A German news magazine has published an encrypted message from a German 1970s terrorist. The solution is known, but some of the details remain unclear.

The far-left terrorist organisation Red Army Faction (RAF) is an integral part of the younger German history. Founded in 1970, this group engaged in numerous bombings, assassinations, kidnappings, and bank robberies, including the killing of notable industry and state representatives such as Alfred Herrhausen (CEO of Deutsche Bank) and Siegfried Buback (Attorney General).


Encryption methods of the RAF

The RAF’s activity peaked in 1977, when the kidnapping of Hanns Martin Schleyer (Director of the Confederation of Employers’ Associations) and of a Lufthansa aircraft led to a national crisis that became known as the “German Autumn”. Altogether, the RAF killed 34 people, while 27 members and supporters lost their lives. The group dissolved in 1998, and meanwhile all RAF activists that went to prison have been released. Some former members of the organization are still on the run.

Source: wanted poster

As far as I know, no one has ever examined the encryption techniques of the RAF in detail. It appears that the terrorists never developed sophisticated cryptographic methods, let alone used these in a systematic way. In this respect, the IRA, the Mafia, and other illegal organizations, reached a higher level.

As I pointed out a few years go in a (German) blog post, the RAF employed many aliases and code terms. Apparently, these basic cryptologic measures fulfilled their purpose by and large. The police struggled to correctly assign the various aliases to the respective persons, with some code names of the third RAF generation still being a mystery.


An RAF cipher

The German news magazine Der Spiegel recently published an encrypted message written by RAF member Adelheid Schulz (thanks to Ralf Bülow for the hint) – a text in cipher, not in code. This note, which describes the location of a hidden weapon and money depot, is the first RAF cipher message I have ever seen. Here it is:

Man steigt in den selben Bus wie zum Rotkehlchen, steigt eine H nach Do/2/1, 2/6, Mir1/4, To2/4, Ul 2/1, 2/3, Ru2/4, 2/1, 2/2, Ol1/1 Do2/3, 2/6, Ol1/2, 1/3, Mir2/1 – anlage aus.

This translates to:

One takes the same bus as to the robin [codename of another RAF depot], gets out one stop after Do/2/1, 2/6, Mir1/4, To2/4, Ul 2/1, 2/3, Ru2/4, 2/1, 2/2, Ol1/1 Do2/3, 2/6, Ol1/2, 1/3, Mir2/1 facility.

Apparently, the encrypted part of this text stands for a bus stop, the name of which has 15 letters. According to Der Spiegel, a police codebreaker named Peter Fleischmann solved this cryptogram. Fleischmann didn’t know the location of the Rotkehlchen (Robin) depot, but he could guess in which area of Germany he had to search.

Fleischmann consulted maps and bus schedules in order to find a bus stop that included the word “Anlage” (“facility”), preceded by a word of 15 letters. He finally found a place named “Müllverbrennungsanlage” (“waste burning facility”) that appeared to fit. MÜLLVERBRENNUNGS has 16 letters, but it later became clear that Schulz had erroneously omitted the second R, which meant that the actual plaintext was MÜLLVERBENNUNGS.

To my regret, the article doesn’t explain the cipher used by Schulz in detail. As it seems, the letters at the start of a cipher group (e.g., “Do”, “Mir”, “Ul”) are codenames of RAF members, with “Mir” representing Schulz herself. The following number (1 or 2) stands for the first or the last name of this person, while the final number denotes the position of a letter in this name.

For instance, “Mir1/4” stands for L, because this is the fourth letter of Schulz’s first name, while “Mir2/1” represents S, the first letter in Schulz’s surname.

Other examples are not given in the article. However, it might be possible to guess some of these. If the cipher description in Der Spiegel is correct, there must have been an RAF member code-named “Do” about whom we know that his or her last name is M*N**U… Does a reader know an RAF activist with such a surname. Can a reader find out other terrorist names that might have bee used for this cipher?

According to Der Spiegel, the breaking of this message led to other RAF ciphertexts being solved. I hope that these will be published one day.

Further reading: Alessio Vinci’s death and the cryptogram he left behind

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Kommentare (13)

  1. #1 Richard Bean
    24. Juni 2020

    I’m a big fan of Kylie Minogue, so it’s disappointing to me, and probably to most German people, to hear she was involved with this violent group at such a young age. I can’t get the idea out of my head …

  2. #2 Jockel
    24. Juni 2020

    Maybe “Brigitte Mohnhaupt” with a tiny spelling error?

  3. #3 Ralf Buelow
    24. Juni 2020
  4. #4 M.S.
    24. Juni 2020

    It’s hard to believe the cipher works exactly as described…
    If the plaintext really is MÜLLVERBENNUNGS and there are no further errors, the last name of the member “Ol” would start with NNG given the clues Ol 1/1 Ol 1/2 and Ol 1/3.

  5. #5 M.S.
    24. Juni 2020

    However, given the rest of the clues, I think three members could be identified as follows:

    Mir: Adelheid Schulz
    Ul: Inge Viett
    Ru: Henning Beer (who was active at the time, as opposed to his brother Wolfgang Beer if I understand correctly)

    Two members could be identified if there were mistakes in the encryption:
    Ol: Angelika Speitel (if the Ol 1/1 clue was somehow wrong)
    Do: Brigitte Mohnhaupt (if spelt Monhaupt)

    One member is given by only one clue, “To” could be one of a large number of people.

  6. #6 Klaus Schmeh
    24. Juni 2020

    @M.S.: Thanks, makes sense.

  7. #7 Kerberos
    24. Juni 2020

    is this “system” a common one or unic of RAF?

  8. #8 Klaus Schmeh
    25. Juni 2020

    Bill Ricker via Facebook:
    An amusing form of “book” cipher, using shared secrets instead of a book. Knowing the covername=realname mapping is required to read it … unless you look at bus-stop list. In which case it starts to give you their deepest secret.
    Something isn’t right … either the enciphering was sloppy and or the transcription of the cipher is muchly typo’d.
    “OI”‘s first name would start NNG… according to this transcription and theory ( Ol1/1 . . Ol1/2 1/3 = N..NG), which seems strange.
    Did they leave out first the H in DO’s surname in the key, or transcription errors? Since you named Schulz, I’m presuming this cipher is from 2nd Gen R.A.F/B-M, so DO 2/j =MxNxxU… would be MO(H)NHAUPT. RU2=BxxR… is likewise a poor sliding match for BECKER ?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Members_of_the_Red_Army_Faction (Folding list at bottom)

  9. #9 Klaus Schmeh
    25. Juni 2020

    >is this “system” a common one or unic of RAF?
    To my knowledge, it is unique. As Bill Ricker wrote, it’s a kind of book cipher, though a special one.

  10. #10 Jan G.
    26. Juni 2020

    Hi, To2/4 needs to be “L” according to the mentioned cipher above. That would mean that we need a member with a last name that has “L” as the fourth letter. From the known RAF members of the second generation I can only identify Helmut Pohl being of significant importance and active to receive a widely known Alias and the fourth letter being “L”.

  11. #11 Jerry McCarthy
    England, Europa...
    27. Juni 2020

    Red Army Faction (mit keinem “r” in “Faction” ) in Englisch:


  12. #12 Klaus Schmeh
    28. Juni 2020

    >Red Army Faction
    Thanks, I corrected it.

  13. #13 Klaus Schmeh
    2. Juli 2020

    Gerrit A. Gruben via Linkedin:
    And I thought the RAF did nothing wrong…