Examining the Stasi, Seeing the NSA
Exclusive: For many years, the East German Stasi was viewed as the most totalitarian of intelligence services, relentlessly spying on its citizens during the Cold War. But the Stasi’s capabilities pale in comparison to what the NSA can now do, notes former U.S. intelligence analyst Elizabeth Murray.
By Elizabeth Murray
On a chilly morning in late January 2015, an unlikely assortment of former U.S. and U.K. intelligence officers gathered at the former headquarters of the Stasi — the former East Germany’s Ministerium fuer Staatssicherheit [Ministry of State Security] — for a tour of Berlin’s “Stasi Museum.”
The delegation – which included ex-officers from the National Security Agency, the Central Intelligence Agency and British MI5, who count themselves among the members of the Sam Adams Associates for Integrity in Intelligence (SAAII) – had traveled to Berlin to confer the 2015 Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence on former NSA senior technical director-turned-whistleblower William Binney, for his role in exposing the extent of mass surveillance of ordinary citizens in the United States.
In accepting the award, Binney said he resigned from the NSA in 2001 after realizing that the agency was “purposefully violating the Constitution” with its “bulk acquisition of data against U.S. citizens … first against U.S. citizens by the way — not foreigners.”
Binney had worked the Soviet target for nearly 30 years at NSA, “so it was easy for me to recognize the danger” to democracy and individual freedom posed by bulk data collection — “that’s what the Stasi did, the KGB did it – every totalitarian state down through history did that” (albeit with a lot less technological power than was available to the NSA).
Now, in a strangely fitting yet ironic twist, Binney stood among fellow whistleblowers in the entrance foyer at the spy headquarters of what was once the world’s foremost totalitarian surveillance state — one of whose former operatives, Wolfgang Schmidt, noted wistfully that the current extent of mass surveillance of the domestic U.S. population would have been a “dream come true” for the Stasi.
As Stasi Museum tour guide Julia Simoncelli described the inner workings of the East German intelligence service in great detail, it was telling to observe the facial expressions of Binney and his whistleblower colleagues as Simoncelli discussed what had been Stasi’s equivalent of the current U.S. “Insider Threat” program and the psychological levers used to manipulate citizens into informing on one another.
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