unavailable to public for a long time. Even after unification with West Germany and democratic elections, the liberals from East Germany had to lead a great fight to gain access to those files.

The question arose whether the opening of the files would be an intrusion in the privacy of individuals, and that was a consequence of the fact that those files were an integral part of people's lives. The biggest opposition came from the people of West Germany where they claimed that they did not want to feel the breath of those files.

It was said that with the opening of the secret files, the political freedom that was so heavily gained would be jeopardized, and there was also a fear that the disclosure of the names of informants could provoke massive retaliations. The first and only democratically elected Prime Minister of East Germany, Lothar de Maizière, publicly warned that, if those files are opened, a wave of killings will occur. However, after the opening of the files, not a single case of revenge was recorded. On the contrary, there were cases where people wanted to meet agents who followed them and ran their case.

Stasi was formally disbanded in 1989, on the eve of German reunification. Today there is a joke about why did the most notorious and the most infiltrated secret service so peacefully managed to disappeared. They say that when the demonstrators broke in to the Stasi offices, agents were not allowed to shoot at the crowd – in order to avoid killing someone who was their own.

One spy per 165 people

Between 1950 and 1989, Stasi employed a total of 274,000 people. In its final moments of existence, Stasi had 91,000 full-time employees and 2,000 unofficial collaborators. About 13,000 soldiers and over 2,000 Army officers worked for the service, and it is estimated that there was about 170,000 informants in East Germany and about 1,500 in West Germany. It is recorded that there were also 10,000 juvenile informants. These figures came from official archives that were discovered when Stasi was disbanded.

However, since part of the archive is destroyed, it is estimated that Stasi had as many as 500,000 informants and it is believed that at least at one point about two million people worked for Stasi. Stasi had one agent per 165 people, while KGB had one agent per 580 people and Gestapo, during WWI, one agent per 2000 people.

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