The Stasi offices in Berlin have been frozen in time since they were stormed by activists on January 15th, 1990, shortly after the fall of the Berlin Wall three months earlier. As tourists creep around, room by room, through this monument to fascism, it feels as though millions of secrets are still ingrained in the fabric of the chairs and the fibers of the ubiquitous oak furniture.
The museum that now occupies the building is an oddly mundane reminder of another era: Indistinguishable rooms of desks, phones and filing cabinets, fenced by aging net curtains filtering the sunlight. It is the walls adorned with surveillance photos of supposed state enemies, and exhibits of household gadgets planted with audio recording devices, that color the office’s banality with a shade of darkness.
But the specter of Big Brother lingers, as I’m reminded by the man who is accompanying me through the exhibits: William Binney, the former NSA technical director who helped design mass surveillance systems for the agency, before spending a decade warning the world about the risks of those systems. As we tread past identical desks, retro rotary dial phones, and electromechanical typewriters, the Stasi’s quaint spying technology reminds him of his NSA office in the 1980s, he says. Except the NSA today is estimated to hold one billion times more data than the Stasi held.
“The NSA’s agenda is to control the government, and control the population,” Binney says.
I had come to the â€‹Stasi Museum with a group of US and UK intelligence whistleblowers, who had congregated in Berlin to award Binney with the 2015 â€‹Sam Adams Award for Integrity in Intelligence. The first award, presented in 2002, went to former FBI agent Coleen Rowley, who testified to Congress about intelligence failures prior to 9/11; last year’s award went to Edward Snowden.