The Stasi continues to enjoy a reputation as one of the most effective espionage agencies in the world, especially in the area of foreign intelligence gathering. This article employs the case of Gerhardt Ronneberger, one of East Germany's most capable spies, to challenge assumptions about the Stasi's operational successes, economic relevance and methodological proficiency. In particular, it argues that East German intelligence gathering was undermined by an institutionalisd distinction between sight, or the work of observation, and vision, or the process of signification. In Ronneberger's case, the spy agency wasted considerable time and resources trying to make sense of his operational performance and political reliability. In the end, however, even his most spectacular successes, which included smuggling a laser-guided navigation system into the GDR and acquiring proscribed computer chip and microprocessor designs from Toshiba, did not matter, since they did not change East Germany's inability to narrow the technological gap with the West.