A Brief History of the STASI and its Origins
The official founding of STASI began 08 February 1950 and the organization was to last for a period of forty years until 1990; although some could argue that the organization’s roots began much earlier after the close of World War II. Soon after World War II ended, after taking Berlin the Soviets moved in swiftly to establish a tighter grip on its newly conquered satellite states including a division of Eastern Germany. The Soviets brought in their advisors and exiled German personnel back into the Soviet controlled part of Germany to consolidate and build a new German communist government. By 1946, the Soviets had established their "Soviet Occupation Zone" and were building up the internal structure of the government which involved the security and intelligence organizations that were populated by former German exiles.
One of the organizations whose roots started at the beginning was the Peoples Police of which it was established by the Soviet advisers assigned in Germany. Their mission or function was more like the standard police force to protect people and property under the control of the Soviet Occupation Zones. On August 1946 the Soviet Administration established a unit known as the K-5 with the mission of internal security, finding Nazi war criminals and suppressing all dissidents within the Soviet Occupation Zone. The K-5 for administration purposes fell under the control of the German Peoples Police, but for all other aspects the K-5 was controlled by the Soviet Administration in East Germany. This group was the starting foundation of the STASI organization and lasted for a period of four years. On 07 October 1949 the German Democratic Republic (East Germany – GDR – DDR) officially became a sovereign state and a short while later the newly formed government established the Ministry of Interior (MDI).
The Soviets and their advisors continued to operate in the background dealing with security matters of the new state. Roughly four months after the creation of the GDR, 08 February 1950 the East German government with the Soviet’s assistance established the Ministry for State Security (MfS) or better known as the STASI. Most of the members now in the STASI originated from the K-5. The STASI continued to be the framework of the police and state security for the GDR. The First Minister for the MfS was Wilhelm Zaisser and one of his Deputy Ministers was Erich Mielke. The headquarters for the MfS was established in East Berlin. The MfS was further organized into 15 territorial districts offices including the Berlin office (Bezirkverwaltungen - BV) and 219 county offices (Kreisdienststellen - KV). (Background: At the end of 1945 there were five district offices in East Germany. By 1952 the district offices for East Germany were increased from five to 14.)
With the creation of the GDR, the political party in control of the East German government was the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). The Soviets formed the SED in April 1946 by combining two other parties: German Communist Party (KPD) and Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). The composition of the two parties came from exiled German personnel that had fled before and during the war for the safety of their lives from the Nazis. By 1951, an SED member by the name of Anton Ackermann became the First Minister of an organization known as the Institute for Economic and Scientific Research (IWF) with Richard Stahlmann as his Deputy Minister. The overall IWF organization answered directly to the SED central party leadership and Soviet advisors within East Germany and was an independent organization from the MfS. The main purpose of the IWF was to gather intelligence, conduct espionage activities and provide information to the members of the SED and to the Soviet advisors assigned directly within the IWF organization. In August 1951, Markus Wolf was hired into the IWF as the Deputy Chief of Analysis. He had worked earlier for the GDR Mission from 1949 until his new employment with the IWF. Robert Korb was his boss.
The Wach-Battalion, located in Berlin was established in June 1950. The Battalion was employed to protect important buildings and government personnel and was subordinate to the MfS. During the 1953 time frame, the Wach-Battalion was upgraded to a Regiment. In 1967 the Wach-Regiment was given the name Feliks Dzierzynski. This organization would continue to be controlled by the MfS, but was now known as the "F.E. Dzierzynski Wach-Regiment." (Background information on Felix Dzierzynski: Felix Dzierzynski was the founder of the Soviet’s security organization "Checka", which later became known as the NKVD and its future successor the KGB). In 1969 a cuff title was created for the Wach-Regiment and was worn on the lower left sleeve of the tunic for personnel assigned within the Wach-Regiment only. (Background information about the Wach-Regiment: By the mid to late 1980s the Wach-Regiment was a much larger force than a typical regiment. The Wach-Regiment had ballooned in size to around 18,000 personnel and was the approximate size of an East German division plus. The organization had around 4,000 personnel in the 1965 time frame. The Wach-Regiment was assigned to the East Berlin area and had in its inventory light and heavy weapons along with light and heavy personnel carriers. It’s main peacetime mission continued to be the protection of important buildings and persons, but its wartime role may have been far different in the whole of the Berlin area.)
Also in 1951, the STASI had established the Hochschule des MfS in the Potsdam area of East Germany. This school was used for the higher education and learning of future STASI officers. There were other specialty schools which involved technical and operational aspects to train STASI members for security, counter intelligence and special tradecraft.
The year of 1953 was a VERY uprising year for the IWF, STASI and for that matter the whole of the East German system. Spring of 1953 the IWF had its first known defection to the West. The information provided by Gotthold Kraus revealed to the West the existence of the IWF organization and how it worked. His defection resulted in the arrests of 35 suspected East German agents. Then in June 1953, labor workers staged revolts throughout the East German state which nearly caused the collapse of the East German government. The East German Police and other units were quickly overwhelmed and Soviet forces were rapidly called upon to suppress the uprisings throughout East Germany.
In July 1953, the consequence of the labor uprising and differences with the SED leadership resulted in Anton Ackermann being fired and Markus Wolf taking over his position as head of the IWF organization. In May 1973, Anton Ackermann passed away and Markus Wolf lasted as the head of the HVA until his retirement around the November 1987 timeframe. At that time Werner Grossmann took over the position until the collapse of East German government in 1990. Also the IWF was renamed due to the compromise of a defection to the West and the organization’s new name became the Foreign Political Intelligence Service (APN). Now back to 1953, the MfS did not fair any better. Wilhelm Zaisser was fired from the MfS for not recognizing the labor uprising and not having better control and understanding as to what the population was doing. Ernst Wollweber became his successor as the new Minister. The biggest blow to the MfS came during the same month as the Ministry itself was downgraded from a Ministry status to a Secretariat and the organization was known as the Secretariat for State Security (SfS) and placed under the leadership of the MDI. By the end of the year, the APN was transferred under the control of the SfS due to its poor performance and the Kraus defection, but the APN continued to report directly to the SED leadership and Soviet advisors within the APN and the APN continued to operate independently from the SfS. During this timeframe, the SfS internal informant network was improved so as not to catch the organization and the government off guard again. It was not until 1955 that the SfS regained the trust of the SED Party leadership and was upgraded back to Ministry status and became the Ministry for State Security (MfS) with its leader continuing to be Ernst Wollweber.
During the 1956 timeframe, the APN organization was renamed to the Hauptverwaltung Aufklaerung (Main Intelligence Administration – or better known as the HVA – the organization kept this name until the collapse of the East German government in 1990). The HVA was no longer independent, but was now the intelligence arm under the control of the MfS organization, still led by Markus Wolf. In January, the MfS was brought into a more formal intelligence relationship with the other Warsaw Pact intelligence services and the National People’s Army (NVA) was also formally established. Before the establishment of the NVA there was a small specialty group known as the Garrison People’s Police (KVP) which was established in August 1952. (Background information on the KVP: By the summer of 1948 a SECRET plan was conceived by the Soviet and East German governments to build a military force which was in direct violation of what was agreed upon by the Western and Soviet governments. This same military force by 1952 would become known as the KVP and would remain under the guise of a People’s Police force, but in reality the KVP was being trained and equipped by the Soviets as a combat military force. It was not until January 1956 that the KVP was officially renamed in public to the NVA and placed under the newly formed East German Ministry of Defense. This establishment also brought all other East German military forces under one umbrella. By 07 October 1956, the NVA had become fully established. Prior to 1956 and for that matter since the late 1940’s KVP officers and senior officers received training and courses inside the Soviet Union.)
In October 1957 Ernst Wollweber was fired from the MfS for opposing SED party members. This allowed Erich Mielke to move up from his Deputy position to the position of Minister which he held until November 1989 when he too was fired from the organization. In March 1958 Wilhelm Zaisser former Minister for State Security dies and in May 1967 Ernst Wollweber dies. Another defection from the HVA occurred in 1959. Max Heim is the second known defector from the HVA/MfS. He provided information to Western intelligence services that there were large amount of undercover agents operating in the West.
August 1961 was a very important month for the MfS for it was the beginning of the construction period of the Berlin Wall. The Berlin Wall had its effect on cutting off the flow of refugees to the West thus helping the MfS control the movement of travelers coming and going into East Berlin. In December of the same year the MfS had another defection. Guenther Maennel was the third known defector from the MfS. Maennel worked in the United States section of the MfS. He provided information on how the organization used women against foreign embassies, explained the techniques used to forge western passports and provided information on 15 East German agents.
In January 1979, Werner Stiller defects from the HVA. Stiller was the fourth known defector from the HVA/MfS. Stiller provided critical information on the activities of the HVA and the MfS. Stiller’s defection resulted in the arrest of 17 West German agents from the Nuclear and Research field. Markus Wolf considered Stiller the worst traitor to the HVA organization.
The end of the MfS came in November 1989. Erich Mielke was fired after giving a speech to the government Party on 13 November during which he said "I love everyone of you." The MfS was dissolved and a new organization the Office of National Security (AfNS) was created. The new leader of the newly formed AfNS was Wolfgang Schwanitz whose background was in the former organization of the MfS. Prior to becoming the leader of the AfNS, Schwanitz had been one of the Deputy Ministers of the MfS organization starting in 1986. The end of the AfNS came in January 1990 when crowds of East Germans stormed the Berlin headquarters and ransacked the place looking for incriminating information and evidence about the organization and fellow persons.
Some other background information tidbits;
1. The organization was established as a civilian and military section. The military section of STASI was the Wach-Regiment, but the entire STASI top to bottom used a military rank structure.
2. There was a sports section in the STASI which was known as the DYNAMO.
3. By the late 1980s the organizations had nearly 175,000 official informants. The STASI had a sustained strength of over 90,000 uniformed and plain-clothes agents/personnel.
4. The STASI used a huge network of informant’s to spy on each other with the fear of blackmail, prison time or sense of duty.
5. October 1949 the Ministry of Interior (MDI) was established, but this organization too existed before October 1949 under a different name. In the early days, this organization was known as the German Administration of Interior and had been organized during the 1946 timeframe.