The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (Ministry for State Security), commonly known as the Stasi [ˈʃtazi] (abbreviation Staatssicherheit, literally State Security), was the official secret police of East Germany. The MfS was headquartered in East Berlin, with an extensive complex in Berlin-Lichtenberg and several smaller facilities throughout the city. It was widely regarded as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. The MfS motto was "Schild und Schwert der Partei" (Shield and Sword of the Party), showing its connections to the Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), the equivalent to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Another term used in earlier years to refer to the MfS was Staatssicherheitsdienst (State Security Service or SSD).
Also in 1957, Markus Wolf became head of the Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung (HVA) (General Reconnaissance Administration), its foreign intelligence section. As intelligence chief, Wolf achieved great success in penetrating the government, political and business circles of West Germany with spies. The most influential case was that of Günter Guillaume which led to the downfall of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt in May 1974. In 1986, Wolf retired and was succeeded by Werner Grossmann.
As part of this decision, the Ministerrat originally called for the evolution of the AfNS into two separate organizations: a new foreign intelligence service (Nachrichtendienst der DDR) and an "Office for the Protection of the Constitution of the GDR" (Verfassungsschutz der DDR), along the lines of the West German Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz, however, the public reaction was extremely negative, and under pressure from the "Round Table" (Runden Tisch), the government dropped the creation of the Verfassungsschutz der DDR and directed the immediate dissolution of the AfNS on 13 January 1990. Certain functions of the AfNS reasonably related to law enforcement were handed over to the GDR Ministry of Internal Affairs. The same ministry also took guardianship of remaining AfNS facilities.
The MfS infiltrated almost every aspect of GDR life. In the mid-1980s, a network of civilian informants, Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (IMs, Unofficial Collaborators), began growing in both German states; by the time East Germany collapsed in 1989, the MfS employed an estimated 91,000 employees and 300,000 informants. About one of every 50 East Germans collaborated with the MfS one of the most extensive police infiltrations of a society in history. In 2007 an article in BBC stated that "Some calculations have concluded that in East Germany there was one informer to every seven citizens. Additionally, MfS agents infiltrated and undermined West Germany's government and spy agencies.
The MfS monitored political behavior among GDR citizens, and is known to have used torture and intimidation to mute dissent. During the Peaceful Revolution of 1989, MfS offices were overrun by enraged citizens, but not before the MfS destroyed a number of documents (approximately 5%) When the remaining files were published for review, many people learned that their friends, colleagues, spouses, and relatives had regularly filed reports with the MfS. These wounds on civil society have not yet entirely healed.
Other files (the Rosenholz Files), which contained the names of East German spies abroad, led American spy agencies to capture them. After German reunification, it was revealed that the MfS had secretly aided left-wing terrorists such as the Red Army Faction. The loss of MfS financial support was a major factor in the dissolution of such terrorist groups.
In 1999, an article in Der Spiegel alleged that the MfS intentionally irradiated political prisoners with high-dose radiation, possibly to provoke cancer in them.
With the German Reunification on 3 October 1990 a new government agency was founded called the BStU (Office of the Federal Commissioner Preserving the Records of the Ministry for State Security of the GDR).
In 1992, following a declassification ruling by the German government, the MfS files were published, leading people to look for their files. Timothy Garton Ash, an English historian, wrote The File: A Personal History after reading the file compiled about him while he completed his dissertation research in East Berlin.
In 1995, the BStU began reassembling the shredded documents; 13 years later the three dozen archivists commissioned to the projects had only reassembled 327 bags; they are now using computer-assisted data recovery to reassemble the remaining 16,000 bags estimated at 45 million pages. It is estimated that this task may be completed at a cost of 30 million dollars.
In September 2003, a 53-year-old man from Berlin, named as "Jürgen G" in a press release from the German Prosecutor-General, was arrested on suspicions of having been a member of a death squad that carried out a number of assassinations on orders from the East German government from 1976 to 1987. The man was eventually released for lack of evidence.
The Anti-Stalinist Action Normannenstraße (ASTAK), an association founded by former GDR Citizens' Committees, has transformed the former headquarters of the MfS into a museum. It is divided into three floors:
The ground floor has been kept as it used to be. The decor is original, with many statues and flags.
Ex-MfS officers continue to be politically active via the Gesellschaft zur Rechtlichen und Humanitären Unterstützung e. V. (Society for Legal and Humanitarian Support) (GRH). Former high-ranking officers and employees of the MfS, including the MfS last director, Wolfgang Schwanitz, make up the majority of the organization's members, and it receives support from the German Communist Party, among others.
Impetus for the establishment of the GRH was provided by the criminal charges filed against the Stasi in the early 1990s. The GRH, decrying the charges as "victor's justice", called for them to be dropped. Today the group provides an alternative if somewhat utopian voice in the public debate on the GDR legacy. It calls for the closure of the museum in Hohenschönhausen and can be a vocal presence at memorial services and public events. In March 2006 in Berlin, GRH members disrupted a museum event; a political scandal ensued when the Berlin Senator (Minister) of Culture refused to confront them.
Behind the scenes, the GRH also exerts pressure on people and institutions promoting opposing viewpoints. For example, in March 2006, the Berlin Senator for Education received a letter from a GRH member and former Stasi officer attacking the Museum for promoting "falsehoods, anticommunist agitation and psychological terror against minors. Similar letters have also been received by schools organizing field trips to the museum.
The Legend of Rita (Die Stille nach dem Schuß), a 2000 film directed by Volker Schlöndorff, dwells heavily on the relationship between the MfS and the general population of East Germany. The second-most prominent character is the MfS "control" for the title character.