In East Germany, the Ministry for State Security (known as the Stasi) became one of the most aggressive domestic surveillance agencies in world history, acting as "the shield and the sword" of the ruling Communist regime. Despite (or because of) its history, many former members and informants would prefer to defend the organization and their roles in it to coming to terms with its horrific nature. On the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall (in 2009), East Germany's last leader told former East German border guards he regretted failing to save the country. But now, some former members of the Stasi can look to America for inspiration that the spirit of their work is moving forward. From a McClatchy newspapers interview with Wolfgang Schmidt, a former Stassi department head:
Peering out over the city [Berlin] that lived in fear when the communist party ruled it, he pondered the magnitude of domestic spying in the United States under the Obama administration. A smile spread across his face.
"You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true," he said, recalling the days when he was a lieutenant colonel in the defunct communist country's secret police, the Stasi.
In those days, his department was limited to tapping 40 phones at a time, he recalled. Decide to spy on a new victim and an old one had to be dropped, because of a lack of equipment. He finds breathtaking the idea that the U.S. government receives daily reports on the cellphone usage of millions of Americans and can monitor the Internet traffic of millions more.
"So much information, on so many people," he said.
But even Schmidt sees the design flaw in the NSA's plan:
"It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won't be used," he said. "This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people's privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place."
James Clapper might respond that the NSA isn't "collecting" that information because the director of national intelligence doesn't consider the gathered data "collected" until it's officially used, a semantic maneuver any neo-Orwellian would consider doubleplusgood.
"This is how a society destroys itself," one German activist who was targeted by the Stasi told McClatchy, referring to the NSA's surveillance operations as "bullshit."
Read the rest of the McClatchy piece here.