Bureaucracies generate paper, usually lots of paper. Anything you consider private — especially anything that could get you in trouble — should go in a “burn box” which is usually a locked trash can that is periodically emptied into an incinerator. However, what about a paper shredder? Who hasn’t seen a movie or TV show where the office furiously shreds papers as the FBI, SEC, or some other three-letter-agency is trying to crash the door down?
That might have been the scene in the late 1980s when Germany reunified. The East German Ministry of State Security — known as the Stasi — had records of unlawful activity and, probably, information about people of interest. The staff made a best effort to destroy these records, but they did not quite complete their task.
The collapsing East German government ordered documents destroyed, and many were pulped or burned. However, many of the documents were shredded by hand, stuffed into bags, and were awaiting final destruction. There were also some documents destroyed by the interim government in 1990. Today there are about 16,000 of these bags remaining, each with 2,500 to 3,000 pieces of pages in them.
Machine-shredded documents were too small to recover, but the hand-shredded documents should be possible to reconstruct. After all, they do it all the time in spy movies, right? With modern computers and vision systems, it should be a snap.
You’d think so, anyway.
Continue reading “Spy Tech: Unshredding Documents”
Some hacks are just for fun. Some make your job or your life easier. Once in a great while, a hack will save your family from an oppressive government. This is the kind of hack that [Günter] pulled off when he and [Peter] built a homemade hot air balloon to escape East Germany and the oppression of the Stasi in 1979.
Like many East Germans who weren’t in line with the Party, [Günter] found life unsatisfactory on his side of the Berlin Wall. Travel, job options, and freedom of expression were all severely limited. Aside from joining the Communist Party, the only option seemed to be escape to West Germany.
[Günter] and his wife [Petra] were inspired when [Petra]’s sister, who had escaped in 1958, came to visit. She brought with her a newspaper that covered the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, New Mexico. [Günter] and [Peter], whom he worked with, decided that they would conspire to build a hot air balloon capable of transporting them, their wives, and their four children across the border.
Theirs is an incredible story fraught with adversity. They ended up constructing three different balloons, all the while traveling further and further from home to avoid suspicion when buying large quantities of fabric. They had a lot of trouble finding the right propulsion method and ended up using pure oxygen. During the narrow window they had before [Günter] was due to report for military duty, the weather was unfavorable except for a short period after a front had passed through. They had no time for testing and just went for it.
Continue reading “Hacking An Escape From East Germany”