Aug 262014

You will know first part, nothing new there.  But there are worthwhile insights.

Knabe briefly mentions Edward Snowden;  at the end Knabe is asked re relationship to NSA.


TEDSalon Berlin 2014·19:34·  Filmed Jun 2014

470,619  Total views as at August 26, 2014
0:11  This year, Germany is celebratingthe 25th anniversary of the peaceful revolutionin East Germany.In 1989, the Communist regime was moved away,the Berlin Wall came down, and one year later,the German Democratic Republic, the GDR,in the East was unifiedwith the Federal Republic of Germany in the Westto found today’s Germany.Among many other things, Germany inheritedthe archives of the East German secret police,known as the Stasi.Only two years after its dissolution,its documents were opened to the public,and historians such as me startedto study these documentsto learn more about how the GDR surveillance statefunctioned.

1:06  Perhaps you have watched the movie“The Lives of Others.”This movie made the Stasi known worldwide,and as we live in an age where wordssuch as “surveillance” or “wiretapping”are on the front pages of newspapers,I would like to speak about how the Stasireally worked.

1:30  At the beginning, let’s have a short lookat the history of the Stasi,because it’s really important for understandingits self-conception.Its origins are located in Russia.In 1917, the Russian Communists foundedthe Emergency Commission for CombatingCounter-Revolution and Sabotage,shortly Cheka.It was led by Felix Dzerzhinsky.The Cheka was an instrument of the Communiststo establish their regime by terrorizing the populationand executing their enemies.It evolved later into the well-known KGB.The Cheka was the idol of the Stasi officers.They called themselves Chekists,and even the emblem was very similar,as you can see here.In fact, the secret police of Russiawas the creator and instructor of the Stasi.When the Red Army occupied East Germany in 1945,it immediately expanded there,and soon it started to train the German Communiststo build up their own secret police.By the way, in this hall where we are now,the ruling party of the GDR was founded in 1946.

2:52  Five years later, the Stasi was established,and step by step, the dirty job of oppressionwas handed over to it.For instance, the central jailfor political prisoners,which was established by the Russians,was taken over by the Stasiand used until the end of Communism.You see it here.At the beginning, every important steptook place under the attendance of the Russians.But the Germans are known to be very effective,so the Stasi grew very quickly,and already in 1953, it had more employeesthan the Gestapo had,the secret police of Nazi Germany.The number doubled in each decade.In 1989, more than 90,000 employeesworked for the Stasi.This meant that one employeewas responsible for 180 inhabitants,which was really unique in the world.

3:53  At the top of this tremendous apparatus,there was one man, Erich Mielke.He ruled the Ministry of State Securityfor more than 30 years.He was a scrupulous functionary —in his past, he killed two policemennot far away from here —who in fact personalized the Stasi.

4:16  But what was so exceptional about the Stasi?Foremost, it was its enormous power,because it united different functionsin one organization.First of all, the Stasiwas an intelligence service.It used all the imaginable instrumentsfor getting information secretly,such as informers, or tapping phones,as you can see it on the picture here.And it was not only active in East Germany,but all over the world.Secondly, the Stasi was a secret police.It could stop people on the streetand arrest them in its own prisons.Thirdly, the Stasi workedas a kind of public prosecutor.It had the right to open preliminary investigationsand to interrogate people officially.Last but not least,the Stasi had its own armed forces.More than 11,000 soldiers were servingin its so-called Guards Regiment.It was founded to crash down protests and uprisings.Due to this concentration of power,the Stasi was called a state in the state.

5:36  But let’s look in more and more detailat the tools of the Stasi.Please keep in mind that at that timethe web and smartphones were not yet invented.Of course, the Stasi used all kindsof technical instruments to survey people.Telephones were wiretapped,including the phone of the German chancellor in the West,and often also the apartments.Every day, 90,000 letters were being openedby these machines.The Stasi also shadowed tens of thousands of peopleusing specially trained agents and secret camerasto document every step one took.In this picture, you can see meas a young man just in front of this buildingwhere we are now, photographed by a Stasi agent.The Stasi even collected the smell of people.It stored samples of it in closed jarswhich were found after the peaceful revolution.For all these tasks, highly specialized departmentswere responsible.The one which was tapping phone callswas completely separatedfrom the one which controlled the letters,for good reasons,because if one agent quit the Stasi,his knowledge was very small.Contrast that with Snowden, for example.But the vertical specialization was also importantto prevent all kinds of empathywith the object of observation.The agent who shadowed medidn’t know who I wasor why I was surveyed.In fact, I smuggled forbidden booksfrom West to East Germany.

7:26  But what was even more typical for the Stasiwas the use of human intelligence,people who reported secretly to the Stasi.For the Minister of State Security,these so-called unofficial employeeswere the most important tools.From 1975 on, nearly 200,000 peoplecollaborated constantly with the Stasi,more than one percent of the population.And in a way, the minister was right,because technical instrumentscan only register what people are doing,but agents and spies can also reportwhat people are planning to doand what they are thinking.Therefore, the Stasi recruited so many informants.The system of how to get themand how to educate them, as it was called,was very sophisticated.The Stasi had its own university,not far away from here,where the methods were exploredand taught to the officers.This guideline gave a detailed descriptionof every step you have to takeif you want to convince human beingsto betray their fellow citizens.Sometimes it’s said that informants were pressured to becoming one,but that’s mostly not true,because a forced informant is a bad informant.Only someone who wants to give you the information you needis an effective whistleblower.The main reasons why people cooperated with the Stasiwere political conviction and material benefits.The officers also tried to create a personal bondbetween themselves and the informant,and to be honest, the example of the Stasi showsthat it’s not so difficult to win someonein order to betray others.Even some of the top dissidents in East Germanycollaborated with the Stasi,as for instance Ibrahim Böhme.  In 1989, he was the leader of the peaceful revolutionand he nearly became the first freely elected Prime Minister of the GDRuntil it came out that he was an informant.

9:55  The net of spies was really broad.In nearly every institution,even in the churches or in West Germany,there were many of them.I remember telling a leading Stasi officer,“If you had sent an informant to me,I would surely have recognized him.”His answer was,“We didn’t send anyone.We took those who were around you.”And in fact, two of my best friendsreported about me to the Stasi.Not only in my case, informers were very close.For example, Vera Lengsfeld, another leading dissident,in her case it was her husband who spied on her.A famous writer was betrayed by his brother.This reminds me of the novel “1984” by George Orwell,where the only apparently trustable personwas an informer.

10:53  But why did the Stasi collect all this informationin its archives?The main purpose was to control the society.In nearly every speech, the Stasi ministergave the order to find out who is who,which meant who thinks what.He didn’t want to wait until somebodytried to act against the regime.He wanted to know in advancewhat people were thinking and planning.The East Germans knew, of course,that they were surrounded by informers,in a totalitarian regime that created mistrustand a state of widespread fear,the most important tools to oppress peoplein any dictatorship.

11:38  That’s why not many East Germans triedto fight against the Communist regime.If yes, the Stasi often used a methodwhich was really diabolic.It was called Zersetzung,and it’s described in another guideline.The word is difficult to translate because it meansoriginally “biodegradation.”But actually, it’s a quite accurate description.The goal was to destroy secretlythe self-confidence of people,for example by damaging their reputation,by organizing failures in their work,and by destroying their personal relationships.Considering this, East Germany was a very modern dictatorship.The Stasi didn’t try to arrest every dissident.It preferred to paralyze them,and it could do so becauseit had access to so much personal informationand to so many institutions.Detaining someone was used onlyas a last resort.For this, the Stasi owned 17 remand prisons,one in every district.Here, the Stasi also developedquite modern methods of detention.Normally, the interrogation officerdidn’t torture the prisoner.Instead, he used a sophisticated systemof psychological pressurein which strict isolation was central.Nearly no prisoner resistedwithout giving a testimony.If you have the occasion,do visit the former Stasi prison in Berlinand attend a guided tour with a former political prisonerwho will explain to you how this worked.

13:38  One more question needs to be answered:If the Stasi were so well organized,why did the Communist regime collapse?First, in 1989, the leadership in East Germanywas uncertain what to do againstthe growing protest of people.It was especially confusedbecause in the mother country of socialism,the Soviet Union,a more liberal policy took place.In addition, the regime was dependenton the loans from the West.Therefore, no order to crash down the uprisingwas given to the Stasi.Secondly, in the Communist ideology,there’s no place for criticism.Instead, the leadership stuck to the beliefthat socialism is a perfect system,and the Stasi had to confirm that, of course.The consequence wasthat despite all the information,the regime couldn’t analyze its real problems,and therefore it couldn’t solve them.In the end, the Stasi diedbecause of the structuresthat it was charged with protecting.

14:54  The ending of the Stasiwas something tragic,because these officerswere kept busy during the peaceful revolutionwith only one thing:to destroy the documentsthey had produced during decades.Fortunately,they had been stopped by human rights activists.That’s why today we can use the filesto get a better understandingof how a surveillance state functions.

15:25  Thank you.

15:27  (Applause)

15:35  Bruno Giussani: Thank you. Thank you very much.So Hubertus, I want to ask you a couple of questionsbecause I have here Der Spiegel from last week.“Mein Nachbar NSA.” My neighbor, the NSA.And you just told us about my neighbor,the spies and the informant from East Germany.So there is a direct link between these two storiesor there isn’t?What’s your reaction as a historian when you see this?

16:04  Hubertus Knabe: I think there areseveral aspects to mention.At first, I think there’s a differenceof why you are collecting this data.Are you doing that for protecting your peopleagainst terrorist attacks,or are you doing that for oppressing your people?So that makes a fundamental difference.But on the other hand,also in a democracy, these instruments can be abused,and that is something where we really haveto be aware to stop that,and that also the intelligence servicesare respecting the rules we have.The third point, probably,we really can be happy that we live in a democracy,because you can be sure that Russia and Chinaare doing the same,but nobody speaks about thatbecause nobody could do that.

16:53      (Applause)

17:00  BG: When the story came out first,last July, last year,you filed a criminal complaintwith a German tribunal. Why?HK: Yeah, I did so because of the second point I mentioned,that I think especially in a democracy,the rules are for everybody.They are made for everybody, so it’s not allowedthat any institution doesn’t respect the rules.In the criminal code of Germany, it’s writtenthat it’s not allowed to tap somebodywithout the permission of the judge.Fortunately, it’s written in the criminal code of Germany,so if it’s not respected, then I thinkan investigation is necessary,and it took a very long time thatthe public prosecutor of Germany started this,and he started it only in the case of Angela Merkel,and not in the case of all the other people living in Germany.

17:52  BG: That doesn’t surprise me because —(Applause) —because of the story you told.Seen from the outside, I live outside of Germany,and I expected the Germans to reactmuch more strongly, immediately.And instead, the reaction really came onlywhen Chancellor Merkel was revealedas being wiretapped. Why so?

18:16  HK: I take it as a good sign,because people feel secure in this democracy.They aren’t afraid that they will be arrested,and if you leave this hall after the conference,nobody has to be afraid that the secret policeis standing out and is arresting you.So that’s a good sign, I think.People are not really scared, as they could be.But of course, I think, the institutionsare responsible to stop illegal actionsin Germany or wherever they happen.

18:47  BG: A personal question, and this is the last one.There has been a debate in Germany aboutgranting asylum to Edward Snowden.Would you be in favor or against?

18:57   HK: Oh, that’s a difficult question,but if you ask me,and if I answer honestly,I would give him the asylum,because I think it was really brave what he did,and he destroyed his whole lifeand his family and everything.So I think, for these people, we should do something,and especially if you see the German history,where so many people had to escapeand they asked for asylum in other countriesand they didn’t get it,so it would be a good sign to give him asylum.

19:26   (Applause)

19:28   BG: Hubertus, thank you very much.

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