Germans wake up to extent of Stasi's reach

Tue May 26, 2009 12:54pm EDT
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By Sarah Marsh

BERLIN (Reuters) - Germans are only now starting to realize the extent to which Communist East Germany's dreaded Stasi secret service infiltrated and influenced West Germany, the head of the state-run Stasi archives said on Tuesday.

As November's 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall approaches, disclosures about the reach of the Stasi continue to shake Germany.

The Stasi had some 91,000 full-time staff by the time East Germany collapsed, in addition to a vast network of informants, who provided reports on friends, colleagues or spouses.

New findings this week by historians at the archive showed that the policeman who shot student protester Benno Ohnesorg in 1967, triggering the radicalization of left-wing demonstrations across West Germany, was an undercover Stasi spy.

"(Stasi activities) are seen as an East German theme. But the Stasi was commissioned to work in the whole of Germany and tried to achieve its goals in West Germany," archives head Marianne Birthler said at a news conference.

Historians working for Birthler's office found the policeman, Karl-Heinz Kurras, had been spying on the West Berlin police for the Stasi since 1955, under the alias "Otto Bohl."

Birthler hit back at criticism from politicians and academics who said this week that the late disclosure proved the office was not researching the Stasi files thoroughly enough.

"The files have been here all this time, but no one ever asked to see them," Birthler said.   Continued...