Wednesday 31 July 2013

If they weren't so notorious, this would be funny - Stasi disguises....

Really? The cardigan is not a good look
An interesting story cropped up this week when browsing through the Daily Mail's website. An article based on a feature on the Foreign Policy website looks at the attempts made by the Stasi to disguise its agents operating overseas. Looking at some of the images, you wonder how on earth the Stasi was able to maintain a network of agents, given the appallingly bad 'disguises' given to operatives.

Of course, this was the seventies and eighties, generally regarded as a time period when style took a vacation. So, perhaps their choices were inspired. I mean, four button crimson cardigans and TV-cop style glasses. That's right for the seventies, surely? Some of these photos are hilarious, until you think about the objectives of the men and women who were sent to blend in to different Cold War cultures.

The reality of the Stasi is much more serious than comical wigs and woolies. They were, along with the KGB, one of the most ruthlessly successful of espionage bodies during the Cold War. The guys at the top, such as chief Markus Wolf, were cunning and experienced practitioners and professionalised the Stasi and its overseas agents to an extent that allowed for some significant infiltrations.

As Wolf's biography reveals, they were not averse to using some pretty serious tactics to get the intelligence this most paranoid of Cold War states needed to keep its economy moving and its citizens in check.

Still, looking back, you have to laugh a bit!


  1. We could laugh a bit, if it was not serious. That dress would not be out of place in a crowded after office evening in the Waterloo Bridge when commuters busily walk towards Waterloo Station or standing at a bus stop there to take a bus. What if some one in this dress brushes an umbrella end at the leg of such a commuter on the Bridge and walks briskly with the crowd ahead, melting into them?
    That was how a Bulgarian Stasi injected the ricin derived from the
    caster seed that produces caster oil which is used as a purgative in the South Asian countries. The poison was not detected in the post -mortem examination on the body of the victim (Georgi Markov) who was a presenter BBC World Service East European (Bulgarian) Section..

  2. I remember reading about the Markov case. Also, I think in episode two or three of the Americans on ITV, one of the Russian sleeper agents did the same thing with an umbrella on a subject they brought in for interrogation. I imagine nowadays, the Stasi would be looking at using smart phones some way to get at people.

    1. I met the Markov guy at the BBC World Service cafeteria when my friend a BBC World Service presenter introduced him to me. He was anything but flamboyant, was very unassuming person. But his experience in his native Bulgaria from where he managed to come to Britain, and the credibility he had because in his broadcast to East European countries including Bulgaria, he was making a point always in his broadcast about the State control and State intolerance to any one who disagree with them etc made him enough of a target.. My friend was shocked to hear his murder as he was talking to him the very evening he met with his fate. Rumour then in his circle of friends was that it was KGB -engineered and this Stasi was used as a hit man.

      The purpose of using the ricin derived from the caster seed was to make it look like a natural death as this poison rarely gets registered in the blood and hence leaves no foot print at all.

      As for smart phones, Israeli Mossad assassinated a Hamas leader a few years ago using not smart phones but his mobile phone was modified, and the modification was virtually not noticeable at all.

      I had posted previously about my 2 academic visits to East Germany ( in Funeral in Berlin discussion at one time) in early 1980s, to the Technical University of Dresden for example attending conferences held there. It was very difficult to spot the East German agents as academics were often coerced to act as one, calling the real "action men" when needed. There was a piece in Der Spiegel about Angela Merkel ( the current German Chancellor) acting as an agent for the Soviet Union, not in the sinister ways of Stasi or KGB, but as a "soft agent".