Zersetzung, or “decomposition”, boiled down to the Stasi using its resources to mess with perceived opponents of the regime. It was a calculated strategy to gradually wear down a target’s confidence, mental stability, and social relationships, until they had nothing left. For example, in a bureaucratic system where paperwork was all important, the Stasi would arrange for the target’s applications and other documents to go astray or get delayed.
To damage the target socially, the Stasi would start rumors that he or she was having an affair, was corrupt, or was engaged in otherwise nefarious activities. They would even break into targets’ homes to rearrange their furniture, or steal innocuous objects, such as odd socks. It was creepy, and also devastatingly effective. Not only against dissidents, but also against apolitical innocents, who had been falsely accused of dissidence by vindictive neighbors, colleagues, friends, relatives, or romantic rivals.