The Stasi was an extensive government security and intelligence organization in East Germany. The incredibly far reaching network is often used as an example of highly effective policing, although many of its tactics were also brutal and ethically questionable. For East Germans, the Stasi ruled most aspects of daily life for almost 40 years. Although the organization was dissolved in 1989, the headquarters of the organization have been retained as a museum which is open to the public, and the group is alive and well in numerous Cold War books and films.
Technically, the Stasi was known as the Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or Ministry for State Security. As is common with many German government organizations, the full name was abbreviated by civilians, and “Stasi” entered popular slang shortly after the Ministry was organized in 1950. Although it was an independent East German organization, it cooperated with counterparts in the Soviet Union and was widely praised by Soviet intelligence for its extensive operations.
The headquarters for the Stasi were in East Berlin, and many of its operations focused heavily on the activities of citizens in East Berlin. The organization kept extremely close tabs on citizens throughout East Germany with the assistance of an extensive web of spies and informants. As a result, its files and archives are formidably large, even though they were severely damaged in 1989 when files were burned and shredded with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many former officers continue to be active in European government and politics.
Under this organization, policing and intelligence reached new levels of thoroughness. Once the Stasi archives were opened to the public, many former East Germans were startled to learn that their friends and families reported on them, either voluntarily or through coercion. The organization cultivated a high level of fear among East German citizens, with most people dreading a visit from members of the group.
Some aspects of Stasi organization were certainly peculiar; the Ministry kept scent samples of numerous known dissidents on file, for example. These samples could theoretically be used to track defectors or runaways. In addition, it helped to extricate loyal socialists and communists from dangerous situations, especially in Latin America. The Stasi also made infiltration of all groups and organizations a company policy, to the point that undercover officers were essentially everywhere in East Germany.