Kristie Macrakis: Her new book exposes the amazing array of tricks used by Stasi to spy on people

Historians in the News

a recording device hidden in an ashtray. A camera concealed inside a pen, an innocuous-looking deer statuette, or even a bra. A chair that captures your body scent when you sit on it, to facilitate tracking your movements later.

What sound like gadgets from a James Bond movie were real-life instruments of espionage used by the Stasi—communist East Germany’s Ministry for State Security (Staatssicherheit), the secret police. Kristie Macrakis, Ph.D. ’89, learned about these devices and much more in her exploration of the Stasi archives, which were gradually declassified and opened for public perusal starting in 1992, three years after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Macrakis wrote her dissertation on science in Nazi Germany, but a trip to conduct research in East Germany before the Wall fell blossomed into a fascination with the Cold War period and Stasi spying techniques. She spent eight years intermittently poking through thousands of files during short trips, summers, and a year-long Fulbright scholarship, focusing on two particular aspects of East German spy science: how the Stasi got access to top-secret intelligence and scientific knowledge from the West, and the spying techniques they used.

The resulting book, Seduced by Secrets: Inside the Stasi’s Spy-Tech World (Cambridge University Press), may make even post-Cold War readers suspicious of everyday objects. Consider the “smell chair,” whose seat covering was an interchangeable cloth fastened down to look like a regular cushion. After the “target” got up from the chair, Stasi agents would collect the cloth and store it in an airtight jar. The captured scent served as a kind of pheromonal fingerprint, a form of positive ID in an age of ever-multiplying code names and aliases. The Stasi used this method to check up on known dissidents and employees suspected of acting as double agents. If they could gain access to the hotel room or office where an allegedly duplicitous meeting took place, they could use dogs to determine whether their target had been there.
Read entire article at Harvard Magazine

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