“Zersetzung” PSYOP Strategies and Utilisation of Psychological Warfare on Individuals and Groups Part Two


The mind is its own world, capable of generating both a heaven and a hell.

Since the dawn of time, military forces have recognised the value of the mind.

Sun Tzu claimed in his masterpiece The Art of War that in order to win, leaders must change their opponents’ minds.

In the 18th century, Clausewitz stated that victory consists in removing the enemy’s will and will to fight.

In the twenty-first century, such subjects are taught in military colleges all around the world.

We all know that understanding someone helps us to affect them on a personal level.

In my military training, we learned the concept of heart and intellect.

After all, information is power.

This method is thus sensible and clear when applied to complicated and continuing operations.

As I explained in Part One, Zersetzung required a specialised intelligence infrastructure supported by a willing public.

It’s impossible to achieve in a place where it doesn’t already exist, but it worked because people were afraid and their brains had already been moulded by the state.

The Stasi protected the state from potential threats by attacking the brain area where revolutionary or hostile ideas arise.

How effective were Stasi and Zersetzung?
Zersetzung strategies performed an important control function.

Repression was used to punish those who were involved in or suspected of engaging in activities that the Stasi did not approve of.

The human cost of Zersetzung is impossible to quantify: as a result of being targeted, many GDR activists are still suffering from weariness, stress, and persistent mental health issues. On a personal level, the Stasi was startlingly effective.

The militarised Stasi simply couldn’t fathom how many activist organisations could flourish in the absence of leaders and structures.

They commonly mistaken informal hierarchies for organisational structure, and they would target those who talked the most or took on the most tasks, failing to recognise that even if these individuals were ‘turned off,’ the remainder of the group could continue to function and would not necessarily fall apart.

Even if an informant successfully sabotaged a group’s efforts, the group would rarely be completely demoralised, but would instead work even harder to attain its goals.

Acquiring and applying intelligence
Informants were utilised not just to sabotage group activities and carry out Zersetzung plans, but also to gather intelligence about individuals and groups.

The vast bulk of intelligence was used to assess relationships and activities, which resulted in the extension of intelligence gathering to previously untargeted individuals and groups, as well as as a foundation for organising Zersetzung operations.

The huge amount of data that the Stasi was processing was critical to justifying its own existence, as well as the salary and expenses of its officers and workers. The Stasi became even more dangerous to activists as a result of this.

The Stasi’s reliance on intelligence collecting and operation escalation increased the possibility of surveillance, Zersetzung, and sabotage, as well as the associated human cost.

Informants were regularly identified as a result of a lack of planning. The majority of informants, however, were not discovered until after 1989, when the Stasi files were revealed.

Managing Zersetzung
Many people succumbed to Stasi and other security forces’ pressure, often due to mental health problems caused by the pressure, or through a process known as ‘inner migration,’ which involved abandoning political and social beliefs, taking the path of least resistance, and ceasing oppositional activity.

Resistance to Zersetzung, on the other hand, was surprisingly common, and activists discovered ways to keep healthy and active.

The assistance of friends and other campaigners was critical.

The most effective technique for opposing the Stasi was most likely a close group of individuals who shared an understanding of the political and policing milieu.

Activists can openly express their concerns, suspicions, and wants with such friends, as well as formulate ways for dealing with the pressure.

This provided them confidence that if something went wrong, they could rely on and be reliant on their friends. They would be present if help or support was needed.

They would discuss potential scenarios as a group, such as who would care for the children if they were arrested or even imprisoned, or who could provide a “safe house” if someone was being followed and needed a break.

On the other hand, group solidarity was critical to their survival and freedom to remain active: those groups with close ties to others across the country encountered less pressure.

Even when persecution occurred later, as it did in East Berlin, large solidarity movements and organised efforts to get attention produced immediate results.

Those groups who were less well-connected, particularly those in small towns and rural areas where they may have been the only activists, were easy pickings for the Stasi, and entire portions of the country were ‘cleansed’ of grassroots activism at times.

Surveillance and intervention were openly addressed in groups. The difficult part was not to become paranoid, especially since there was a good chance that the group already had an informant present, nor to be naive or ignorant about the possibilities, but to find a middle ground of sensible measures that would, if necessary, help, without bogging the group down in extensive security measures that would simply impede the group’s work.

If a group identified someone as a possible informant, they may have decided not to take any obvious first measures.

Instead of propagating rumours, an early strategy would be to investigate whether the suspicions were valid.

The traditional technique would be for a few trusted individuals to undertake covert research on the suspect.

Background checks would be conducted:

  • Do you have any relatives?
  • Are they genuine?
  • Has anyone else in the group been in touch with them?
  • What about friendships formed outside the group?
  • Did the suspect actually work where they claimed?
  • Do they know the town where they claim to have grown up?

To put it another way, when organisations felt they had discovered an informant, they needed to be extremely cautious since it was all too easy to launch a witch hunt against innocent people, paralysing groups and individuals and playing right into the hands of the Stasi.

Analysing the methodology used by the Stasi is easy to become lost in, and the more you learn about it, the more terrible it gets.

As I indicated at the beginning of this section, the mind is capable of creating its own reality, capable of creating a heaven of hell and a hell of heaven.

This post was written by Mario Bekes