Saturday, April 30, 2016
Friday, April 29, 2016
By Peter Wensierski
Everyone knows about the Stasi and the extent to which it spied on the East German populace. But that was only a small part of the informing that went on. New research shows that snitching was vastly more common than previously thought.
One day in September 1987, the phone rang at the headquarters of the Volkspolizei, East Germany's police force, in the town of Döbeln, not far from Dresden. On the other end of the line was the voice of an unknown man.
"Good evening. I have some information for you. Grab a pen!"
"Ms. Marianne Schneider is traveling on Wednesday, Sept. 14, to West Berlin for a visit. She doesn't intend to return."
"And who are you?"
"You would like to remain anonymous?"
"What is the basis for your information?"
"She said so, to her closest friends."
Then, the mysterious caller hung up. And Marianne Schneider* had a problem. Officials immediately revoked her travel permit and began monitoring her phone and mail in addition to questioning her neighbors and friends.
This story is one of spies and informers of the kind that were largely ignored by historians of the German Democratic Republic (DDR) until recently -- because they were spies and informers that were not connected to the Stasi, as East Germany's feared Ministry for State Security was popularly known. Instead, they were totally normal citizens of East Germany who betrayed others: neighbors reporting on neighbors, schoolchildren informing on classmates, university students passing along information on other students, managers spying on employees and Communist bosses denouncing party members.
Up to now, the broad network of so-called "unofficial informants" (IMs) maintained by the Stasi has dominated the popular view of East Germany's surveillance state. Files full of IM reports became indispensable sources for Stasi victims, politicians, historians and journalists who sought to learn more about either their own personal pasts or about DDR spying practices.
By contrast, audio tapes belonging to the Volkspolizei were largely ignored, as were written testimonials from almost every area of East German society. Government agencies, political parties, associations, companies, universities, cultural institutions: Everywhere, people reported incriminating information about those around them.
Hedwig Richter, a professor at the University of Greifswald, speaks of a "stunning reporting machinery." Wide swaths of society were a part of it, she says. "There were institutionalized structures outside of the Stasi that produced daily and weekly reports." Whether in city hall, at the steel factory or inside the local farming collective: "Everyone who had a position with some measure of responsibility filed reports" for the state, Richter says.
Since the 1989 collapse of the communist regime, thousands of these documents have been gathering dust in the archives of Eastern German states, in the former headquarters of former East German political parties and in the basements of universities and agencies. Now, though, they are being systematically analyzed by historians and have thus far revealed the degree to which permanent surveillance was a significant part of everyday life in East Germany. Eavesdropping and informing on neighbors and colleagues was completely normal for many -- even without pressure from the Stasi and its notorious leader Erich Mielke
Viewed with Suspicion
A significant portion of the denunciations had to do with plans to flee East Germany, particularly people who had permits to travel to the West and who had no intention of returning. But the smuggling of hard currency and excessive consumption of alcohol also caught the eye of observant DDR citizens. Receiving packages from the West was likewise viewed with suspicion -- and those who were assigned an apartment or car more rapidly than others were often targeted for revenge by envious neighbors. Even extra-marital affairs were reported.
"Guten Tag. I would like to make a report," says a voice in one telephone recording. "It's about Mr. .... He is constantly receiving visitors in his apartment, often different women, likely also some from the West."
In the 25 years since German reunification, such daily denunciations have been almost completely ignored. Indeed, after the fall of the Berlin Wall, those who made them were able to simply disappear. Whereas unofficial Stasi informants (IMs) were carefully documented, such that they often lost their jobs following post reunification checks performed by government agencies, schools and universities in Eastern Germany, informal moles were almost never confronted with their past actions and the file folders they helped fill.
Furthermore, squealing on others was not strictly an East German specialty either. West German residents also called up DDR officials to inform on East German citizens -- when they were planning an escape, for example.
One caller from West Berlin, for example, reported that he had a good friend in East Berlin and that he "didn't want to tattle on her, for God's sake." But then he went on to say that she has "connections to escape organizations" and wants to flee to the West to join him. He said that he "really likes her." But apparently he liked her better behind the Wall. He concluded by saying he would welcome assistance in the matter.
A further West German informant, who called the East four times, likewise had a problem relating to cross-border love. Her ex-husband, she reported, wanted his East German lover to join him in the West -- a plan that the calls likely nipped in the bud.
Plenty of Options to Choose From
Jealousy, though, was not the only motive for West German informants. It was a principle that made one woman from Dortmund, for example, reveal the names and addresses of DDR citizens who were planning to flee to the West. She said she had no understanding for the fact that "foreigners, but also East Germans, want to take away our jobs."
A West German businessman, for his part, offered his services as an informant during a convention in Leipzig. "I would like to give you a tip pertaining to the smuggling of pornography into the DDR. Write down the following: ... was a former DDR resident who has since emigrated to West Germany. The smuggler is currently in Leipzig."
"With whom am I speaking?"
"I would rather not say, of course. This is a small payback because he badly harassed me and talked very poorly of your country. This is a bit of revenge!"
Informants from the West and the East had plenty of options to choose from when it came to passing along sensitive information. The Stasi, which had several phone numbers listed in the East German phone book, was just one of them. The secretary of the local party organization was also a good contact person, as was a labor union secretary.
The list of potential informants was long. Almost every apartment building in the DDR maintained a kind of superintendent (known as a "Hausbuchbeauftragter") who kept notes on who visited whom and when. In total, this group included around 2.1 million people, and many of them were willing to share their information. The Volkspolizei also had around 173,000 "voluntary helpers." In addition, school directors, heads of youth organizations belonging to the "Free German Youth" (FDJ), election helpers and factory heads were also part of the army of potential informants.
Richter, the historian from the University of Greifswald, focused on the municipality of Löbau, in Saxony, in an effort to determine just how well East German officials were informed. She found that weekly reports compiled by the municipal council included information about which pastor had made loyal or critical comments, what books they had in their apartments and tensions within their congregations. One report even included a note from a member of the local party leadership that "multiple schoolgirls have received packages from West Germany in the mail in recent days."
But it wasn't just members of the governing SED party that provided information. Functionaries from the Christian Democratic Union -- the existence of which was tolerated by East German officials -- also took part in the rampant denunciations. And it wasn't necessary to turn to the Stasi, which many found threatening and sought to avoid. A simple conversation with a local political leader or factory manager was easy enough to arrange -- and the less formal atmosphere made it more comfortable to share sensitive information about colleagues or neighbors.
From Kindergarten to Old Age
No matter where one shared information, the state would put it to use. The East German reporting system kept track of the country's citizens from kindergarten, throughout their working lives and even into retirement, via the Volkssolidarität ("People's Solidarity") organization, which focused on caring for the elderly. It was part of developing a "socialist personality." Some began practicing denunciations in childhood, as part of the Young Pioneers, and then as teenagers as part of the FDJ. Files were even kept on schoolchildren: "Wears Western clothes," "exhibits affinity for punk music," "demonstrates pacifist attitudes."
Mutual evaluation, judgment, criticism and self-critique were omnipresent. Across the country, people were on the lookout for divergent viewpoints, which were then branded as dangerous to the state. Often to one's own advantage.
The losers of this system often didn't know why their lives suddenly became derailed. After the fall of the Wall, many of them looked for clues in their Stasi files. They wanted to understand why, for example, they were not given a spot in university, why their professional careers suddenly hit a roadblock or why their travel permit was revoked at the last minute. And many were surprised when they found no information at the Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic (BStU), the agency that continues to administer East Germany's Stasi files today.
Explanations, however, can be found in documents kept in the archives of political parties, factories and universities. There, one learns that skipping a Russian-language class, making an ill-considered comment at the student union or exhibiting a persistent lack of the "proletarian point of view" can all lead to ex-matriculation -- which had profound consequences for a lifetime.
FDJ collectives compiled reports on secondary school students, which were then used when it came time to assign jobs and spots at university. Such reports were a part of the structural oppression imposed from above on the entire population. The system was also present in so-called "Volkseigene Betriebe," as East Germany's state-owned enterprises were called.
Historians point to this finely woven web of surveillance as an explanation for East Germany's surprising stability -- a stability that hardly could have been achieved by the Stasi alone. "The omnipresent opportunities for denunciation," says Hedwig Richter, "fueled the most important disciplinary mechanism: self-censorship." An important element thereof, she adds, was the fact that East Germans also informed on one another, even without being asked and without any legal obligation to do so. "By sharing such information, East Germans hoped to avoid potential problems and misunderstandings in the future," Richter says. Plus, it was a way of demonstrating loyalty: "By exhibiting such individual initiative, people legitimized the government's surveillance needs. Via their proactive obedience, these people contributed to their comprehensive observation and participated in the surveillance state."
Many More Informants
The system made it simple for the state to determine who needed to be punished and who deserved a reward. Such as after each election, when non-voters were mentioned by name in the reports filed by polling station helpers.
Historians haven't yet been able to say for certain how many East German citizens offered their services as informants. The majority declined to do so. But it is a certainty that there were many more informants than the 180,000 IMs maintained by the Stasi in the final years of East Germany's existence.
Recent studies produced by historians Christian Booß and Helmut Müller-Enbergs also show domestic surveillance in East Germany went far beyond the Stasi's network of IMs. The two work at the BStU and not long ago, they happened across Stasi informant groups into which hardly any research has been conducted. They found that institutions in which people provided information about others were categorized as POZW -- which stood for "Partner in Political-Operative Cooperation." In contrast to IMs feeding information to the Stasi, these people were not forced to sign a document obliging them to pass along information. But they did so nonetheless. Numerous POZW reports are still in existence -- from banks, for example, or libraries, hospitals, registration offices and judiciary agencies.
Large numbers of so-called "Auskunftspersonen" (AKP), or "information providers," were used by the Stasi. In the area of Saalfeld, a town in Thuringia, for example, Booß and Müller-Enbergs counted 745 IMs -- and 3,335 AKP. Furthermore, the list of AKPs was not made up exclusively of SED party members. Indeed, the historians calculated that fully 18 percent of the population of Rostock occasionally offered their services as AKP.
The two researchers, however, shy away from seeing all those who provided information to the Stasi as informants in the traditional sense. Fear, blackmail and the desire to protect one's self also often played a role. Instead, they talk about a "denunciation complex."
Good and Usable
Even still, the historians were surprised when they ventured into the archive of Stasi files of Karl Marx Stadt, which is called Chemnitz today. There, they found documents which had never before been studied and which contained notes about so-called "GMs" and "BMs." The abbreviations were unknown to them, but they quickly discovered that "GM" stood for "Gute Menschen," or "good people," while "BM" stood for "Brauchbare Menschen," or "usable people."
The "good" ones were East Germans, from common SED members all the way up to the mayor, with a "positive stance to the MfS," or the Ministry for State Security. BMs were apparently not quite as positive, but were still willing to provide information.
A trade school teacher, for example, was listed as a BM because he shared extensive amounts of information about his colleagues and actively spied on them. A teacher in a school in Plauen was a "good person" because he offered suggestions as to which of his students might make good career soldiers. Another GM worked in a state-owned sewing machine repair shop. He related to the authorities his thoughts on who might be the author of a series of critical letters sent to Erich Honecker. His colleague, he said, is the only one he could imagine spelling the party boss' name with two ns.
The state occasionally paid the Gute Menschen as well, sometimes handing them up to 100 marks, or giving them a nice present. But they weren't given code names and they didn't have handlers. After all, they weren't Stasi spies. They were just run-of-the-mill informants -- of the kind that were found everywhere in East Germany.
*Name changed by the editors.
Editor's Note: This article from Dar Speigel is a warning about the surveillance state. Although the characters are from Communist East Germany, one could imagine a similar state of affairs happening in the West as the powerful police surveillance technologies dominate our lives. False reports to authorities were legion. Neighbors often used the surveillance state to exact revenge on their enemies.
Thursday, April 28, 2016
Wednesday, April 27, 2016
Philip Wegmann / @PhilipWegmann / April 21, 2016 /
Critics complain that under Commissioner John Koskinen, the IRS has bolstered domestic surveillance capabilities even as a "tax gap" remains. (Photo: Yuri Gripas/Reuters/Newscom)
While the Internal Revenue Service continues to leave uncollected tax money on the table, the agency beefed up its surveillance capabilities in a move that alarms both conservative and liberal privacy advocates.
Now some complain the IRS is acting too much like Big Brother and not enough like a traditional taxman.
Since 2006, the IRS has overseen an annual tax gap—the shortfall between taxes owed and collected—of about $385 billion, government analysts say. And according to an April report, the agency has not implemented 70 of 112 actions identified by the Government Accountability Office to close that loop.
In 2009, though, the IRS purchased a “cell-site simulator,” more commonly known as Stingray technology. And since November, the agency has been trying to buy another of the devices.
Like something from a spy movie, a Stingray device mimics a cellphone tower, tricking all mobile phones in an area into revealing their location and numbers. Authorities can deploy the powerful technology to tag and track an individual’s location in real time.
More advanced versions of the devices can be used to copy information stored on a cellphone and to download malware remotely.
The devices are as controversial as they are prevalent. According to theAmerican Civil Liberties Union, 61 agencies in 23 states and the District of Columbia own the devices.
IRS Commissioner John Koskinen says the IRS uses its Stingray to hunt down fraudsters and stop money laundering. The agency’s use of the devices remained a secret until an October report in the Guardian.
In a November letter to House Oversight Chairman Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, Koskinen wrote that the agency’s technology “cannot be used to intercept the content of real-time communications” such as voicemails, text messages, and emails. Instead, the IRS chief said, the device has been used “to track 37 phone numbers.”
And the IRS commissioner insists his agency deploys the tech only in accordance with state and federal laws.
But during an April 13 hearing of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, the deputy IRS commissioner for service and enforcement, John Dalrymple, couldn’t say whether the IRS obtained a warrant before activating the device.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, says he finds that concerning.
With a federal budget deficit projected at $544 billion in 2016, Jordan told The Daily Signal he’d rather have the IRS focus on “their fundamental job, which is to collect revenue due to the federal Treasury.” He added:
The GAO has 112 things they suggest, recommendations for the IRS to actually deal with the $385 billion dollar tax gap. Not one of those recommendations was to purchase a second Stingray unit.
More than a misappropriation of resources, the chairman of the House Freedom Caucus said, he fears the IRS could abuse the technology to monitor political groups like it did in 2013, when the agency began targeting conservative nonprofits.
“Now you have this same agency, who again for a long period of time went after people for exercising their First Amendment free speech rights, are using this technology and without a Fourth Amendment probable cause warrant,” Jordan said.
Nathan Wessler, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, said the technology poses a significant threat even when gathering basic information like names and numbers. In an interview with The Daily Signal, Wessler said Stingray devices could be “quite chilling on people’s right to protest.”
And there’s already a precedent for misconduct, albeit at a more local level.
Wessler points to a 2003 incident when the Miami-Dade Police Departmentpurchased a Stingray device to monitor a protest of a conference on the Free Trade Area of the Americas. According to an expense report obtained by the ACLU, police wanted the device because they “anticipated criminal activities.”
“It’s a pretty short step from those words to being concerned about the police intentionally downloading a list of every protester who shows up at some demonstration,” Wessler said. “It’s a powerful way to know who’s there.”
The IRS Criminal Investigations Division is already one of the more elite investigative agencies. Koskinen boasts that in 2015 the division achieved a 93.2 percent conviction rate, “the highest in all of federal law enforcement.”
It’s an open question whether the agency needs Stingray technology to complete its mission.
The IRS did not respond to The Daily Signal’s requests for comment made by emails and phone calls.
Paul Larkin argues that the nature of IRS investigations makes real-time intelligence irrelevant. Larkin, senior legal research fellow at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal that IRS agents are following a paper trail to investigate previous crimes:
There is no good reason the IRS would ever need real-time data information. The crimes that the IRS investigates all occurred in the past. They’re investigating fraud against the government that’s already happened. They don’t have crimes in progress like a burglary.
But if the IRS ever needed to track a suspect in the moment, Larkin said, there’s a practical solution—teamwork. He explains that there’s “no legal hurdle” that prohibits the IRS from teaming up, for instance, with the Department of Justice and borrowing its Stingray technology.
Jordan says he isn’t ready to accept that the IRS ever needs access to the device.
“Really, should the IRS have this and be using this at all?” the Ohio Republican said. “I tend to think you’d be better off with this technology not being in their hands.”
Tuesday, April 26, 2016
As seen in the Marin Post.
Posted by: Alan Berson - April 25, 2016 - 9:32pm
The City of Novato recently released three studies about the proposed commercial Sports Complex at Hamilton Field. The three technical studies were prepared for the City as part of the preliminary application review process. The studies were funded by the applicants. Note that three of the studies: Fields Needs Assessment,Visitation Projections, and the Economic Analysis, are based upon the most recent proposal for the Sports Complex. However, the developer has yet to submit enough information for the City to determine the application is complete.
This article is a critique of The Fields Needs Assessment Study, dated March 2016, (attached below). In its Summary it states the following:
The difference between the demand and the supply indicates that to meet the desired level of field use and the current demand for growth, an additional 177 timeslots per week for ball sports and an additional 272 timeslots per week for field sports are needed. Although the required timeslots varies by field depending on a number of factors (natural or synthetic turf, lighted or unlighted, etc.), estimates indicate a need for 6 to 8 ball fields and 10 to 12 multi-use fields, based on the existing inventory of natural turf and unlighted fields.
The report relies on references to sports facilities in other similar cities, interviews with groups that are advocates for sports, and by pointing out successful operations elsewhere.
However, its weaknesses are numerous and include the following:
- There are no references to actual data of the Novato Department of Recreation and Parks. No evidence is presented to indicate that serious waiting periods for ball fields has existed for Novato residents over the past 10 years. In fact, this report makes no reference to the authors having reviewed actual data of the department. In response to questions about availability of sports fields in October 2012, the Novato Director of Parks and Recreations wrote this: “Once a facility renter submits a facility use request, we have 4 days to approve it or not. If we can't accommodate them, we refer them to other potential facilities oftentimes. But the City and NUSD have nearly all of the facilities and we work together to meet the most needs possible. We do not track wait time as requested below, because we either accommodate or can't”.
- No discussion is presented of alternate ways to accommodate perceived needs of sports enthusiasts, such as repair of existing fields, and use of sports facilities just outside the city, both north and south that are under-utilized.
- No space is devoted to describing the sports facilities already built and under construction in Petaluma that will almost surely compete with the proposed Novato facility for business.
- No mention is made of the many sports facilities that have been abandoned either during construction or early in its operation, leaving the city with a mess and a large bill to clean up.
- The intent of the developers to distribute alcoholic beverages on site is hardly referred to, yet it directly contradicts efforts by the city to address use of such beverages by minors that remains a significant problem in Novato.
- The report refers specifically to the rise in popularity of travel teams. The discussion surrounding this has little or nothing to do with sports for local residents. If some people want to engage in this, that’s fine but the rest of us are not required to support this. Accommodating travel teams has no place in this report.
- In a section on case studies of 8 cities, the report justifies the proposed Hamilton sports facility by devoting a lot of space and giving credit to Big League Dreams ("BLD") that presents itself as a family-oriented recreational facility. But this same facility not only glamorizes alcohol consumption but has shown itself to be unreliable at best and, at worst, an economic hazard to cities.
A partial listing of problems with BLD circa 2012 follows:
- The city of Oxnard that had a deal with BLD waited more than a year for an update on what happened to $400,000 of taxpayer money paid to BLD for a ballpark project that was never built. By unanimous vote, the Oxnard City Council agreed to sever its relationship to build out the final phase of Oxnard's 75-acre College Park with a complex of its replica sports fields and a restaurant.
- In League City, Texas, building six replica stadiums ballooned well beyond the original estimate of about $14 million. Building roads to the complex about 23 miles southeast of Houston was not included in initial plans drafted by BLD.
- BLD refused to refund the City of Hercules a $450,000 licensing fee that the city should be entitled to collect.
- BLD has failed to refund similar amounts in two other cities.
- In Fresno, Lawsuits and broken dreams led to the city incurring costs for Granite Park after it already invested nearly $6 million. The city stood to pay $100K annually at that time until a new investor was found.
- Lawmakers in Gilbert, Ariz., used bonds to pay for a projected $40 baseball complex built by BLD. The project ended up costing $53 million, including interest.
- Redding officials had to use $750,000 they had earmarked for parks to defend the city against a multi-million-dollar lawsuit filed by Dale Construction, the firm that built the BLD sports park.
- Page 6 of this report states that the city owns grass fields, and administers lighted grass fields, for a total of 13 fields. The school district operates another 24 fields. This total far exceeds that recommended by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA), I.E., 1 unit per 5000 people for badminton, baseball, softball, and basketball, and 1 unit per 20,000 for handball. Interestingly, the report makes no reference at all to this national standard. Recall that the total population of Novato is about 53,000 and is estimated to reach about 57,000 by the year 2020. Do the math!
- A great deal of space is devoted to describing the benefits of sports. This part of the report is somewhat condescending description and unessential to the principal thesis. However, given that this is in the report, it is almost unbelievable that the authors fail to refer to extensive literature that debunks their case. For example, a recent report with documentation titled “The case against high-school sports” by Ripley appeared in the October 2013 issue of the Atlantic. It is perfectly OK to arrive at a conclusion but to ignore arguments that fail to support the conclusion is a fatal flaw.
In short, this report does not present historical evidence or any other kind of evidence to support conclusions. It ignores the literature that indicates fiscal irresponsibility of one of the companies it describes in glowing terms. It makes assumptions based upon comments of people and organizations that have a conflict of interest, and it has little or no credible literature references to support its assumptions and conclusions.
In many sections, it reads very much like an advertisement for the developer. In fact, the authors acknowledge their interactions with the developer in preparing their report.
Based on the comments I've noted, City staff, appointed and elected officials would be wise to view this report with considerable skepticism.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
Letter from the North San Rafael Coalition of Residents on the most important election of our generation.
As we have learned over the years, it takes more than one vote to accomplish anything for 94903 at the Board of Supervisors. It has become necessary for us to support the candidate of our choice in other Districts and in the City.
Sierra Club has been interviewing all the candidates carefully, as has the Marin Women's Political Action Committee.
CSPP endorsed Susan Kirsch for District 3.
4th District Candidate Brian Staley said publicly at MWPAC that he wants Grady Ranch to be developed.
4th District Candidate Wendy Kallins is also a huge supporter of high density housing.
4th District Candidate Brian Staley said publicly at MWPAC that he wants Grady Ranch to be developed.
4th District Candidate Wendy Kallins is also a huge supporter of high density housing.
I am working for, donating and have endorsed:
Al Dugan - 4th District (most of West Marin, but with a finger in every pie)
Susan Kirsch - 3rd District (Mill Valley, Strawberry, Tiburon, Belvedere)
Kevin Haroff - 2nd District (Corte Madera and surrounds)
I hope you will get to know the candidates and make your careful choices. Feel free to contact me if you'd like to discuss this further.
I hope this finds you well, safe and happy,
Carolyn Lenert for the
North San Rafael Coalition of Residents
Our 30th Year!