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The Stasi: The East German Intelligence and Security Service, 1917-89 Hardcover – Download: Adobe Reader, December 1, 1996
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When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989 the inexorable march towards a united Germany began. As part of this process, the Stasi, East German’s secret police, was disbanded, and many of its henchman arrested. Among the most brutal and successful intelligence surveillance organizations of the Cold War Years, the Stasi had informers in virtually every factory, office, military unit, school, university, hospital, and church.
The Stasi, the first English-language account of the East German secret police, tells the story of the Stasi from its origins in the dreaded Cheka, the notorious Russian secret police, to its abolition in 1989. Based on years of personal experience with the Stasi, interviews with former Stasi members and their victims, archival research, interviews with members of the German parliament, and street interviews conducted in several East German towns, David Childs and Richard Popplewell uncover a fascinating yet horrifying story of unbridled power, misguided idealism, treachery, widespread opportunism, and the occasionally courageous dissenter.
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August 12, 1990, Section 6, Page 16Buy Reprints
On Normannenstrasse in East Berlin, in the heart of an ordinary middle-class neighborhood, stands a massive office complex: 41 concrete buildings as grimly functional as the apartment towers that surround them. Nine months ago it was the headquarters of East Germany’s Ministry for State Security – the Staatsicherheit – or Stasi, perhaps the most sophisticated and far-reaching espionage organization ever created. But between January and March this year, as East Germany’s Communist Government finally collapsed, the Stasi was formally disbanded. Today, the concrete citadel is deserted, its 10,000 rooms sealed, its agents locked out.
From these drab buildings, 34,000 officers ran the Stasi’s 39 departments. The personnel included 2,100 agents assigned round the clock to reading mail passed on from post offices and regional Stasi headquarters, 5,000 agents responsible for tailing suspects, and 6,000 operatives whose only job was listening to private telephone conversations.
Main Department VIII, also known as Observation, kept a close watch on citizens through a widespread network of informants in neighborhoods, schools, libraries and even gas stations. Main Department II – Counterintelligence – carried out electronic surveillance of foreign diplomats, businessmen and journalists and placed spies in their offices, homes and hotels. The Stasi even had a department to spy on other Stasi members and informants.
”We are still getting shocks from what we find,” says the film maker Klaus Wendler, a spokesman for an East German Government committee that is now sifting through the Stasi’s five million files. ”Musicians were forced to spy on fellow musicians, students were coerced into spying on friends, and children were duped into spying on their parents.”
With the disbanding of the Stasi, 85,000 full-time officers lost their jobs virtually overnight. No more than 10,000 have since found gainful employment, most of them in various Government ministries, including 2,000 in the Ministry of the Interior, which formerly oversaw the Stasi. The rest have joined the growing ranks of East Germany’s unemployed; some get by on standard unemployment benefits, while others receive no Government compensation at all. Many are embittered at finding themselves excluded, even ostracized, by their fellow citizens.
Abroad, most of the Stasi’s 2,500 career officers in embassies and missions no longer have a spy headquarters to report to, and its untold thousands of freelance undercover spies no longer receive money from their former masters. West German intelligence officers estimate that there are some 5,000 operatives in West Germany today, 500 of them ”top agents.” Eighty of those are thought to have penetrated the highest echelons of the military and Government, West German officials say, including intelligence agencies.
Despite dramatic political changes in Europe, West German intelligence officials fear that not all these spies have changed their loyalties. Highly disciplined and still undercover, some are still collecting and relaying information to Soviet intelligence organs, the West Germans believe. Others, they suspect, are simply biding their time, waiting to be activated.
The Stasi has long been recognized as one of the most effective intelligence services in the world, in the same league as those of Israel and France. Nevertheless, over the last seven months, West German and American intelligence officials have been amazed to discover the magnitude of its foreign operations, orchestrated until his retirement three years ago by the infamous Markus Wolf. Until 1979, Western intelligence agents did not even have a current photograph of ”the man without a face.” But recently he has stepped out from the shadows. Today, a best-selling author, Wolf speaks freely of his successful penetration of the West German intelligence and military over a period of more than 30 years. What he does not speak of is terrorism.
In the last eight weeks, startling revelations have come to light detailing the Stasi’s links to a variety of terrorist groups, notably the far-left Red Army Faction, eight of whose members were arrested in June. With the help of the Stasi, they had been given new identities and jobs in East Germany after carrying out terrorist operations in the 1970’s and 80’s. The Stasi has also been implicated in the Libyan-directed bombing of the La Belle disco in West Germany in 1986: According to new information from informants and seized files, Stasi agents helped transport the explosives to West Berlin that resulted in the deaths of two American soldiers.
In East Germany, too, the Stasi, although officially nonexistent, remains a threat. In late June, new disclosures revealed that in 1986, as the Soviet Union began liberalizing its society and the East German economy continued to deteriorate, the Stasi, foreseeing unrest – but not the end of the wall – placed more than 2,000 members of an elite secret task force into the highest levels of East German Government departments, businesses and universities. Another 500 spies were dispatched to West Germany. East German officials say that most of them are still in place, their identities unknown, and suspect that they are under orders to wait out any political turmoil.
Intelligence officials are in a race to bring the worst offenders to justice before they go permanently underground or sign up with new masters. The search is reminiscent, says one American diplomat in Berlin, of an era not too long ago: ”Ferreting out the spies, terrorists and Stasi agents is analogous to the search for the Nazis and their collaborators after they attempted to disappear into German society at the end of the war.”
On Friday morning, just 48 hours away from monetary unification on July 1, East Berlin is alive with excitement. International camera crews and journalists have invaded the city to capture the dawn of a new era. But in his office, just steps from the Volkskammer, or Parliament, Peter-Michael Diestel, East Germany’s 38-year-old Interior Minister, grapples with the malign legacy of the past. ”My mission,” he says simply, ”is to dismantle the Stasi.”
That task has fallen to an unlikely candidate: a former cow-milking champion, body builder (he can bench-press 420 pounds) and occasional lawyer who took the job of Interior Minister largely because no one else wanted it.
Diestel, a native of Leipzig, has been busy since taking office in April. He has enlisted the cooperation of large numbers of former Stasi officers and, using information from informants and Stasi files, has tried to bring in ”freelance” operatives, either by offering them jobs or convincing them that the Stasi is finished. He has passed along key information on terrorists and informants to West German intelligence agencies, and helped coordinate the arrest in June of the Red Army Faction terrorists. Finally, Diestel helped establish the Stasi’s complicity in the La Belle disco bombing.
Diestel is navigating a lonely course, subject to fierce attacks from both the left and right in East Germany, intense pressure from West German officials, and weekly calls for his resignation by the German Social Union, a conservative party in East Germany’s governing coalition. Because of daily threats against his life, the police guard his wife and three young children round the clock. Says Peter Pragal, East Berlin correspondent for the weekly magazine Stern: ”He has the hardest job in Germany, East or West.”
Besides its full-time officers, recruited from the best and brightest in East German society, the Stasi had 150,000 active informers and 500,000 to 2 million part-time informers in East Germany. Its real-estate holdings alone – including the vast fortresslike complex in East Berlin and Stasi’s more than 2,000 buildings, homes, bunkers, shelters, hospitals, and resorts throughout East Germany – have been valued in the billions of dollars. So far, Government investigators trying to take inventory of the Stasi have tallied 23,000 cars and trucks and 250,000 weapons, including submachine guns, pistols, rifles and grenade launchers.
The efficient Stasi machine compiled extensive dossiers on more than 5 million East Germans – a third of the population – that included information as intimate as sexual habits and as mundane as books checked out of the library. Millions of telephone calls were recorded; apartments were bugged and illegally searched (the Stasi would arrange to have suspects kept late at their jobs). One dissident recently discovered that a micro listening device capable of transmitting three miles had been sewn into his coat collar.
Citizens were vulnerable to the Stasi’s Orwellian intrusion anytime and anywhere – in their apartments, factories, churches, restaurants, libraries, doctors’ offices, bedrooms, even on their vacations abroad. In some East German cities, every piece of mail was opened in special steam rooms attached to the post offices.
When East German soccer teams traveled to play matches in West Germany, Stasi agents went along with busloads of fans, monitoring whether any East German sat next to a West German, displayed a West German flag or sang the West German national anthem.
All along the thousands of miles of East German autobahn, Stasi agents posed as gas-station attendants, waiters and tourists, carefully noting whether East Germans parked their cars next to Western cars or carried suspiciously heavy luggage.
The Stasi made it virtually impossible for East Germans not to collaborate. Each field agent had to deliver at least 25 new informants or initiate 25 investigations every year. Citizens who declined to help were either marked as subversives or left to cope with the bureaucracy unaided. ”You couldn’t get anywhere in East German society unless you could pull the right strings,” says an American diplomat, ”and only Stasi could pull those strings.” As a result, says Klaus Wendler, ”people made pacts with the devil all the time.”
Although frequently accused of being too soft on the Stasi, Diestel remains convinced that a punitive approach cannot work. He is aware that only the Stasi can provide the information that will allow him to root out its operatives. (Although Diestel denies it, many experts believe he relied on Stasi agents in his own ministry to find the Red Army Faction terrorists and break the La Belle disco bombing case.) Key Stasi files are missing, and those that remain are often difficult to decipher.
Diestel’s task is delicate: He must bring in Stasi agents, but also keep them cooperative. If top officials are to be indicted for terrorism, ”the testimony of Stasi underlings will be absolutely critical,” says a West German law enforcement official involved in prosecuting the Red Army Faction terrorists.
Diestel has another reason to move cautiously. The Stasi officers form a strong, cohesive subculture; they are proud of their organization and traumatized at losing their privileged status. East German authorities fear that a demagogue could rally Stasi officers and stage an insurrection, using weapons from secret caches and bunkers. ”The old Stasi may try to reorganize if we totally remove them from society,” says Diestel. ”If we try to eradicate the Stasi violently, we will certainly lose the war and our future. That is why I want to treat them in a more humane manner.”
If Diestel needs the Stasi, its former officers need him as well. Nowhere else are they likely to get a hearing. One of the cries of protestors against the old regime was, ”Stasi should work for a living,” but when former agents have tried to get jobs, workers, who generally recognize them, have forced their dismissal.
One former Stasi agent recently wrote to Diestel pleading for help: ”We do not see any future anymore. We are unemployed and isolated and we are fast becoming outcasts.” The Interior Ministry receives dozens of such letters every month.
For Bonn, the challenge presented by the Stasi is difficult but straightfoward: ”Identify the spies and get them to stop spying,” says Kurt Rebmann, West Germany’s former Attorney General and for many years its top spy-catcher.
Over the last several months, West German intelligence has learned that the Stasi’s electronic and human surveillance had penetrated their society to a far greater extent than they had ever imagined. The Stasi’s yearly expenditure on ”Sigint” (signal intelligence, or electronic spying) exceeded by millions of Deutsche marks the total annual budget for the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution, West Germany’s domestic intelligence agency. The Stasi wiretapped hundreds of thousands of telephone calls of West German officials, acquired top-secret documents, and cracked military codes. Stasi had secret spy installations on ships anchored in the Baltic Sea off West Germany’s coast, as well as in trade missions in Dusseldorf and Bonn. Stasi’s informants were so well placed, according to one former Government official, that they even obtained the code to the main safe of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution.
The long reach of the Stasi has shocked even West German intelligence officials whose mission was to monitor the organization. ”It was absolutely amazing,” says Peter Frisch, vice president of the Office for the Protection of the Constitution. In his office in Cologne, Frisch rises from his desk, walks over to a safe marked ”Secret” and pulls out a five-by-seven-inch index card printed with ”Kontrollauftrag No. 23265” – the coded Stasi reference for Frisch. Below the line are the instructions: ”Get Everything.” The Stasi wiretapped all phone calls from Frisch’s home and the three open telephone lines in his office beginning in 1988 and possibly earlier. His ”secure” telephone, encased in a red dial-less chassis, was safe from Stasi’s ears.
”Stasi could tape anyone it wanted,” says Frisch. The West German magazine Quick recently printed the Stasi intercepts of private telephone calls made by West Germany’s Defense Minister, Manfred Worner, and his wife. Topics of conversation ranged from the breakup of Worner’s teen-age son with his girlfriend to classified information about a coming sale of special submarines to Israel. Another document described the multiple sexual liaisons of a married West Berlin senator. Other documents, as yet unpublished, contain conversations of Chancellor Helmut Kohl. ”The existence of these transcripts could come back to haunt us for many years,” Frisch says. He does not mention blackmail, but the word hangs in the air.
Frisch’s predicament is frustrating. He cannot offer the substantial sums that West German press and television have paid for secret Stasi material, and thus far, the East German Government has refused to turn over the files and transcripts. West Germany is now proposing to make possession of the Stasi transcripts illegal and to prohibit their publication, but the documents could turn up anywhere – the Stasi sent copies of transcripts to the K.G.B. and to regional Stasi offices.
American secrets fared no better than West German ones. Quick recently published Stasi documents, whose authenticity has been confirmed by intelligence officials, showing that East Germany had obtained many secret Defense Department documents that describe in detail major American covert projects, the National Security Agency’s electronic eavesdropping operations and installations, American strategic combat plans, and secret meetings of American defense officials in Germany.
These alarming disclosures only reinforce the Stasi’s fearsome reputation for foreign-intelligence gathering. Formed in the early 1950’s under the auspices of the Soviet K.G.B., the Stasi was designed to carry out internal espionage and surveillance. But soon the Soviet Union began to exploit East Germany’s strategic potential to place informants in West Germany under the guise of ”defectors” and ”expatriates.” At the end of World War II, millions of people in what is now East Germany fled westward. Tens of thousands of East Germans followed them in the ensuing decades.
Slowly and patiently, key East German operatives worked themselves into West German Government departments, in positions dealing with sensitive political matters. The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution was a target from the very beginning: its first president, Otto John, defected to East Berlin in 1954.
In 1956, the Stasi formally organized its foreign espionage operations in a department called the Hauptverwaltung Aufklarung (Central Intelligence Agency), usually referred to as the H.V.A. Until 1986, its head was the legendary Markus Wolf.
Over the years, the Stasi succeeded in planting informants at the uppermost levels of West German Government. Wolf’s strategy was to position his spies so that they would have constant, routine access to classified material rather than have to plan dramatic thefts. One of the most notorious scandals in West German history erupted when it was discovered in 1974 that one of Chancellor Willy Brandt’s top aides, Gunter Guillaume, who had ”defected” to West Germany in 1956, was actually an East German spy. The disclosure toppled the Brandt Government.
Another top East German spy, Hans Joachim Tiedge, a senior official in the Office for the Protection of the Constitution, defected to East Germany in 1985, taking with him 19 years of access to classified information and the names of key Western agents in the East bloc.
A favorite and wildly successful tactic was the use of sex to get information. Wolf deployed cadres of males known as ”Romeos,” who managed to seduce strategically selected West German Government secretaries; young women, called ”swallows,” seduced German military officers and politicians. At American military bases, young Stasi women targeted American soldiers and officers. The Stasi even operated a bordello in West Berlin. ”If love didn’t work, then the Stasi used blackmail and entrapment against married men and homosexuals,” says Peter-Ferdinand Koch, a West German journalist who has investigated Stasi.
Wolf was also a master at manipulating the press, using East German reporters to gather information for him, and strategically leaking disinformation to selected West German reporters. Intelligence officials believe that in exchange for access to this disinformation, West German reporters may have been tricked into passing along information to the Stasi.
But the Stasi did not limit itself to information gathering, as the Red Army Faction arrests in June and the new disclosures about the La Belle disco bombing have shown. Relying on seized files and informants, investigators have discovered the Stasi’s extensive ties to other international terrorist groups as well, including the Palestine Liberation Organization; France’s Action Directe, and E.T.A., the Basque separatist group based in Spain.
According to Stasi files, the East German Government provided sanctuary and safe transit for such notorious terrorists as Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (known as Carlos), Abu Daoud (the Palestinian terrorist who organized the massacre at the 1972 Olympics in Munich) and Abu Nidal. Documents show that at the Friedrich Engels Military Academy in East Berlin, Palestinian fighters were trained to use antiaircraft missile and grenade launchers, and to carry out naval attacks.
The Libyan connection was especially close. Files reveal that the Libyan Government paid East Germany for help in operating terrorist cells and distributing plastic explosives out of Libya’s embassies, or ”People’s Bureaus,” in East bloc countries. Two Arabs have already been identified as participants in the La Belle operation; in the near future, the names of several German nationals will be revealed.
Although officially defunct, Markus Wolf’s organization continues to show remarkable signs of life. ”There is no doubt that the Stasi still has many spies in West Germany, including in the Office for the Protection of the Constitution,” says Peter Frisch. ”And we know that East German intelligence agents have received instructions to gather intelligence against NATO. The information is being passed on to the N.V.A.” – the East German National People’s Army – ”and then on to the Red Army.”
After the Stasi was disbanded, the wiretapping of Western diplomats in East and West Germany suddenly stopped. But two months later, intelligence officials believe they found evidence that it had begun again – this time, they claim, from Soviet military bases in East Germany, suggesting that Stasi agents may have turned over their operation to the Russians, whose military bases will remain in East Germany for another five years. The wiretapping, officials say, continues today intermittently.
Frisch also suspects that the Stasi’s foreign sources and informants are being turned over to the K.G.B., not only in West Germany but likely in other capitals, including Washington. In the United States, American intelligence officials are closely monitoring known Stasi agents in Washington and New York to see how they are shifting their collection of intelligence and which, if any, will be withdrawn.
Even though the cold war is winding down, and restrictions on transferring Western technology to the East have been eased, intelligence officials maintain that the cash-starved East bloc countries are still trying to steal high-tech military and industrial secrets. American officials say that Star Wars technology, for example, continues to rank high on the Soviet list. But the priorities are shifting, according to W. Douglas Gow, Assistant Director for Intelligence at the F.B.I., from ”traditional military targets to ones associated with science and technology” – especially supercomputer and microchip technology.
Some former Stasi spies, recognizing an opportunity, have become aggressive entrepreneurs. One agent attached to a foreign mission, according to Western intelligence officials, recently contacted several East bloc intelligence services through the cover of an import-export company, offering his ”goods and services” to the highest bidder. He provided material on ”spec” – a detailed document revealing NATO movements and a computer disk containing restricted software (apparently stolen from an American subsidiary of a large multinational company). Officials say he received two offers, but did not reveal from whom.
One group of agents is known to have started an international trade consulting firm, with offices in Switzerland, to provide high-level industrial espionage to Western companies.
Thus far, the West German Government has relied largely on reasoned appeals to spies to surrender, with the added enticement of amnesty. The response has not been encouraging. The agents have lost their special monthly retainers (normally ranging from $500 to $1,000 but as much as $3,000 in a few cases); to come forward as former spies would most likely cause Stasi agents in the West to lose their jobs and become pariahs.
Some results have been achieved, however. The prospect of immunity, in some cases supplemented by relatively modest sums of cash, has induced several hundred Stasi officers – including one colonel – to turn themselves in to West German intelligence. They have in turn provided the names of colleagues, resulting in the arrest of some 90 spies and the uncovering of several hundred informants, possibly several Americans among them.
American intelligence officials expect that by the end of the year, indictments will be handed down against at least a dozen foreign nationals and Americans operating near the American military base in Stuttgart and in the United States, for providing classified information to the East bloc – most recently, detailed summaries of American troop maneuvers planned for this fall and projected military restructuring after the two Germanies reunite.
New information from Stasi agents has been passed along by the West Germans to the C.I.A. and F.B.I., providing leads on more than a dozen stymied espionage and terrorism investigations – including one concerning a top American diplomat (not Felix Bloch). Says David G. Major, a senior F.B.I. expert on counterintelligence: ”If I were a spy, I’d be sweating it right now.” cw1> But West and East Germany are bitterly divided over what to do with the spies once they’re caught. Diestel and many of his colleagues believe that there should be blanket amnesty for all Stasi agents who engaged in espionage, a position that West Germany rejects. East Germany does, however, want to prosecute the Stasi officers who have engaged in violent acts or violated East German human rights. Accordingly, Erich Mielke, head of the Stasi, was arrested on July 26 and charged with harboring the Red Army Faction terrorists and planning to set up internment camps for East Germans. Prosecutors in East Berlin and West Germany are moving forward to bring a murder indictment against Erich Honecker, the former Communist Party chief. Other top aides will likely also be indicted for human-rights violations and protecting terrorists. No one, however, quite knows what to do about Markus Wolf.
The espionage chief who bedeviled West German intelligence for more than 30 years turns out to be surprisingly easy to see. A recent visitor to his apartment building on the Spree River simply pressed a button, and Wolf, without checking to see who might be calling, buzzed him in, and then opened the door to his duplex himself.
Wolf, who looks younger than his 67 years, still exudes the legendary charm of John Le Carre’s master spy, Karla, for whom he was a model. He is, improbably, an instantly likable man. Affable and informal, he has the direct manner and gaze of someone with nothing to hide – this, the man who created one of the most formidable spy networks the world has ever seen.
Like many of the older East German leaders, Wolf joined the Communism movement in his youth and suffered persecution under the Nazis. His father, Friedrich Wolf, was a physician, playwright, ardent Communist and Jew, who fled Germany with his family in 1933 and went to Moscow. There, Markus, who picked up the Russian nickname Mischa, attended the Comintern school and was recruited by the N.K.V.D., which later became the K.G.B.
Immediately after the war, Wolf returned to Berlin, where he joined the East German Communist Party. His first assignment was to cover the Nuremburg trials as a radio journalist. Wolf rose rapidly in the party hierarchy and, after a stint at the East German Embassy in Moscow, was appointed lieutentant-general in the newly formed Stasi at the age of 29. He has been married three times, and has three children by his first wife.
Although Wolf is reluctant to discuss ”operations” and disparages the ”superficial way in which American television has glorified my superspy image,” he routinely gives interviews to German newspapers, magazines and television stations. He takes professional pride in his successes with Guillaume and Tiedge but now says the placing of Guillaume was a ”major mistake,” because it derailed Brandt’s agenda of rapprochement with East Germany. Wolf’s repeated denials of any connection to the Red Army Faction or the P.L.O., or any knowledge of the Stasi’s repressive apparatus are often met with open derision by his interviewers.
Wolf’s sudden resignation in early 1987 caught many intelligence analysts by surprise. He claims he resigned from the Stasi because he realized its Stalinist methods of control were both wrong and counterproductive. Maintaining that he is a reformer, he even spoke at a dissident rally last Nov. 4 in East Berlin protesting the regime of Honecker, but he was met with a chorus of boos from the crowd.
Among intelligence experts, opinion is divided as to Wolf’s change of heart. Soon after his resignation, reports, primarily from defectors, began circulating among West German intelligence that Wolf, representing a wing of Stasi that foresaw the collapse of the Communist system, had fallen out with Honecker and Mielke. At this time, he began giving interviews, echoing Mikhail S. Gorbachev’s calls for glasnost and perestroika, but carefully avoiding any direct criticism of the East German regime.
When Wolf suddenly went to Moscow last spring, West German intelligence officials suspected his purpose was to meet with his former K.G.B. handlers to transfer files and ”assets” – East German spies and sources. Wolf says he has become a full-time writer since retiring from the Stasi and that he went to Moscow to work on a book, the first installment of a trilogy to be published by Bertelsmann. (His ”Troika,” an autobiographical novel, was a German best seller last year.) Although Wolf heatedly denied having any dealings with the K.G.B., a month ago, he made another trip to the Soviet capital.
When Diestel announced earlier this year that he wanted to retain Wolf to advise him on dissolving the Stasi, the public outcry in both East and West Germany killed any such arrangement. Yet some East German Government officials admit privately that if they are ever to resolve the Stasi question and uncover all the agency’s dark secrets, they will need his help and, for that matter, the cooperation of other former Stasi agents. Indeed, in the middle of a conversation in his apartment with this writer, Wolf paused to take a phone call from a member of the Government committee investigating Stasi. Wolf agreed to meet the man and help him sort through Stasi materials.
There is deep bitterness toward Wolf, however, among senior West German intelligence officials, who suspect that he protected the Red Army Faction terrorists. They make no secret of their eagerness to arrest him under an indictment for espionage charges brought against him in 1987. Hearing the steady drumbeat, Wolf says that he will agree to be tried in a West German court and will not flee to the Soviet Union.
For most East Germans, Stasi’s foreign activities remain a sideshow. Their first priority is to exorcise the agency from their own society. Although public displays of fury toward the Stasi have subsided dramatically since January, when enraged crowds broke into Stasi headquarters and ransacked files, Stasi’s profound legacy of mistrust, bitterness and paranoia has left an anger that easily rises to the surface. When a newspaper recently printed the addresses of 3,000 homes and apartments supposedly used at one time by the Stasi, several of the occupants, totally unaware of the infamous history of their dwellings, were burglarized and beaten up.
In the Berlin Stasi headquarters, investigators are still methodically poring through the agency’s one billion pages of files, turning up new information every day. Recently, they found evidence that Stasi had put relatives of known dissidents in mental hospitals and administered hallucinogenic drugs to keep them psychologically incapacitated. Other archives reveal that Stasi harassed dissidents by stealing their mail, placing false classified ads in the newspapers and circulating salacious rumors about their sexual practices.
However deep the reservoir of popular outrage against the Stasi, both East and West Germans know that there will have to be an end to the recriminations; far too many East Germans were involved in the Stasi and its operations. That will probably mean sealing the files and granting amnesty to most Stasi members.
For dissidents like Ruth Misselwitz, a Lutheran pastor in East Berlin, who never knew each morning whether she would ever see her children again that evening, the need to forgive now outweighs the desire for justice. ”We must not be allowed to dwell in our past,” she says. ”We have a country to build.” In West Germany as well, officials admit privately that high-ranking Stasi – perhaps even Markus Wolf – may have to be given amnesty. What both East and West German officials still fear is that some, perhaps many, Stasi agents will adopt a low profile, patiently waiting, as they have been indoctrinated to do, for the time when they can once again ply their trade.
”Spies, terrorists, informants, collaborators, transcripts, files – it’s a nightmare sorting all this out,” says Hasso Von Samson, a spokesman for West Germany’s Office for the Protection of the Constitution. ”But I guess that’s what happens when they take away your enemy.”
Vladimir Putin was a married KGB officer, living in comfort in East Germany, when the world as he knew it collapsed around him.
As the regime of his host nation fell in December 1989, Putin watched as emboldened crowds began to storm the headquarters of the secret police, along with a nearby KGB office where he and his comrades conducted their espionage.
He sought protection from a Red Army tank unit, but the commander wouldn’t help without approval from Moscow.
“And Moscow is silent,” the commander said.
It’s a phrase that has haunted Putin ever since.
“I think it’s the key to understanding Putin,” German biographer Boris Reitschuster told the BBC. “We would have another Putin and another Russia without his time in East Germany.”
Young Vladimir Putin with his wife Lyudmila and their daughter.ZUMAPRESS.comAs Russian troops storm through Ukraine, observers around the world are trying to understand what motivates Putin. For those who’ve studied him, the answer begins with that dramatic night in Dresden and the experience of watching “people power” in action.
The collapse of the communist order taught the now 69-year-old lessons he still leans on today as he leads the Motherland down the path of war. Namely, how easily political elites can be overthrown, and the importance of building his own irrefutable power to gird against the masses.
Putin and his then-wife Ludmila arrived in Dresden in the mid-1980s, after the future leader had achieved his childhood dream of joining the KGB. East Germany had a higher standard of living than the USSR did, and the Putins were able to socialize with families linked to the KGB and Stasi, the German secret police.
The political differences were notable to Putin — East Germany was a communist state, but, unlike Russia, it had multiple political parties.
By the fall of 1989, people were demanding a more responsive government. On Nov. 9, the Berlin Wall came down, and the crowds were even more brazen — enough to confront the previously feared Stasi and KGB, and prompt Putin’s call for protection.
But the USSR under Mikhail Gorbachev gave no orders to strike back at the people. So instead, Putin and his KGB colleagues frantically destroyed evidence of their spying.
“I personally burned a huge amount of material,” Putin recalled in an interview in 2000, shortly after he rose to power. “We burned so much stuff that the furnace burst.”
Two weeks later, the West German Chancellor arrived in Dresden, making a speech envisioning German reunification. A short time later, one of Putin’s key contacts in the Stasi committed suicide, after being humiliated by demonstrators.
It wasn’t long before the Putins were on their way back to Leningrad — now St. Petersburg — and to life in another nation on the verge of collapse.
“He found himself in a country that had changed in ways that he didn’t understand and didn’t want to accept,” Masha Gessen, another Putin biographer, and critic, told the BBC.
There was a moment when Putin considered becoming a taxi driver.
Instead, he leaned on his old contacts and cronies and learned to thrive in the new Russia, rising through the ranks of the reconstituted government to become acting president when Boris Yeltsin abruptly resigned in 1999.
Former KGB headquarters in Dresden, where Putin worked from 1985-1990.AFP via Getty ImagesPutin consolidated his power over the ensuring years, and some of the same people he met in Dresden became part of the core of his government.
Over the years, Putin-watchers suggest, widespread protest movements would revive his bad memories of what happened in East Germany.
“Now when you have crowds in Kiev in 2004, in Moscow in 2011 or in Kiev in 2013 and 2014, I think he remembers this time in Dresden,” Reitschuster said. “And all these old fears come up inside him.”
911 as Intelligence Operation by the New Abwehr (STASI) and KGB – Google Search shar.es/aWl1q3
But conversations with Stasi and KGB colleagues at the time belie the officially sanctioned claims Putin played only a marginal role. These accounts suggest that Putin’s years in Dresden might have been invaluable training in his work sowing chaos in Western politics today. And one first-hand account also suggests the downplaying of Putin’s activities in Dresden was also cover for another mission—one beyond the edge of the law.
This account suggests that Putin was stationed there precisely because it was a backwater, far from the spying eyes in East Berlin, where the French, the Americans and the West Germans all kept close watch. According to a former member of the Red Army Faction, the far-left terrorist group in West Germany, who claimed to have met him in Dresden, Putin had worked in support of members of the group, which sowed terror across West Germany in the seventies and eighties: “There was nothing in Dresden, nothing at all, except the radical left. Nobody was watching Dresden, not the Americans, not the West Germans. There was nothing there. Except the one thing: these meetings with those comrades.”
In the battle for empire between East and West, the Soviet security services had long been deploying what they called their own “active measures” to disrupt and destabilize their opponent. Locked in the Cold War but realizing it was too far behind technologically to win any military war, ever since the sixties the Soviet Union had found its strength lay in disinformation, in planting fake rumors in the media to discredit Western leaders, in assassinating political opponents, and in supporting front organizations that would foment wars in developing countries such as the Middle East and Africa and undermine and sow discord in the West.
Among these measures was support for terrorist organizations. Across the Middle East, the KGB had forged ties with numerous Marxist-leaning terror groups, most notably with the PFLP, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a splinter group of the Palestine Liberation Organization that carried out a string of plane hijackings and bomb attacks in the late sixties and seventies. Top-secret documents retrieved by a researcher in the early 1990s from the archives of the Soviet Politburo illustrate the depth of some of these connections. They show the then-KGB chief Yury Andropov signing off three requests for Soviet weapons from PFLP leader Wadi Haddad, and describing him as a “trusted agent” of the KGB.
In East Germany, or the German Democratic Republic (GDR), the KGB actively encouraged the Stasi to assist in its “political activities” in developing countries. In fact, support for international terrorism became one of the most important services the Stasi rendered to the KGB, according to a paper written by Dr. Marian K. Leighton, a former Soviet analyst at the Central Intelligence Agency. The East German security services had always been subservient to the KGB and closely followed orders handed down by their Soviet masters. By 1969 the Stasi had opened a clandestine training camp outside East Berlin for members of Yassar Arafat’s PLO. Markus Wolf’s Stasi foreign-intelligence unit became deeply involved in working with terrorist groups across the Arab world, including with the PFLP’s notorious Carlos Ramirez Sanchez, otherwise known as Carlos the Jackal. Stasi military instructors set up a network of terrorist training camps across the Middle East.
One former KGB general who defected to the United States, Oleg Kalugin, later called these activities “the heart and soul of Soviet intelligence.” The former head of Romania’s foreign-intelligence service, Ion Mihai Pacepa, who became the highest-ranking eastern-bloc intelligence officer to defect to the United States, had been the first to speak openly about the KGB’s operations with terrorist groups. Pacepa wrote of how the former head of the KGB’s foreign intelligence, General Alexander Sakharovsky, had frequently told him: “In today’s world, when nuclear arms have made military force obsolete, terrorism should become our main weapon.” Pacepa also stated that KGB chief Andropov had launched an operation to stoke anti-Israeli and anti-U.S. sentiment in the Arab world. At the same time, he said, the KGB unleashed domestic terrorism in the West.
West Germany had been on edge ever since the far-left militant Red Army Faction—also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group after its early leaders Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof—launched a string of bombings, assassinations, kidnappings and bank robberies in the late 1960s. In the name of toppling the country’s “imperialism and monopoly capitalism,” they’d killed prominent West German industrialists and bankers, including the head of Dresdner Bank in 1977, and had bombed U.S. military bases, killing and injuring dozens of servicemen.
By the end of the seventies, when the West German police stepped up a campaign of arrests, the Stasi began providing safe haven in the East to members of the group. “They harbored not just one but 10 of them. They lived in cookie-cutter buildings around Dresden, Leipzig and East Berlin,” said Franz Sedelmayer, a German security consultant who later worked with Putin in St. Petersburg. The Stasi had provided them with false identities, and also ran training camps.
Initially, after the fall of the Wall, the West German authorities believed the Stasi had provided only refuge and false identities to the Red Army Faction members. But as prosecutors continued to investigate the Stasi’s role, they found evidence of a much deeper collaboration. Their investigation led to the arrest and indictment of five former Stasi counter-terrorism officers for conspiring with the group to bomb a major U.S. army base in Ramstein in southwest Germany in 1981 and attempting to kill a U.S. general. Stasi chief Erich Mielke was indicted on the same charges.
But amid the tumult of German reunification, there was no political will to root out the evils of GDR’s past and bring the Stasi men to trial. The five-year statute of limitations on those charged with collaboration with the Red Army Faction was deemed to have passed, and the charges dropped away. The memory of their crimes faded, while the KGB’s involvement with the Red Army Faction was never investigated at all.
But all the while, the Soviets had overseen the operations of the Stasi, with liaison officers at every command level. At the highest level, KGB control was so tight that, according to one former Red Army Faction member, “Mielke wouldn’t even fart without asking permission in Moscow first.” “The GDR could do nothing without coordination with the Soviets,” said a defector from the senior ranks of the Stasi.
This was the environment Putin was working in—and the story that the former Red Army Faction member had to tell about Dresden fitted closely with that.
According to him, in the years that Putin served in East Germany, Dresden became a meeting place for the Red Army Faction. Dresden was chosen as a meeting place precisely because “there was no one else there,” this former Red Army Faction member said. “In Berlin, there were the Americans, the French and the British, everyone. For what we needed to do we needed the provinces, not the capital.” Another reason the meetings were held there was because Markus Wolf and Erich Mielke wanted to distance themselves from such activities: “Wolf was very careful not to be involved. The very last thing a guy like Wolf or Mielke wanted was to be caught red-handed supporting a terrorist organisation … We met there [in Dresden] about half a dozen times.”
This former Red Army Faction member and his colleagues would travel into East Germany by train and would be met by Stasi agents waiting in a large Soviet-made Zil car, then driven to Dresden, where they were joined in a safe house by Putin and another of his KGB colleagues. “They would never give us instructions directly. They would just say, ‘We heard you were planning this, how do you want to do it?’ and make suggestions. They would suggest other targets and ask us what we needed. We always needed weapons and cash.”
It was difficult for the Red Army Faction to purchase weapons in Western Germany, so they would hand Putin and his colleagues a list. Somehow, this list would later end up with an agent in the West, and the requested weapons would be dropped in a secret location for the Red Army Faction members to pick up.
Far from taking the backseat role often ascribed to him during his Dresden years, Putin would be among the leaders in these meetings, the former Red Army member claimed, with one of the Stasi generals taking orders from him. As the Red Army Faction sowed chaos across West Germany in a series of vicious bomb attacks, their activities became a key part of KGB attempts to disrupt and destabilize the West, the former member of the terror group claimed. And, as the end loomed for Soviet power and the GDR, it’s possible that they became a weapon to protect the interests of the KGB. For instance, the terrorist group orchestrated the killings of the chairman of Deutsche Bank in 1989 and the chief of the Siemens technology company in 1986, both of whom supported political positions or were engaged in activities that posed challenges to the Soviet regime.
For the former Red Army Faction member those days now seem long ago and far away. But he can’t help but remember with regret that he was no more than a puppet in Soviet influence games. “We were no more than useful idiots for the Soviet Union,” he said with a wry grin. “This is where it all began. They were using us to disrupt, destabilize and sow chaos in the West.”
When asked about the Stasi and the KGB’s support for the Red Army Faction, a shadow falls across the still spry face of Horst Jehmlich, the former Dresden Stasi fixer-in-chief who’d worked closely with Putin. We are sitting around the dining table of the sunlit apartment he’s lived in ever since the GDR years, just around the corner from the former Stasi headquarters and the villa where the KGB was stationed. The fine china is out for coffee, the table is covered with lace.
The Red Army Faction members were only brought to the GDR “to turn them away from terrorism,” he insists. “The Stasi wanted to prevent terrorism and stop them from returning to terrorist measures. They wanted to give them a chance to re-educate themselves.” But when asked whether it was the KGB who were in fact calling the tune, whether it was Putin who the Red Army Faction members were meeting with in Dresden, and whether orders for attacks could have emanated from there, the shadow across his face becomes darker still. “I don’t know anything about this. When it was top-secret, I didn’t know. I don’t know whether this involved the Russian secret service. If it is so, then the KGB tried to prevent that anyone knows about this material. They will have said that this is a German problem. They managed to destroy many more documents than us.”
The former Red Army Faction member’s story is near-impossible to verify. Most of his former comrades are either in prison or dead. Others allegedly involved in the meetings back then have disappeared off the grid. But a close Putin ally from the KGB indicated that any such allegations were extremely sensitive, and insisted that no connection between the KGB and the Red Army Faction, or any other European terrorist group, had ever been proved: “And you should not try to do so!” he added sharply.
Many years later, Klaus Zuchold, one of Putin’s recruits in the Stasi, offered some partial details of Putin’s involvement in other active measures then. Zuchold, who’d defected to the West, told a German publication, Correctiv, that Putin had once sought to obtain a study on deadly poisons that leave few traces, and planned to compromise the author of this study by planting pornographic material on him. It’s not clear whether the operation ever got off the ground. Zuchold also claimed that Putin’s activities included a role as the handler of a notorious neo-Nazi, Rainer Sonntag, who was deported to West Germany in 1987, and who returned to Dresden after the Wall’s fall and stoked the rise of the far right.
While working with the Red Army terrorists may have been Putin’s training ground in active measures against the imperialist West, what happened when the Berlin Wall came down was the experience he would carry with him for decades to come. Though it had become ever clearer that the eastern bloc might not hold, that social unrest could tear it apart and that the reverberations could reach into the Soviet Union itself, still Putin and the other KGB officers in Dresden scrambled to salvage networks amid the sudden speed of East Germany’s collapse.
In a moment, it was over. There was suddenly no one in command. The decades of struggle and covert spy games seemed done. The border was gone, overwhelmed by the outpouring of protest built up over so many years. Though it took another month for the protests to reach Dresden, when they came, Putin and his colleagues were only partially prepared. While the crowds massed in the bitter cold for two days outside the Stasi headquarters, Putin and the other KGB men barricaded themselves inside the villa. “We burned papers night and day,” Putin said later. “We destroyed everything—all our communications, our lists of contacts and our agents’ networks. I personally burned a huge amount of material. We burned so much stuff that the furnace burst.”
Excerpted from PUTIN’S PEOPLE: How the KGB Took Back Russia and Then Took On the West by Catherine Belton. Published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux June 23, 2020. Copyright © 2020 by Catherine Belton. All rights reserved.
Germany is an active, key participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union (EU), working closely with neighboring European nations and the United States on international economic, intelligence, and security issues. However, Germany weathered a turbulent and sometimes violent past century. Germany is currently one the world’s leading democratic governments, but for the nation’s intelligence and security agencies, overcoming the legacy of their role in two world wars, the Nazi government, the Holocaust, and Soviet-dominated East Germany, has proved a formidable challenge.
During the late nineteenth century and through World War I, the German Abwehr was one of the world’s leading, most sophisticated, and successful intelligence agencies. The Abwehr maintained one of the largest spy networks and made tremendous advances in the technology of espionage, cryptology, and signals intelligence. During World War II, the Abwehr was again successful in many operations, especially in the recruitment of double agents who infiltrated Allied military instillations. Some of the Abwehr’s leading officers opposed Nazi rule, and organized a failed attempt to assassinate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler. The organization was dissolved before the fall of the Third Reich.
While the Abwehr was operated much like any other modern intelligence agency, some German intelligence agencies of the era were more sinister. In 1941, Hitler issued a directive known as the “Night and Fog Decree.” This decree elevated Nazi intelligence and security agencies such as the Gestapo above the law, granting them sweeping powers of arrest, detainment, torture, and imprisonment of persons suspected of anti-government offenses. The decree was expanded to cover the arrest, detainment, and deportation to concentration camps of Jews, gypsies, prisoners of war, and political dissidents.
After the war, Germany was partitioned into two separate nations. Soviet influenced East Germany employed a powerful secret police and intelligence force, known as the STASI. The East German government charged the STASI with spying on citizens to ferret-out political dissidents. The force gained an oppressive and brutal reputation much like that of its Nazi predecessors. In 1989, the fall of Communist East Germany and the Berlin Wall began Germany’s reunification process. After endeavoring for decades to heal the wounds of Nazism, the German government had to address the oppressive legacy of former East German government agencies. After the formal reunification of Germany, government leaders set forth a highly publicized campaign to restructure and reform the re-emergent nation’s intelligence and security agencies. Today’s German intelligence community has actively sought to distance itself from its predecessors.
Germany’s primary intelligence agency is the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), the Federal Intelligence Service. The BND handles both internal and external intelligence and is part of the Federal Chancellor’s Office, the German government’s executive office. The BND manages a substantial network of human intelligence worldwide and conducts extensive radio and signals surveillance in Germany and throughout Europe. Working in cooperation with other security agencies, especially the Federal Criminal Police, the BND collects information relevant to the location and prosecution of terrorist groups, illegal narcotics traffickers, money launderers, and arms dealers. In accordance with international law, the BND conducts intelligence operations aimed at preventing the proliferation of nuclear technology and materials.
Aside from the BND, the German intelligence community makes the traditional distinction between internal and external intelligence and divides their military and civilian intelligence agencies accordingly. Military intelligence is coordinated by individual branches of the armed forces and the Defense Ministry. The primary military intelligence agency is the Amt füpr Nachrichtenwesen der Bundeswehr (ANBw), or the Office of Federal Armed Forces Intelligence. ANBw coordinates the operations of various branches of military intelligence and facilitates the sharing of vital intelligence information with civilian agencies in the German intelligence community. ANBw primarily assesses the military strength, operations, and political position of foreign militaries.
The Militaerischer Abschirmdienst (MAD), Military Security Service, is responsible for counterintelligence operations. One of the federal intelligence offices, MAD collects intelligence on foreign intelligence operations, and assesses security systems intended to guard classified materials and maintain military secrecy when needed. MAD advises the armed forces and German government on security issues. The counterintelligence agency relies on the cooperative efforts of the Amt für Fernmeldwesen Bundeswehr (AFMBw), the Office for Radio Monitoring of the Federal Armed Forces, when conducting surveillance operations.
The Interior Ministry administers Germany’s civilian intelligence agencies. Charged with collecting and analyzing internal intelligence and security information, the nation’s main civilian agencies are the Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI), Federal Office for Information Technology Security, and the Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz (BfV), Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution. The BSI is responsible for the security of all government information technology. The office assesses potential security threats, and develops protective measures to guard sensitive and classified materials. While mainly concerned with government information systems, the BSI has also conducted operations to assess the security of the nation’s banking computer systems. The office publishes a yearly manual on information technology security, and distributes it to German corporations. The BSI also conducts of surveillance of Internet and information systems crimes, such as fraud.
The Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV) assesses risks posed by various extremist groups. The agency conducts surveillance operations and infiltrates extremist groups to gather information about their organization, financial resources, weapons, and plans for action. The BfV is not a censorship organization, and does not conduct espionage against law-abiding citizens. The BfV’s mission is to monitor extremists and paramilitary groups that pose a potential threat to national interests. Extensive intelligence resources are devoted to monitoring and destroying Neo-Nazi groups that are banned under German law.
In its most important capacity, the BfV interprets and processes all information regarding espionage cases. When necessary, the agency shares this information with Federal Police, justice officials, and defense lawyers.
Germany participates in many international intelligence operations, including global anti-terrorism measures. In recent years, the German intelligence community has become one of the main sources of information on extremist political organizations and subversive groups throughout Europe.
Browder, George C. Hitler’s Enforcers: The Gestapo and SS Security Service in the Nazi Revolution. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Schiel, Katy. Inside Germany’s BND: The Federal Intelligence Service (Inside the World’s Most Famous Intelligence Agencies). New York: Rosen Publishing Group, 2003.
Germany, Counter-Terrorism Policy