When we think of the East Side of the Cold War, many of us likely imagine KGB officers and discreet agents working out of Moscow. The East German Stasi (officially the State Security Service of the German Democratic Republic) was undoubtedly one of the most brutal secret police authorities in recent history.
From the imprisonment of political opponents to the close observation of every East German citizen to the dispatch of “sleeping agents” to lead a secret life in various places in the West, the Stasi remains an organization of deep interest to those who study such repressive groups.
Here are 10 things we learned about Stasi activities after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War. These revelations show how brutal and tough an organization really was. The Stasi was at eye level with equivalent agencies from Moscow.
10 They were part of one of the most repressive regimes in history
Without a doubt, the Stasi was a repressive secret police. They closely and constantly monitored every citizen of their nation. They also acted decisively against anyone who violated the accepted ideology. This even made it necessary for men to keep their hair a certain length. In some cases, people were required to wear government-approved clothing.
In addition, the Stasi was anything but discreet in its actions. They often made crystal clear that they were watching every citizen, especially those who had turned out to be “enemies” of the communist state.
The Stasi often used listening devices and steamed open personal mail. In some cases, they drilled holes in their citizens’ rooms in order to spy on them directly.
Even more creepy for those living under the East German regime, it is believed that the Stasi had around 200,000 informants on their books. Everyone was willing – or forced – to keep a close eye on their neighbors and even their families.
9 The Stasi file conspiracy
At this point it is probably worth investigating how we gained knowledge about the Stasi. This is mainly due to their secret files.
After the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, high-ranking Stasi agents gave orders to destroy the mountain of paper at their headquarters. These files contained several things that had previously been withheld from the public – including the names of informants, details of secret processes and the Stasi ‘s dealings with the West.
The shredding of the paper occurred almost immediately. Although around 45 million pages were destroyed, activists managed to storm the headquarters before all the files were destroyed. They discovered 600 million pieces of paper in over 15,000 bags. Many of the documents had been hand-torn to destroy as much as possible.
First, it was discussed what should be done with the files. Two years after the reunification of Germany, however, it was decided to set up a special task force. Her job was to put the files together page by page to make the revelations public. As far as we now know about the activities of the Stasi, it is likely that a considerable amount has been lost and is likely to remain secret.
8th The arrests of political opponents
The Stasi observed the political opponents of the East German government very closely. Although many people were arrested and imprisoned, most were interrogated and locked up in Hohenschonhausen Prison. As we can imagine, the conditions were far from luxurious.
Decades later, a former political prisoner told how he was locked in a “small cell” with small windows. These windows “only told you whether it was light or dark outside.” He was regularly brutally interrogated in order to weaken his mind. Like all of these prisoners, he was forced to wear an “ill-fitting blue tracksuit” to further demoralize him.
All of this was supposed to exhaust the political prisoners mentally so that they could sign confessions. Most of the time, they were unaware of the charges they were being charged with and did not find out until the day of their sentencing.
7th The plan to rename the Stasi
As the 1980s progressed, it became clearer that the communist experiment was failing. In response, the East German authorities began looking for ways to rename the Ministry of State Security. You chose to become the National Security Agency.
In reality this was a last attempt to hand over the power of a united Germany to the Stasi under a different name. A law was even passed allowing this to happen around the same time that Stasi agents were destroying the records of their activities.
However, there was great public outcry over the possible move. In combination with the discovery of the destroyed files, the move was blocked. Soon after, the Stasi was disbanded.
It’s a fascinating thought what could have happened if the attempted rebranding had been successful. Perhaps we just have to look at the decades that have passed since the collapse of the Soviet Union. For some, Russia is still a nation ruled by the same dictatorship that ruled during the Cold War.
6th They helped train Castro’s Cuban communists
While we might expect a kinship between two communist nations like East Germany and Cuba, it was nonetheless a shock when records revealed a much deeper relationship. It turned out that there was a more complex connection between the Stasi and its Cuban equivalent, the Ministry of the Interior (MININT).
The discovery was made by a Cuban exile and one-time prisoner of the Stasi. He found that the Stasi had trained Cuban security officers to deal with their people in the same way as the East German authorities. This Cuban exile declared that the activities of MININT were “almost a copy” of the brutal methods of the Stasi.
Much of this idea export took place in the 1970s and 1980s. It included activities such as using LSD during interrogation, wiretapping tourists’ hotel rooms, and other security and espionage methods. The Stasi also exported hardware and computers to keep a closer eye on Cuban citizens.
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5 They had “sleeper” agents in the west for years
We now know the Cold War activities on both sides of the divide. Perhaps it is not surprising that the Stasi used “sleeping pills” in various places in the West. In all respects, these agents lived normal Western lives and shared their ideology.
They reported on all the activities in the west. In some cases, they even influenced these events. Many have worked their way up to important positions in government or industry.
Perhaps the best example is the case of Gunter Guillaume. He managed to become secretary to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt.
Guillaume reported regularly to the Stasi headquarters on Brandt’s activities. Guillaume also told of other events within the West German government. When he was discovered as a Stasi agent, this led to Brandt’s public demise.
4th The disinformation about HIV / AIDS
It is now known that disinformation is deliberately passed on to the general public. This is often done by certain governments to influence public thinking.
The same was true of the Stasi when they were in power. Perhaps one of the most outrageous claims came during the first outbreak of the HIV / AIDS pandemic in the early 1980s.
The mission – known as Operation INFECTION – even involved the KGB. With the support of the Stasi, the KGB was the main driver of the propaganda. In the headline of this fake news, HIV / AIDS was developed by the United States government as a biological weapon against certain segments of the population. The creation allegedly took place in Fort Detrick, Maryland.
Although the claims were totally false, many millions of people – both in the East and in the West – took them as fact. In addition, these conspiracies persist in some circles today.
3 They planned to help the communists in North Vietnam
In 1972, as direct US involvement neared the end of the Vietnam War, it became known that the Stasi had been looking for ways to actively support the North Vietnamese communists against the United States. Most of this support was to be intelligence training for the North Vietnamese troops. In reality, contact between North Vietnam and East Germany had been going on since the late 1950s.
The plans were never fully realized. However, the Stasi managed to import intelligence procedures similar to the North Vietnamese way of thinking. In reality, the Vietnam War was a major ideological conflict. Other communist nations also offered discreet support to the North Vietnamese communist regime.
2 The Sandoz Chemical Spill Conspiracy
Without a doubt, one of the most intriguing revelations of Stasi activities is their allegation of their involvement in the 1986 chemical spill at Sandoz, allegedly in an attempt to divert world attention from the recent Chernobyl disaster. The claims surfaced shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall during a German television documentary.
It was found that the Stasi is behind several “chemical accidents” along the Rhine. A fire in the Sandoz factory attracted the most attention. The cause of the fire has not yet been clarified.
At the time of ignition, the warehouse contained over 1,300 tons of agrochemical products. The fire caused enormous environmental damage in the months that followed.
There is still debate as to whether the claims are correct. The television program makers said their source was a former CIA agent.
1 They made active attempts to turn Western nations against each other
We have already mentioned how the Stasi was involved in disinformation missions about the HIV / AIDS outbreak. However, the organization was also active in attempts to turn Western nations against one another.
This is especially true of the United States. The relevant unit was known as Department X among the Stasi agents. Their sole purpose was to provide information for smear campaigns. These can be photos, state secrets, and even recordings of conversations.
Perhaps the best example was 1975. Stasi agents secretly recorded conversations between Helmut Kohl and Kurt Biedenkopf, two high-ranking West German politicians. The Stasi “licked” the recording to the media while claiming it was made by US agents. It looked like the United States was secretly spying on allied nations.
Remarkably, West German citizens believed the record was made by US intelligence. This was partly due to the growing distrust of the United States across Europe at the time. It is probably one of the most successful Stasi propaganda missions.
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About the author: Marcus Lowth – Writer at Me Time For The Mind – https://www.metimeforthemind.com/
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