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Stasi's Radioactive Surveilance Technology; BBC

2001-01-04 12:24:24

Got Radioactive clothes? Blame these foreign security operatives. How much surveilance of this type does African countries use?

Is it morally right to endanger someones health for a little information?

Stasi's radioactive hold over dissidents

Using methods worthy of a James Bond film, it has emerged that the former East German secret police - the Stasi - tagged suspected dissidents with radioactive chemicals to monitor their activities.

There is no evidence yet that the practice seriously harmed anyone, according to Professor Klaus Becker, a German radiation expert who has studied evidence from the Stasi files.

The Gauck Commission, a government agency investigating the Stasi archives, has unearthed detailed instructions for using such devices, which included special pins to be stuck in clothes and non-removable radioactive sprays.

"The Gauck Commission knows who was involved," Mr Becker told BBC News Online.

More than 1,000 people were tagged with the radioactive devices up to 1989, when the communist East German state collapsed, Mr Becker said.

Range of chemicals

A wide variety of radionuclides were used - some of them to mark documents, banknotes and ballpoint pens. Scandium-46 was a particular favourite.

Stasi agents tracked targeted dissidents using concealed Geiger counters, Mr Becker reported in a case study entitled "Illegal governmental use of radiation sources."

They were not standard Geiger counters, but special devices developed in 1975 which were worn under the armpit and vibrated - instead of clicking - to maintain the agent's cover.

According to Mr Becker, other Stasi developments "resembling early James Bond movies" included airguns with a special type of lead bullet which would penetrate car tyres, injecting them with radio-labelled silver wire from a distance of 25 metres.

The Stasi got the radioactive materials from a nuclear research centre at Rossendorf.

Hundreds of 'actions'

In the 1970s the Stasi conducted about 100 such operations annually, but the number dropped to 30 to 50 in the 1980s, Mr Becker says. Higher radiation levels were used when background levels rose following the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster.

In one incident, West German deutschmark banknotes - highly prized in East Germany - were heavily tagged with scandium-46, but most of them were never recovered.

If someone carried the notes in a pocket for a long time they could deliver a serious dose of radiation, according to an internal Stasi report cited by Mr Becker.

The Stasi had its own 56-page Radiation Protection Regulation for its agents. "For their staff, the same principles and dose limits were applied, but not for the victims," Mr Becker said in his case study.


As part of the training, agents were shown diagrams explaining how to spray the chemicals on suspects.

Before the latest details about Stasi operations emerged, it was long suspected that the secret police harmed dissidents by using non-medical X-ray equipment at interrogation centres.

Unusual X-ray equipment was found at former interrogation centres - first in Gera in 1989 - but according to Mr Becker, "it does not seem likely that it was actually used to harm prisoners".

Mr Becker left East Germany in 1951 and later became head of radiation dosimetry at West Germany's Juelich Nuclear Research Establishment.

The Stasi became the communist government's most effective way of maintaining power, with 85,000 full-time officers and a network of hundreds of thousands of informants.

Some estimate that as many as two million of East Germany's 17 million people worked in some way for the Stasi.
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