During the heyday of communism before the fall of The Wall, East Germany established and proliferated what is considered to be one of the most ubiquitous internal security services ever devised: the Staatssicherheitsdienst, or, the “Stasi” (pronouced shtah-zee). Estimates vary as to the number of informants, but it is possible that, at its height, one in every seven East Germans was a Stasi informant. One in seven! That’s just about one in every other household. That is an impressive number, one must admit! How did they establish such a prolific spy network? In many cases, the state used leverage over its people to compel them to turn informant. If a citizen refused, they, and/or their families, were subject to any number of retributive acts at the hands of their oppressive state. So when a member of the East German secret police approached you and “requested” you turn informant, you refused at your peril. In a sick sense, the formation and propagation of the Stasi system was an evil “course of performance” on a grand national scale. It may not have been written anywhere that if you didn’t comply with the Stasi, something unfortunate may happen to your dog or your “Trabi” or even to you. But it didn’t have to be written – they did something to you and you would acquiesce.
I know you’re probably thinking – “of course it was written, these are Germans after all!” Ok, I concede…but hopefully you still get the point – whether it was written or not was irrelevant – everyone knew the system and most everyone complied. Imagine for a minute the Stasi approaching good ol’ Mr. Normalverbraucher on his morning walk:
“Excuse me, Herr Normalverbraucher, we are the Stasi, and we need you to spy on your neighbors. If you don’t, an unfortunate fire will occur in your house.”
“Um, I’m sorry, Mr. Stasi man, sir, but I’m going to need to see that in writing.”
It’s likely no one in DDR times ever asked that. They had already watched or heard of friends, neighbors, family members, or loved ones abducted or imprisoned or killed for having not complied. So, when they were pressured to do the Stasi’s bidding, potential repercussions of not complying were of course worked into their decision matrix.
Unfortunately, what was happening in DIA was eerily similar to the Stasi methodology: approach a member, coerce them into compliance, expand the network, repeat. The activities weren’t as nefarious as the Stasi’s, of course, and methods not as extreme, but the principle was in essence, the same. To not comply: be expelled from the Agency, sent back to your Service in shame, have your career ended, have your personal life upended, the list goes on. And all the while, everyone watched and allowed the “course of performance” to continue. Well, almost everyone…