Ex-Stasi boss green with envy over NSA's domestic spy powers

For Wolfgang Schmidt, who used to head East Germany's feared spy service, the NSA's reported spy program "would have been a dream come true."

Charles Cooper Former Executive Editor / News
Charles Cooper was an executive editor at CNET News. He has covered technology and business for more than 25 years, working at CBSNews.com, the Associated Press, Computer & Software News, Computer Shopper, PC Week, and ZDNet.
Charles Cooper
A still-standing portion of the former Berlin Wall and a guard tower. Getty Images
For Wolfgang Schmidt, it was just bad luck that he was 20 years too late and living on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain.

The former head of the Stasi, which was East Germany's secret police force, betrayed a fair bit of envy about the powers enjoyed by his former Cold War nemesis in the aftermath of revelations about the extent of the National Security Agency's surveillance powers.

"You know, for us, this would have been a dream come true," he said in a wide-ranging interview with McClatchy.

As a former top spook in his nation's security bureaucracy, Wolfe also weighed into the domestic debate about whether the NSA has crossed any lines. Privacy advocates have expressed concerns about whether the agency went beyond collecting phone and Internet metadata and snooped on Americans' domestic communications.

For Schmidt, who recalled that during the Trabant era, the Stasi could only tap 40 phones at a time. Reading the seemingly daily disclosures about the NSA, he says there's little doubt about what's going on behind closed doors.

"It is the height of naivete to think that once collected this information won't be used," he said. "This is the nature of secret government organizations. The only way to protect the people's privacy is not to allow the government to collect their information in the first place."