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The official emblem of the Stasi

The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (German: "Ministry for State Security"), more commonly known by its truncated abbreviation, the Stasi, was the official secret police of East Germany. As probably the most comprehensive internal security organisation of the Cold War, it was widely regarded as one of the most effective, and repressive, intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. Founded on 8 February 1950, the Stasi's motto was Schild und Schwert der Partei ("Shield and Sword of the Party"). It was disbanded with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The Stasi controlled a widespread network of informants, and out of a population of 16 million it is estimated that 400,000 people were active informants. The Stasi maintained files on 6 million of its own citizens, more than 38% of the entire population, and all telephone calls and mail from the West were monitored. Back-to-back, the files would have stretched more than 100 miles.[1] Stasi operatives routinely collected scent samples (Geruchsproben "smell samples") from people by wiping cloth over objects they had touched or by breaking into people’s homes and stealing their dirty underwear, the samples then being stored in airtight containers.[2] The scents were then passed to police equipped with sniffer dogs who could pick the individuals out amid a crowd.[3] People were imprisoned and tortured simply for telling political jokes.[4]

It extensively penetrated West Germany's governing circles and military and intelligence services. The discovery in April 1974 that Günter Guillaume, a top aide to West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, was in fact an East German spy led Mr Brandt's resignation two weeks later.[5] The head of the Stasi's foreign intelligence division, Markus Wolf, claimed that the CIA asked him to defect to the US when the Wall fell, with the offer of a home in California and a "big salary".[6]

Scent samples now stored in the Stasimuseum

See also

Further reading

  • Koehler, John O., Stasi: The Untold Story of The East German Secret Police (West View Press, 1999) ISBN 0-8133-3409-8.
  • What the Stasi knew on our man BBC News 25 November, 1999. An account by a journalist who was able to examine his own Stasi file after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
  • Funder, Anna, Stasiland: Stories From Behind the Berlin Wall (2003): an account by an Australian journalist of the residual impact of the Stasi and the communist regime on modern eastern Germans.

External links

  • StasiMuseum Berlin - Official website of the Stasimuseum at the Ministry for State Security in Berlin-Lichtenberg.


  1. Rosenberg, Steve Computers to solve Stasi puzzle BBC News 25 May 2007. Accessed 30 January 2008
  2. Smell Jars of the Stasi Kircher Society 5 April 2007. Accessed 30 January 2008
  3. Germany adopts Stasi scent tactic BBC News 23 May 2007. Accessed 30 January 2008
  4. Fearsome Stasi held nation in its grip BBC News 20 September, 1999. Accessed 30 January 2008
  5. Fearsome Stasi held nation in its grip BBC News 20 September, 1999. Accessed 30 January 2008
  6. Stasi spy chief Markus Wolf dies BBC News 9 November 2006. Accessed 30 January 2008