Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Stasi SIGINT Operations

The Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MfS) of the former DDR (Deutsche Demokratische Republiek), commonly known as the Stasi, is widely recognized as the most effective Intelligence agency of all former Soviet states, and the HVA (Haupt Verwaltung Aufklaerung) under Markus Wolf is probably the most successful Foreign Intelligence service ever to have existed. With an enormous number of agents, operating in the West, the HVA with its HUMINT (Human Intelligence) was considered to be the most important Intelligence source for both East Germany and the Soviet Union.

However, research of the Stasi archives, seized in Gera when the DDR collapsed, show that Hauptabteilung III or HA III, the SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) directorat of the MfS, also mounted massive SIGINT assaults on the West. According to the archives, the SIGINT operations proved to have been as significant, and in some cases even more important than HUMINT. This is interesting, because the general idea was that the HVA success more or less compensated the lack of SIGINT capabilities. It is now estimated that 30 up to 50 percent of all Intelligence information during the 1980's was collected by SIGINT.

HA III had 25 departments, over 2000 staff officers and some 80 installations in East Germany. They monitored shortwave transmissions and more than 30,000 West German telephones from military, diplomatic and intelligence personnel from both West Germany and NATO. They also eavesdropped on radio signal paths (telephone relay) used by the Federal Post Office, and on VHF radios of the BND (West German intelligence) surveillance teams. Virtually all West German satellite-based telephone, Telex, fax, and data transmissions were monitored, as well as the MARISAT, FLEETSATCOM, LEASAT, and INTELSAT communications satellites.

HA III worked closely and efficiently together with the HVA and other parts of the MfS, which enabled them to collect vast quantities of critical information. HA III even had a special bilateral liaison with its KGB counterpart. Western Intelligence clearly underestimated the MfS's capabilities.

The complete article is found on this page at the CIA Studies in Intelligence section. More information also available in the Ben Fisher paper (pdf) and on Spycatcher.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

See also chapter "Big Ears" in K.Macrakis.Seduced by Secrets. NY, 2008. for a different angle on the topic.