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)

Workers shown in this 1998 photo reconstituting the Stasi archives which were torn up and put into 17,000 bags. ©BOSSU REGIS/CORBIS SYGMA.
Workers shown in this 1998 photo reconstituting the Stasi archives which were torn up and put into 17,000 bags. ©

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 (1945–1950), The Start of the Atomic Age
Cold War (1950–1972)
Cold War (1972–1989): The Collapse of the Soviet Union
Germany, Intelligence and Security

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

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Ritt Goldstein is an investigative journalist and a former leader in the movement for US law enforcement accountability. He revealed exclusively in the Herald last week the Bush Administration's plans for a domestic spying system more pervasive than the Stasi network in East Germany.

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