Every state has a secret service and an intelligence service. However, one of the horrors of communist East Germany during the Cold War was the Stasi state apparatus. I recall being horrified to discover just how many people were involved in keeping their domestic population under surveillance.

One book I've looked at recently had figures that they had something like one agent for every 218 persons.

Given that the two answers that this question has elicited have both misunderstood what I'm looking for, I've emphasised the following:

How did they manage to build such a powerful surveillance apparatus given the low level of technology at the time? Also, how did they manage to get so many people involved?

I'm not looking for general terms such as 'blackmail' or 'threats'. I think that one can take this as a given in this sort of situation. I'm looking for more specific information. Maybe through oral interviews of Stasi operatives.

  • To be clear, what I'm asking is how they managed to get so many people involved. What were the methods they used? – Mozibur Ullah Nov 11 '18 at 11:39
  • 5
    If you want to modify your question, you should edit it. – o.m. Nov 11 '18 at 13:28
  • @Mark C Wallace: I've already explained why the answers below aren't adequate. I've briefly looked into some histories of the Stasi but they cover mostly the political angle rather than the methods they were using. – Mozibur Ullah Nov 11 '18 at 20:09

They had to use people because the information technology didn't exist yet. And if you look at the numbers, two things to keep in mind:

  • If you look at things like police-to-population or paramedics-to-population ratios, they are roughly in the same range. The soldier-to-population ratio during the Cold War was higher. The GDR thought their secret police was important, so they found the money in their budget.
    Most industrialized nations could fund twice their present-day numbers of police if they had to.

  • The GDR, and the Communist bloc in general, lost the economic struggle, which was instrumental in their eventual defeat. Part of the reason were their internal and external security expenses.

Regarding the recruitment, there were several factors:

  • Especially put against unrestrained Capitalism, Communism had a few attractions. Some people believed in their state, and they did so strongly enough to volunteer defending it.
  • Draftees who appeared reliable were sent to the Border Troops. Among many other functions, these troops served as a recruitment pool for the secret police: a draftee who did not balk at guarding the border was considered for other internal security tasks.
  • The government in a planned economy had many ways to pressure citizens. People who fought "the system" would not get a good education or a good job. Coercion was no good strategy to recruit officers, but it could get informers.
  • Also note that whole surveillance apparatus haven't been set up to gather any secret information but rather only to spread fear. – Janka Nov 11 '18 at 23:09
  • @Janka, they did gather plenty of personal, private information, often with the goal of harming the individual. That was called Zersetzung. – o.m. Nov 12 '18 at 6:02
  • As said, no real secrets. It's not crucial whether you have them or not. – Janka Nov 12 '18 at 13:28
  • @Janka, if you think those are no real secrets, you have no idea what it means to live in a dictatorship. (I haven't done that, either, but I talked first-hand to people who did.) – o.m. Nov 12 '18 at 16:23
  • Every time when we visited my grandparents in the GDR, I had my personal spy. She was following me when I went alone into a shop buying some ice cream. I was eight years old. It was scary and ridiculous at the same time. Of course, my parents, which fled through the mine fields twenty years before, had also Stasi spies behind them. It was all so ridiculous. And of course, my grandparents knew who was the block's snitches. We went to their coffee tables to give them some useless information to write up. – Janka Nov 12 '18 at 16:31

When the presumption of innocence is discarded, and all plausible accusations are presumed true, one's only defence against is to pre-emptively discredit potential accusers with your own accusation.

Most people in all countries are decent folk, but a structure such as above provides tremendous incentive for the 1% who are not. Sure enough, the Stasi established a network estimated at 189,000 informers in a population of only 16,800,000; just a bit over 1%.

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