Is there more behind Putin’s move into the Ukraine? Are Merkel and Putin working together? Here is my interview with the Daniela Murphy, author of Unpredictable Past, who was one of the first researchers into the Germany Stasi files.
Introducing Daniela Murphy —
Daniela Murphy has more than twenty years of experience in the field of political analysis and contemporary history. Her research focuses primarily on international security and political stability predominantly in Eastern Europe.
Born and raised in Germany, Daniela Murphy studied economics at the University of Lueneburg, where she earned her MBA and obtained her doctorate in Political Science. Her thesis addressed the influence of the East German Secret Service on the economy.
Dr. Murphy was one of the first researchers who gained insights and conducted research on the structures, operating mechanisms, and historical impact of the Stasi. For five years she searched through primary-source Stasi documents at the Federal Commission for the Stasi Records in Berlin. Before moving to the United States, she worked as a Research Analyst at the German Government preparing manuscripts for the Enquete-Commission ‘Processing of history and consequences of the Socialist Unity Party dictatorship in Germany’. She also prepared speeches for members of the German Parliament and worked on the publication of the protocols of the ‘Central Round Table in East Berlin’.
Murphy moved to the United States in 2001 where she worked for many years as a Senior Research Analyst at the Milken Institute. While working at the think tank, she published multiple studies that focused on regional economics. She prepared analysis and preparations on issues and choices facing policymakers.
Why did you write Unpredictable Past?
At the time I wrote my doctoral dissertation on the influence of the Stasi on the economy I had access to historically significant documents; documents that occupied over sixty-three miles of shelf space. I gained insights into the Stasi’s darkest secrets. Growing up in West Germany with half of my family in East Germany, I experienced how the Stasi probed every aspect of a citizen's life. While trying to escape over the Hungarian border, my parents were imprisoned by the Stasi. My uncle sent a request to the East German Government to leave for the West. He was brutally murdered by the Stasi. My cousin, a former high ranking Stasi officer, is currently in the business of trading weapons. He probably is working for his old bosses. I suspect the Stasi is still alive today in Germany.
The incorporation of my family’s experiences into the story and characters as well as my historical insights shaped my novel's content. For my story, I was especially interested in acquiring Stasi files to understand the Stasi’s foreign espionage operations. I gained critical insights of illegal activities committed by West German engineering conglomerates. I discovered that these companies had hidden training facilities in Munich where Russian and East German employees were given lessons in manufacturing computer chips. American companies fed the Stasi with valuable information and transferred Western technology to the East. My novel details how the Stasi as well as employees of Western companies participated in organized crimes and bribed officials. Corruption of authorities allowed sensitive products to cross borders. The story line of my novel will open the reader’s eyes to how the Stasi infiltrated West Germany even to the top government circles. I found evidence that the Stasi carried out a number of killings on regime critics.
It was while I was writing my novel that Putin annexed Crimea, and it led me to take a closer look at the secret Merkel-Putin Pact. I became interested in the historical parallels of Merkel and Putin and their exclusive relationship. Since the escalating crisis in the Ukraine, Putin, who speaks fluent German, had many meetings with German chancellor Angela Merkel, who grew up in East Germany, studied in Russia, and speaks fluent Russian. Having insights into the Stasi’s structure, I questioned what is behind Merkel’s relatively mild approach to the Russian dictator. Dialogue and diplomatic negotiations, instead of hostility. What does Putin hold against Merkel? Why is she not taking a hard line against Putin, standing united with the rest of the Western World? Does a possible Stasi past cloud her judgment? I learned enough to know that SED (Socialist Unity Party) party members had to be connected to the Stasi. Merkel worked for the communist youth organization FDJ on ‘agitation and propaganda’. Putin’s career rooted in Russia’s KGB. Back in the 1980s, and being assigned to East Germany, Putin relied on the Stasi for help. Does Merkel now rely on his help?
Why and when were you picked to be part of the first team of researchers to review the files of East Germany secret police?
Born in Germany, I studied economics at the University of Lueneburg where I earned my MBA and obtained my doctorate in Political Science. I wrote my dissertation on the subject ‘The influence of the East German Secret Service, the Stasi, on the economy’.
After the fall of the wall, my professor established a special research position at the Federal Commission for the Stasi Records in Berlin.
My professor was a former dissident, who was imprisoned by the Stasi for three years before he got bought out to West Germany. He always told me, “The better we understand dictatorship, the better we can shape democracy. ”
I was one of the first researchers in 1994 who gained insights on the structures, and historical impact of the Stasi. For five years I searched through primary source Stasi documents and had access to historically significant documents that occupied over 63 miles of shelf space. I was in a very unique position. It was more than interesting. I never knew what kind of information I would stumble upon.
What was the most interesting file you reviewed?
I gained insights into the Stasi’s darkest secrets.
I discovered several murder plots. I learned how the Stasi was involved in international trade of weapons. I learned from the documents how the Stasi worked with the secret police in the People’s Republic of Angola, Mozambique and Yemen. The Stasi established links with Libya and Iran, they delivered weapons to Nepal.
I was especially interested in acquiring Stasi files to further understand the Stasi’s foreign espionage operations. This way, I gained critical insights of illegal activities committed by many West German and American companies. For example, I discovered that these companies had hidden training facilities in Munich where Russian and East German employees were given lessons in manufacturing computer chips.
Where do you think the leaders of the Stasi are today?
The life of Stasi agents doesn’t just fade away. They work in civil service jobs as police officers, teachers and administration staff. Some members have risen to high level government jobs. For example, one former Stasi officer is assigned to Angela Merkel’s security team.
Surely, Ex-Stasi officers remain employed at government positions.
The BStU, the entity in charge of Stasi records, employed at least seventy-nine former Stasi members – isn’t this ironic! The Stasi is still in charge of Stasi documents. You know what this means, the Stasi is still able to destroy its own criminal records.
Did the Stasi report directly to the USSR?
The Stasi was set up under the direct guidance of the Soviet secret service. Although the Stasi was granted independence in 1957, collaboration was so close that the KGB invited the Stasi to establish operational bases in Moscow. Mielke also granted KGB officers in East Germany the same rights. For example, KGB officer Putin was based for five years in Dresden, East Germany. The Stasi was a domestic secret service, and foreign intelligence agency and was responsible only to the SED leadership.
What role did Angela Merkel play in East German Secret Police?
Angela Merkel lived and worked in communist East Germany for a big part of her life. I learned enough to know that Socialist Unity Party members had to be connected to the Stasi. Merkel worked for the communist youth organization FDJ in ‘agitation and propaganda’. I presume that she also worked for the Stasi.
Having insights into the Stasi’s structure, I certainly question what is behind Merkel’s mild approach to Putin. It makes me wonder, what does Putin hold against Merkel? Why is she not taking a hard line against Putin, standing united with the rest of the Western World? Does a possible Stasi past cloud her judgment?
Did you write a fictionalized version of what you discovered in the files?
The incorporation of my family’s experiences into the story and characters as well as my historical insights shaped my novel's content.
Growing up in West Germany with half of my family in East Germany, I experienced first-hand how the Stasi probed every aspect of a citizen's life.
While trying to escape over the Hungarian border in 1968, my parents were imprisoned by the Stasi. My Dad got moved around 16 times into different prison facilities. That was part of the psychological terror of the Stasi.
My uncle sent a request to the East German Government to leave for the West. He got brutally murdered by the Stasi.
And then there is my cousin, a former high ranking Stasi officer, who is now in the business of trading weapons. He probably is working for his old bosses. As you can see: The Stasi is still alive.
Do you believe that the old Stasi leadership is running Germany today?
The story line of my novel will open the reader’s eyes how the Stasi infiltrated West Germany even to the top government circles.
I know that many East Germans in political life have come to grief after Stasi files identified them as former Stasi agents. Many left-wing politicians inside the Democratic Socialist Party (PDS), now called ‘The Left’, are former Stasi officers.
I strongly believe that the people who were at the top before are still there today.
Most disturbing, Stasi officers who terrorized victims are now holding positions as attorneys or even judges. I call this a perversion of justice.
How far do you think Russian will advance militarily in Europe?
I believe that Putin wants to restore the former glory of the Soviet Union. Putin might attempt a repeat of the tactics used in the Crimea and eastern Ukraine against other former Soviet bloc countries such as the Baltic States. Putin’s ambition is clear. He wants to dominate all the former Soviet states to Russia’s south and west.
He likes to portray himself as the savior of the nation.
Do you think Putin will stop in Ukraine?
I believe that his ambitions extend far beyond the Ukraine. I think he will invade all post-Soviet States, maybe even Poland and Romania. Putin made this threat last September. He also said just recently, “If I want to, I can take Kiev in 2 weeks”. I believe that. He already deployed similar tactics in Georgia and Moldova. Last week, Putin has signed an integration agreement with South Ossetia. This could mean Moscow’s annexation of the region.
Definitely, he is trying to redraw the map of Europe by trampling on international law with ‘old thinking’ based on spheres of influence.
It is not clear that he has an exit strategy. A big question is whether Obama decides to send Kiev lethal weapons.
Of course, if Putin would invade NATO or European Union members like the Baltic States he would find himself at the brink of a Third World War.
With Putin sending tanks and weapons from Russia into Ukraine, it seems obvious to me that Putin is not afraid about sanctions or direct action by NATO.
Putin does not want to damage his political standing at home. His approval rate is reaching incredible heights.
As NATO gets ready to move troops to the Baltic States, it seems obvious that this crisis is a long way from resolution. Putin certainly continues to test us by positioning submarines and warplanes near British territory.
One thing is for sure, Obama and Merkel should contemplate more aggressive financial sanctions, which, in addition to falling oil prices, will deepen Russia’s economic crisis.
What was the worst class of crimes committed by the Stasi?
Of course, Stasi officers carried out a number of assassinations; but I think the worst part was the silent terror of the Stasi. The real strength of the Stasi was to produce the effect that millions of people behave towards one another with suspicion and fear.
Like an enormous octopus, the Stasi probed every aspect of life.
The documents clarify what influence the Stasi had on the people’s destiny. The files showed the resistance in everyday life. If you just consider the oppression of its own people, I believe, that the Stasi was much worse than the Gestapo. They called it ‘Psychological Harassment’. In German ‘Zersetzung’. One in every six and a half East German citizens was an informer. The Stasi effectively destroyed secretly the self-confidence of people by damaging their reputation, by sabotaging their career, and by destroying their personal interactions.
It was the inhumanity of the dictatorship. For example, many East German prisoners were forced by the SED party to work in the Chemical Kombinat Bitterfeld. For the cleaning of chlorine, prisoners had to use mercury. Documents revealed how many prisoners were murdered this way. Ventilation shafts in the work place were bricked up with cement.
Another example, SDAG Wismut, a joint German-Russian uranium mining company was a top secret operation. The mine workers were not told that they were dealing with uranium. Many suffered and died having had no idea they were handling radioactive material.
The implicit rather than explicit terror of the Stasi allowed the worst of crimes to be committed. There was no rule of law and no protection of human life.