A former agent of the Stasi, the much-feared East German communist secret police, has said that the recently revealed NSA spying program would have been his agency’s “dream come true” because it has collected “so much information, on so many people.” Wolfgang Schmidt, 78, said in an interview with McClatchy newspapers that it is “the height of naivete” to think that the information will never be used against U.S. citizens.
“You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true,” Schmidt said. As a lieutenant colonel in the Stasi, he said that technology limited the secret police’s ability to satisfy its voracious appetite for information. Their listening devices, he said, could only spy on 40 telephone lines at once. Targets had to be prioritized. To take on a new spying subject, an old one had to be let go.
The retired spy said his mind reels at the notion of being able to capture data from millions of cellphones and computers simultaneously. “So much information, on so many people,” he marveled to McClatchy.
The Stasi was one of the most ruthlessly intrusive spy agencies ever to have its records exposed to public scrutiny. Stasi listening agents kept track of when and what their subjects ate, when they visited the toilet and how often they had sex with their spouses or others. Its inner workings were exposed after the thawing of relations between East and West Germany in the 1990s and many Germans still remember the desperate fear that comes from being spied on by one’s neighbors.
Privacy concerns have recently been raised about spying undertaken by the U.S. and British governments as more and more revelations have come to light about the National Security Agency’s extensive surveillance programs both domestically and abroad. President Barack Obama and other U.S. government officials have repeatedly attempted to reassure the public that the programs are only being used fairly and judiciously to track criminals and terrorists.
Schmidt, however, warned darkly that this kind of data collection has a dark side, that even though the U.S. government has claimed that the gathered data serves no nefarious purpose, it someday will.
“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.”
[image of person peering nervously through blinds via Shutterstock.com]