The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit known as the Ministry for State Security or commonly referred to as the Stasi was the official state security service of the German Democratic Republic charged with conducting both foreign and domestic intelligence gathering operations. Another organ of the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, was the Staatssicherheitsdienst or State Security Service which was a research institution for the investigation of 'political crimes' in the German Democratic Republic. The Stasi was a primarily an organ employed by the East German SED communist party to monitor the population of East Germany, and politically oppression the population through use of surveillance, terror, intimidation and the wearing down of political opponents and dissidents. Foreign intelligence was carried out by the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung or Intelligence Headquarters of the Stasi. It was headquartered in East Berlin, with an extensive complex in Berlin -Lichtenberg and several smaller facilities throughout the city. It was widely regarded as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. The Stasi motto was "Schild und Schwert der Partei" (Shield and Sword of the Party). It was outlawed and considered a criminal organization following the dissolution of the German Democratic Republic and several Stasi officials were prosecuted for their crimes after 1990.
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 German Democratic Republic, and Erich Mielke was appointed as his deputy. Zaisser, who tried to depose SED General Secretary Walter Ulbricht after the June 1953 uprisings in the economic sector of East Germany was after this being 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.
In the early years of its existence, the Stasi waged a campaign against Jews, who were already subject to widespread discrimination and violence in the Soviet Union. The Stasi took extensive measures to censor the fact that Jews had been victims during the previous regime and in one instance, even took gold from the bodies of Jews. The Stasi labeled Jews as harbingers of pro-capitalist sentiments and thus labeled them as criminals against the East German regime. Gypsies were also blamed and targeted in a similar manner.
Between the years of 1950 and 1989, the Stasi employed a total of 274,000 people in an effort to root out what it identified as 'the class enemy'. In 1989, the Stasi employed 91,015 agents full time, including 2,000 fully employed unofficial collaborators as well as 13,073 soldiers and 2,232 officers of the Nationale Volksarmee. Thus number was boosted with an additional 173,081 unofficial informants inside the German Democratic Republic and 1,553 informants inside the borders of the Federal Republic of Germany. In terms of the identity of Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter or Stasi informants, by 1995, 174,000 had been identified, which approximated for some 2.5% of East Germany's population between the ages of 18 and 60.10,000 Stasi informant's were under the age of 18.
While these calculations were taken from official records, according to the federal commissioner in charge of the Stasi archives in Berlin, because many such records were destroyed in the final hours of the East German nation, there were likely closer to 500,000 Stasi informants active at the time of the collapse. 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 in this number.
Full time officers were posted to all major industrial centers as the extensiveness of any surveillance operation largely depended on how valuable a product was to the economy. Also one tenant in every apartment building was designated as a watchdog of sorts, order to record and file a report to an Area Representative designated by the Volkspolizei. Spies reported every relative or friend who stayed the night at another persons apartment. A common practice for surveillance was for tiny holes to be drilled in apartment and hotel room walls through which Stasi agents placed special video cameras to record the actions of East German citizens. Public services such as schools, universities, and hospitals were extensively infiltrated by agents of the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit.
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 positions such as the Volkspolizei and the Nationale Volksarmee, to those considered as members of dissident movements such as performers in the arts and members of the Protestant Church. Information gathered about the latter groups were frequently used to divide or discredit members of the labeled organization. Informants coerced and 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 full cooperation. A significant proportion of those informing were members of the SED Communist Party often to employ some form of blackmail, which was not uncommon. A large number of Stasi informants held fairly unsuspecting jobs not normally associated with espionage such as trolley conductors, janitors, doctors, nurses and teachers. The Stasi director Erich 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." These were largely viewed as 'western policies of fascism'. The number of Stasi informants peaked at around 180,000 in this year, having slowly risen from 20,000 to 30,000 in the early 1950s, and reaching 100,000 for the first time in 1968. This growth was attributed largely as a response to Ostpolitik and worldwide protests. The Stasi also acted as a proxy for the Soviet KGB to conduct activities in other Eastern Bloc countries, such as the Peoples Republic of Poland or Czechoslovak Socialist Republic where the Soviets were generally despised by the population.
The Stasi infiltrated almost every aspect of East German life. In the mid 1980s, a network of informants for the Stasi began growing in both East and West Germany. 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 had collaborated with the Stasi. By at least one estimate, the Stasi maintained greater surveillance over its own people than any secret police force in world 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 repressive than the Nazi Gestapo. Additionally, Stasi agents took great measures to infiltrate and undermine West Germany's federal government and intelligence agencies.
In some cases, spouses even spied on each other.
People were imprisoned for such reasons as trying to leave the country without official permission, or for telling political jokes considered criticizing of the SED communist party. Prisoners were often kept isolated and disoriented, knowing nothing of what was going on in the outside world.
After the middle of the 1950s, the Stasi ordered that executions were to be carried out in strict secrecy, and were usually accomplished with a guillotine and, in later years, by a single pistol shot in the neck. In most instances, the relatives of the executed were not informed of either the sentencing of the victim or the execution.
After the Berlin Wall fell, X-ray machines were found in prisons across East Berlin. It was duely noted that three of the best known East German dissidents died within a few months of one other, of similar rare forms of leukemia. Survivors of the imprisonment in these facilities state that the Stasi intentionally irradiated political prisoners with high doses of lethal radiation, possibly to provoke cancer development in them.
The Stasi perfected the technique of psychological harassment of perceived enemies which it termed 'Zersetzung'. Zersetzung was essentially a term borrowed from chemistry which literally means "decomposition" 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 realized soon after that psychological harassment was far less likely to be recognized for what it was, thus being easily concealed and so its victims as well as their supporters, were less likely to be provoked into active resistance. This also ensured 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 activities deemed inappropriate by the East German government.
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 of the home such as moving furniture, altering the timing of an alarm, removing pictures from walls or sinply by replacing one variety of tea with another. Other more menacing practices included mysterious phone calls or unnecessary deliveries, even including sending a sex toy to a target's wife. Usually victims had no idea the Stasi were responsible for such activities. Many thought they were losing their minds, and mental breakdowns and suicide would often result.
One great advantage of the harassment perpetrated under Zersetzung was that its subtle nature meant that it was able to be quickly denied. That was important given that the German Democratic Republic was drastically trying to improve its international standing during the 1970s and 1980s.
Zersetzung techniques have since been adopted by other security agencies.
Other files known as the Rosenholz Files, contained the names of East German spies abroad, which led American intelligence agencies to capture them. After German reunification, it was revealed that the Stasi had secretly aided left wing terrorist organizations such as the Red Army Faction, even though no part of the group had ever been ideologically aligned with East Germany.
Directorate X was responsible for spreading disinformation. Rolf Wagenbreth, the director of disinformation operations once 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 also 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 were sent to and worked in Cuba. Cuban communists also vice-versa received training in East Germany. The Stasi Chief Markus Wolf described how he set up the Cuban state security system based along the patterns 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.
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 policies and his private life.
The Stasi also 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 alike.
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 telecommunications equipment.
The Red Army Faction, commonly known as the Baader-Meinhof Gang was a terrorist organization which killed dozens of West Germans and others in terrorist attacks across Europe.
The Stasi ordered a campaign in which cemeteries and other Jewish sites in West Germany were vandalized often smeared with swastikas and other Nazi related symbols. Funds were also secretly channelled to a small West German group for it to defend former Nazi Adolf Eichmann.
The Stasi channelled large amounts of money to pro Neo-Nazi and other anti-Semetic groups in the West, with the purpose of discrediting the West's anti-fascist stance.
The Stasi worked in a campaign to create extensive material and propaganda against the State of Israel.
In the 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".
In a campaign called Operation Infektion, the Stasi helped the KGB to spread HIV/AIDS disinformation that claimed the United States had created the disease. Millions of people around the world still believe in these claims.
In the Sandoz chemical spill, the KGB reportedly ordered the Stasi to sabotage the chemical factory to distract attention from the Chernobyl nuclear disaster six months earlier in the 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 of the group have since failed.
The Stasi attempted to assassinate Wolfgang Welsch, a famous critic of the East German 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 bloc, and the Stasi was asked to help with covering up traces of the assassination plot.
A special unit of the Stasi assisted Romanian intelligence in kidnapping Romanian dissident Oliviu Beldeanu from West Germany.
In 1975, the 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 agencies. 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 East Germany's existence, and after 1986, there was a negative turnover rate of informants. 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 which were 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 Offiziere im besonderen Einsatz or “officers on special assignment” would take over power 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 or Ministerrat der DDR renamed the Stasi as the Office for National Security or Amt für Nationale Sicherheit, which was headed by Generalleutnant Wolfgang Schwanitz. On 8 December 1989, East German Prime Minister Hans Modrow directed the dissolution of the Amt für Nationale Sicherheit, 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 Amt für Nationale Sicherheit into two separate organizations: a new foreign intelligence service to be known as the Nachrichtendienst der DDR and an "Office for the Protection of the Constitution of the GDR" or Verfassungsschutz der DDR, along the lines of the West German Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz. However, the public reaction to this decision was extremely negative, and under pressure from the "Round Table" known as the Runder Tisch, the government dropped the creation of the Verfassungsschutz der DDR and directed the immediate dissolution of the Amt für Nationale Sicherheit on 13 January 1990. Certain functions of the Amt für Nationale Sicherheit reasonably related to law enforcement were handed over to the East German Ministry of Internal Affairs. The same ministry also took guardianship of remaining Amt für Nationale Sicherheit 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-East German 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 "hard disks" 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 which equated approximately 5% of the files.
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 their 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. There was a debate about what should happen to the files, whether they should be opened to the people or kept closed.
Among the high-profile individuals who were arrested and tried for Stasi activities after the collapse of the German Democratic Republic 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 in prison for the murder of two policemen in 1931. Honecker was charged with authorizing the killing of would be escapees along the Inner German Border 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.