John C. Schmeidel, Stasi: Shield and Sword of the Party (New York: Routledge, 2008), 208 pp., endnotes, bibliography, appendix, index.
Soon after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the files of the former Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MfS), Stasi for short, were gradually opened to the public. As onetime officers, agents, and informants were identified, many were interviewed, and they added important corroboration to the data in the files. The result has been a series of Stasi studies; John Schmeidel’s book is the latest and compares favorably with Mike Dennis’s, The Stasi Myth and Reality. In six well-documented chapters, Schmeidel covers the Stasi’s origins and principal players, the politics that dominated the organization, the tradecraft employed to recruit the massive domestic informant system that penetrated every aspect of society including educational institutions at all levels, churches, and cultural organizations—formal and informal—and the very successful foreign espionage operations. The final chapter examines the links between the Stasi and various terrorist groups.
Schmeidel’s book contains some relatively minor differences with the Dennis book. One concerns the definition of the term Inoffizielle Mitarbeiter (IM), which Schmeidel translates as “unofficial colleague,” whereas Dennis uses “unofficial collaborator.” Both books discuss the many variations of IMs the Stasi defined and since these included informers pressured into cooperation, “colleague” has a positive connotation that really doesn’t apply. “Collaborator” is more neutral and is the better term. Similarly, both mention many counterespionage cases to illustrate points. In Schmeidel’s analysis of the Popov and Penkovskiy cases, he refers to them as “walk-in defectors,” (8) although neither defected. Later, he adds that Penkovskiy “made two walk-in attempts to offer his services to the Americans at the embassy in the heart of Moscow,” something he never did. (110) Finally, Schmeidel does not accept Markus Wolf’s moral equivalence argument that officers and agents of the foreign intelligence element of the Stasi, the HVA, should not be damned by the reputation of the domestic security elements. (110)
Overall, Stasi is a thorough, though not definitive, and generally well-sourced treatment of the MfS that illustrates the ultimate futility of using a secret police force to preserve a dictatorship.
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