ZERSETZUNG—HOW THE KGB LEARNED FROM THE STASI. Mary Jane and I are at a point in our lives where we are more likely to forget where we put things. It’s a little embarrassing, but things eventually turn up, occasionally in surprising places. This article in the Guardian (September 23, 2011) tells how the KGB has adopted a technique pioneered by the stasi, which in one variant consists of displacing household objects. The technique involves breaking into the private homes of western diplomats, opposition activists, human rights workers or journalists and moving around personal items “in an attempt to demoralise and intimidate their targets”. Variants include “removing pictures from walls or replacing one variety of tea with another”. The technique has a German name: “Zersetzung – literally corrosion or undermining”.
The disruptions in a target’s life can be minor, but the message is terrifying: you don’t have any private space and you have a powerful enemy. The technique is said to have resulted on occasion in madness or suicide.