Could it happen again? Of course it could. It already is. Here is an extract from John Koehler’s authoritative book Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police.
“The Stasi was much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people,” according to Simon Wiesenthal of Vienna, Austria, who has been hunting Nazi criminals for half a century. “The Gestapo had 40,000 officials watching a country of 80 million, while the Stasi employed 102,000 to control only 17 million.” One might add that the Nazi terror lasted only twelve years, whereas the Stasi had four decades in which to perfect its machinery of oppression, espionage, and international terrorism and subversion.
To ensure that the people would become and remain submissive, East German communist leaders saturated their realm with more spies than had any other totalitarian government in recent history. The Soviet Union’s KGB employed about 480,000 full-time agents to oversee a nation of 280 million, which means there was one agent per 5,830 citizens. Using Wiesenthal’s figures for the Nazi Gestapo, there was one officer for 2,000 people. The ratio for the Stasi was one secret policeman per 166 East Germans. When the regular informers are added, these ratios become much higher: In the Stasi’s case, there would have been at least one spy watching every 66 citizens! When one adds in the estimated numbers of part-time snoops, the result is nothing short of monstrous: one informer per 6.5 citizens. It would not have been unreasonable to assume that at least one Stasi informer was present in any party of ten or twelve dinner guests.
Like a giant octopus, the Stasi’s tentacles probed every aspect of life. Full-time officers were posted to all major industrial plants. Without exception, one tenant in every apartment building was designated as a watchdog reporting to an area representative of the Volkspolizei (Vopo), the People’s Police. In turn, the police officer was the Stasi’s man. If a relative or friend came to stay overnight, it was reported. Schools, universities, and hospitals were infiltrated from top to bottom. German academe was shocked to learn that Heinrich Fink, professor of theology and vice chancellor at East Berlin’s Humboldt University, had been a Stasi informer since 1968. After Fink’s Stasi connections came to light, he was summarily fired. Doctors, lawyers, journalists, writers, actors, and sports figures were co-opted by Stasi officers, as were waiters and hotel personnel. Tapping about 100,000 telephone lines in West Germany and West Berlin around the clock was the job of 2,000 officers.
Stasi officers knew no limits and had no shame when it came to “protecting the party and the state.” Churchmen, including high officials of both Protestant and Catholic denominations, were recruited en masse as secret informers. Their offices and confessionals were infested with eavesdropping devices. Even the director of Leipzig’s famous Thomas Church choir, Hans-Joachim Rotch, was forced to resign when he was unmasked as a Spitzel, the people’s pejorative for a Stasi informant.
Absolutely nothing was sacred to the secret police. Tiny holes were bored in apartment and hotel room walls through which Stasi agents filmed their “suspects” with special video cameras. Even bathrooms were penetrated by the communist voyeurs.8 Like the Nazi Gestapo, the Stasi was the sinister side of deutsche Gründlichkeit (German thoroughness).
Never in the history of espionage have so many spied on so few or recorded so much in such tedious detail. John Koehler was a former US Army Intelligence Officer who worked during the height of the Cold War as and Berlin Bureau Chief for Associated Press .