Intelligence: Why Russians Love The Gestapo

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November 23, 2014:   Russian culture and society has long been heavily influenced by Western nations. The heaviest influences have come from the closest, most powerful and most hated European country; Germany. Many Russian words are taken directly from German and many customs and techniques are also German. Some of these transplants Russians would rather not talk about, at least to foreigners. Take for example, the World War II era German secret police, the dreaded Gestapo. That organization and German intelligence agencies in general have been widely copied in Russia. No wonder the Russians like to keep all this stuff secret. These days all that naughty baggage is heavily used. That is in part because current Russian leader Vladimir Putin  began his career as a KGB (Soviet secret police) officer and spent several years in 1980s East Germany, where he learned to speak German quite well and worked a lot with his East German counterpart; the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit) or “Stasi”. Putin, like many other KGB men, admired the Stasi a great deal. Along with the Mossad, the Stasi was one of the more effective intelligence and secret police agencies of the Cold War era.  The KGB considered the Stasi, man for man, the most effective secret police/intelligence agency ever. The Soviets never spoke openly about the Stasi but privately they were quite proud of “their Germans” (Russian dominated East Germany). It was what many Russians wished the Soviet Union was. East Germany was the most efficient communist state ever and the Stasi was the kind of secret police the KGB wished it was.

The Stasi was established shortly after Russian took control of eastern Germany after World War II. Russian KGB personnel came to the newly established communist country of East Germany to root out any Western spies or disloyal Germans, as well as to establish an East German secret police and intelligence agency. This was the Stasi. The Russians quickly realized that many of these former Nazi were good recruits for the newly formed Stasi, especially younger ones who had the talent but no nostalgia for the Nazis. The Russians kept quiet about the large number of former Gestapo and World War II German intelligence (from Abwehr and many other Nazi era operations) agencies. These recruits included Markus Wolf, who became legendary for his successful Cold War espionage efforts. The true extent of Wolf’s efforts did not become known until after the Cold War ended and the two Germanies were reunited. The Russians always made a big deal of their ruthlessness in finding and punishing Nazis after World War II, so they always kept secret about where key Stasi personnel came from. The Russians continue to deny their Gestapo links but KGB (and successor) operations tell a different story.

The efficiency of Stasi is what really impressed the Russians. At the end of the Cold War one in 90 East Germans was working as an informer for Stasi, which had files on most adult East Germans. The East German infiltration of NATO, and especially West Germany, was epic. Again, the extent was not known in the West until after the Cold War ended.

But even before that many West Germans were well aware of how effective the Nazi Gestapo and intel agencies were. Thus after World War II West Germany kept close watch on its intelligence agencies. This was to prevent the reappearance of something like the Gestapo. During the Cold War this sometimes made it difficult for the intelligence services to fight foreign spies, or domestic terrorism. At times, the restrictions were loosened temporarily, in order to deal with an obvious and immediate danger (like the domestic leftist terrorists of the 1970s). But once that threat was taken care of the restrictions were restored. After the Cold War it was discovered that the East German espionage efforts were very successful in West Germany. The East Germans developed a secret police service (the Stasi) the Gestapo would have been proud of, and Germans today are both ashamed of that, and believe it justifies keeping their intel people on a short leash.

Meanwhile the spirit and ideas of the Stasi live on in Putin run Russia. The Russians still use many Stasi techniques. For example Stasi developed new methods of torture, interrogation and psychological warfare. One of the most effective of these techniques was Zersetzung (disruption) which was a subtle psychological warfare campaign against “enemies of the state”. These could be East Germans, but more effective was the use of this technique (a subtle campaign of rumor, innuendo and playing on personal fears and paranoia) against foreign “enemies of the state.” Since Zersetzung received some publicity in the 1990s many Russians have reported themselves of being victims of it before and after the Cold War ended. Apparently the Russians employed Zersetzung against Western targets as well and still use it heavily inside Russia, along with many other Stasi methods and techniques.

Most of the 85,000 Stasi employees were out of a job when the two Germanys reunited in 1990, but some eventually found work in foreign intelligence operations or the many commercial intel companies that were becoming popular. Some went to work for the Russians, from inside Germany. That may explain a lot of the odd stuff that has been going on since the 1990s.

 

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