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The Ministry for State Security (German: Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, MfS), commonly known as the Stasi (IPA: [ˈʃtɑːziː]) (abbreviation German: Staatssicherheit, literally State Security), was the official state security service of the German Democratic Republic or GDR, colloquially known as East Germany. It has been described as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies to ever have existed. The Stasi was headquartered in East Berlin, with an extensive complex in Berlin-Lichtenberg and several smaller facilities throughout the city. The Stasi motto was “Schild und Schwert der Partei” (Shield and Sword of the Party), that is the ruling Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED). One of its main tasks was spying on the population, mainly through a vast network of citizens turned informants, and fighting any opposition by overt and covert measures including hidden psychological destruction of dissidents (Zersetzung, literally meaning decomposition). It also worked as an intelligence agency abroad, the respective division Hauptverwaltung Aufklärung was responsible for both espionage and for conducting covert operations in foreign countries. Under its long-time head Markus Wolf it gained a reputation as one of the most effective intelligence agencies of the Cold War. Numerous Stasi officials were prosecuted for their crimes after 1990. After German reunification, the surveillance files that the Stasi had maintained for millions of East Germans were laid open, so that any citizen could inspect their personal file on request; these files are now maintained by the Federal Commissioner for the Stasi Records. The Stasi perfected the technique of psychological harassment of perceived enemies known as Zersetzung (pronounced [ʦɛɐ̯ˈzɛʦʊŋ]) — a term borrowed from chemistry which literally means “decomposition”. By the 1970s, the Stasi had decided that methods of overt persecution which had been employed up to that time, such as arrest and torture, were too crude and obvious. It was realised that psychological harassment was far less likely to be recognised for what it was, so its victims, and their supporters, were less likely to be provoked into active resistance, given that they would often not be aware of the source of their problems, or even its exact nature. Zersetzung was designed to side-track and “switch off” perceived enemies so that they would lose the will to continue any “inappropriate” activities. Tactics employed under Zersetzung generally involved the disruption of the victim’s private or family life. This often included psychological attacks such as breaking into homes and messing with the contents — moving furniture, altering the timing of an alarm, removing pictures from walls or replacing one variety of tea with another. Other practices included property damage, sabotage of cars, purposely incorrect medical treatment, smear campaigns including sending falsified compromising photos or documents to the victim’s family, denunciation, provocation, psychological warfare, psychological subversion, wiretapping, bugging, mysterious phone calls or unnecessary deliveries, even including sending a vibrator to a target’s wife. Usually victims had no idea the Stasi were responsible. Many thought they were losing their minds, and mental breakdowns and suicide could result. One great advantage of the harassment perpetrated under Zersetzung was that its subtle nature meant that it was able to be plausibly denied. That was important given that the GDR was trying to improve its international standing during the 1970s and 80s, especially in conjunction with the Ostpolitik of West-German chancellor Willy Brandt massively improving relations between the two German states. Zersetzung techniques have since been adopted by other security agencies, particularly the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stasi