views updated May 29 2018



East Germany's intelligence and security service, known as "the Stasi," was formally titled the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatsicherheit or MfS) . Set up in 1950, it was dissolved, prior to German unity, in 1989–1990.

The Stasi was a highly professional secret service, perhaps the best in the Soviet bloc. Its spiritual father was Vladimir Lenin (1870–1924), who held that terror and violence against real and potential opponents could underpin the state power won by communists in 1917 and accordingly, created the Cheka (the Soviet secret police) in that same year. Following the establishment of a Soviet zone of occupation in the eastern part of Germany in 1945, the imposition of communism there became a major priority. The Red Army and Soviet secret police began the task but after the formation of the East German state in October 1949 it became a German activity. The Stasi quite openly dedicated itself to core Chekist principles of "aggression through conspiracy." The MfS's one thousand officers (some from a Nazi background) assumed the role of "the executive organ of the dictatorship of the proletariat" articulated through the East German Communist Party (the Socialist Unity Party or SED). The fusion between the Stasi and the SED was so effective that the question of who controlled whom was never raised. The Stasi was the backbone of the party, ending up one and a half times the size of the East German army. It doubled in size between 1972 and 1989, increasing its numbers by about three thousand each year. By 1989 the service consisted of more than 90,000 official personnel and as many as 150,000 to 170,000 agents, known as IMs or "co-opted workers." It comprised both a security service and a secret foreign intelligence service called the HVA (Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung), which was the largest single unit within the Stasi, working almost exclusively in the West. It had 3,819 officers, led until 1986 by Markus Wolf (b. 1923).

The Stasi's size and its huge financial assets (most of which were never recovered) provide some clues as to the extent of the repression it sustained. In the German Democratic Republic, there was one officer to 188 inhabitants. If the IMs are added to the officers, the result is astonishing: one Stasi member for every seventy people. At the height of Joseph Stalin's terror in the 1930s, there was one Soviet secret police officer to every 5,830 inhabitants—eighty-three times fewer than Stasi members per head of population. Some two million individuals, almost 12 percent of the East German population, had collaborated with the Stasi.

At home the Stasi attacked and persecuted all internal opposition to communism, often displaying great cruelty and sadism. Over the years, sheer brute force was usually replaced by psychological intimidation but repression remained the goal. From 1945 until 1989 some two hundred thousand Germans died either directly or indirectly as a result of communist policies, most deaths occurring before 1949. Even so, from 1950 to 1989 some 250,000 people were imprisoned, of whom 10 percent perished. This was the Stasi's work. Almost three million East Germans fled to the West to escape the police state. Those who resisted but stayed showed enviable courage. Ultimately, they vanquished the Stasi.

Abroad, the MfS sought secrets about the West's military and political strategy. It also supported international terror by training terrorists, particularly from the Middle East. West Germany and the United States were the primary targets of Stasi subversion. The former was riddled with thirty thousand spies who manipulated politics, foreign affairs, the media, academe, and sport. But the Stasi targeted all of Western Europe in its attempts to spy on, and steer, organizations and individuals whose activities involved them with domestic dissidents. Frequently it won as assets sympathetic left-wing Western intellectuals who regarded East Germany as "progressive" (and turned a blind eye to its abuses). The Stasi, always wholly within the KGB's orbit, increasingly became its surrogate, with some 50 percent of its intelligence going to the Soviet Union

The "ministry" called itself, and it was, "the sword and the shield of East German communism." Its militancy drove its readiness to fight its own people and its unquenchable thirst for secret intelligence. Historians agree that the Stasi made East Germany a real-life example of British writerGeorge Orwell's fictional totalitarian state of 1984, able to exploit the most pervasive and efficient secret police in the history of the world. What remains in the early twenty-first century are 178 kilometers of its files—and the trauma of its persistent inhumanity toward Germans in the East.

See alsoBerlin; Eastern Bloc; Espionage/Spies; Germany; Soviet Union.


Gauck, Joachim, with Margarethe Steinhausen and Hubertus Knabe. Die Stasi-Akten: Das Unheimliche Erbe der DDR. Reinbek, Germany, 1992.

Glees, Anthony. The Stasi Files: East Germany's Secret Operations against Britain. New York and London, 2003.

Grieder, Peter. The East German Leadership 1946–1973—Conflict and Crisis. Manchester, U.K., 1999.

Knabe, Hubertus. West-Arbeit des MfS: Das Zusammenspiel von "Aufklärung und Abwehr." Berlin, 1999.

McAdams, A. James. Judging the Past in Unified Germany. Cambridge, U.K., 2001.

Naimark, Norman M. The Russians in Germany: A History of the Soviet Zone of Occupation, 1945–1949. Cambridge Mass., and London, 1995.

Anthony Glees


views updated May 23 2018


The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, Ministry of State Security, was the primary intelligence and security agency of the German Democratic Republic (GDR), or East Germany, during the Cold War. The Stasi, as the organization was most commonly known, maintained a comprehensive network of informants, agents, and military-trained secret police. Stasi operations focused on political security and espionage, both domestically and abroad, aiding the Soviet KGB more than any other satellite intelligence organization. During its 39-year tenure, at least one-third of the population of East Germany was victimized by Stasi surveillance, arrest, detention, or torture.

The East German government, with the assistance of the Soviet intelligence community, established the Stasi on February 8, 1950. The organization's main charge was preserving the communist regime in East Germany through clandestine operations. The first Stasi agents were trained by the Soviet KGB. From the outset, the Stasi operated above the law. The agency's policies and operations were reviewed only by the Communist Central Committees in East Germany and the Soviet Union; in turn, the agency expressly served the political desires of the communist regime.

The Stasi created a widespread network of civilian informants. These informants were citizens who cooperated with Stasi agents, sometimes in exchange for money or goods. These unofficial informants used their jobs, social influence, and family networks to spy on fellow citizens. Informants were required to report suspicious or anti-government behavior to Stasi authorities. Tips from informants were followed by further agent surveillance or immediate arrest. The Stasi maintained its own network of detention camps and prisons, the most notorious of which was Bauden II. The Stasi garnered a reputation for its use of brutality, torture, and blackmail as routine methods of extracting information and coercing cooperation.

While the threat of Stasi non-member informants was great, the actual agent network of the Stasi was itself comprehensive. The agency used human intelligence to infiltrate factories, schools, and social and political organizations. Stasi officials created vast files on individuals that included photographs, surveillance reports, and even physical samples of hair or clothing. Stasi agents used scent samples, often bits of clothing sealed in airtight containers for storage, to track defectors or known dissidents using dogs.

The Agency itself was divided into several operational divisions, each focusing on various internal security tasks. The Ministry for State Security maintained one armed force, the Feliks Dzierzynski Guard Regiment (FD), named for the founder of the Bolshevik secret police. The force consisted of as many as 8,000 military-trained members. The FD guarded government and communist party personnel, government buildings, Soviet monuments, and military instillations. The FD employed special commando and intelligence units to conduct clandestine operations.

The Main Administration for Reconnaissance focused its espionage on foreign intelligence, most especially the nations of the North Atlantic Treaty Organizations (NATO)

and neighboring West Germany. The division coordinated its intelligence findings with the Soviet KGB via the Main Coordinating Administration.

East Germany was a highly controlled censorship state. The Main Department for Communications Security operated an internal communications network fro the East German government and between East German and Soviet authorities. The department also culled government information from public media, and conducted counterespionage measures to secure lines against tapping devices. Surveillance of foreign diplomats, foreign residents, and occasional travelers was conducted by the Main Administration for the Struggle Against Suspicious Persons. Like East German citizens, foreigners in East Germany were subject to strict censorship and Stasi arrest.

Immediately before the fall of East Germany in 1989, the Stasi employed 91,000 staff members. Their active informer network included nearly 200,000 people. After the reunification of Germany on October 3, 1990, the German intelligence community was radically reorganized. In an attempt to restore public trust in the government in the former GDR, German officials banned employment in the new government of anyone who had worked for the East German Stasi. The extensive Stasi archives were opened to the public in 1991, permitting victims of Stasi surveillance to find out the names of agents and informers who had spied on them.



Koehler, John O. STASI: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1999.


Berlin Tunnel
Berlin Wall
Cold War (19451950), The Start of the Atomic Age
Cold War (19501972)
Cold War (19721989): The Collapse of the Soviet Union
Germany, Intelligence and Security

KGB ( Komitet Gosudarstvennoi Bezopasnosti, USSR Committee of State Security)

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