Open questions about the Red Army Faction’s encryptions

I have reported about the encryption methods of the terrorists Red Army Faction (RAF) several times. Today it is about some gaps, which I would like to close with the help of my readers.

Deutsche Version

Anyone interested in the encryption techniques used by criminals should make a note of June 26, 2021. On that day, together with Elonka Dunin, I will give an online lecture entitled “Crime-related Codes and Ciphers”. The organizer is the ICCH Forum.

Participation is free (as always), the dial-in link is available via the ICCH mailing list or upon request from me. Here is the preliminary agenda:

Quelle/Source: Schmeh

As you can see, the Red Army Faction (RAF) will also play a role in this talk (and yes, you actually write “Red Army Faction” without an “r” in English). I published a three-part series of articles on Cipherbrain a few months ago about the encryption methods of Baader, Meinhof and consorts.

However, some things are still unclear to me in this context and some cryptograms are unsolved. Therefore, today I would like to present some of the unsolved questions about the RAF ciphers. Among other things, this concerns the encrypted texts in which the RAF members described the location of their earth depots (filled with weapons, false IDs and cash, among other things).


Depot description 1

The following screenshot from the TV program ZDF History shows an encrypted depot description of the RAF:


Quelle/Source: ZDF History

Here is another example (according to blog readers Peter Bosbach and Marc, “76, 75, 43 …” should stand for RASCH BEGREIFEN):


Quelle/Source: ZDF History

And another screenshot of this kind:


Quelle/Source: ZDF History

According to ZDF History, this cipher was solved with a crib. A word with the pattern ABBC, which denoted a gas station, stood for ESSO.

It could be that a method was used here that Andreas Baader described when he was already in prison. One needs a list of words as a key:

Quelle/Source: Social History Portal

Now a letter is encoded with the help of the line and the position in the respective word. For example, the A can be encoded as 12 (1st line, 2nd letter). Also 31 (3rd line, 2nd letter) would be possible.

It should be noted, however, that the zero also appears in the above cryptograms. If one starts counting with this, then the A could be encoded as 01 or as 21.

Can a reader say more about the above depot descriptions?


Depot description 2

Another encoded depot description is as follows:

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.

The “robin” is another depot whose position is assumed to be known. “H” stands for stop. The encoded part of this text stands for apparently MÜLLVERBRENNUNGS, where one letter was lost during ciphering. This results in the following plain text:

Man steigt in den selben Bus wie zum Rotkehlchen[depot], steigt eine Haltetelle nach [der] Müllverbrennungsanlage aus.

The letters at the beginning of a cipher group (e.g. “Do”, “Mir”, “Ul”) are code names of RAF members, where “Mir” stands for Adelheid Schulz. The number following it (1 or 2) indicates that person’s first or last name, while the last number indicates the position of a letter in that name.

For example, “Mir1/4” stands for L because that is the fourth letter in Schulz’s first name, while “Mir2/1” stands for S, the first letter in Schulz’s last name. Blog reader M.S. suggested the following other names:

  • Ul: Inge Viett
  • Ru: Henning Beer
  • Do: Brigitte Mohnhaupt (if the surname is written “Monhaupt”)
  • Ol: Angelika Speitel (falls Ol 1/1 ein Fehler ist)

Does any reader know more about this?


Depot description 3

The following message is particularly interesting because it describes the location of the “Daphne” depot. It was at this depot that RAF terrorist Christian Klar was arrested on November 16, 1982. He might have known that the police knew the encrypted depot description, but probably assumed that the encryption had not been solved.

Quelle/Source: ZDF History

One word (“S-Bahn”) is decoded. 366 could be a bus line leading to the S-Bahn. Can a reader say more about this?


A book cipher?

Blog reader John Lamping pointed out to me that there is a book cipher in the feature film “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” that the terrorists are said to have used.

Quelle/Source: Der Baader-Meinhof-Komplex

The book used is “Moby Dick”. It is known that RAF members chose aliases from this book: Andreas Baader was “Ahab,” Holger Meins “Starbuck” and Ensslin “Smutje.” However, I am not aware of any source for the use of a book cipher – apart from the film in question. Does a reader know more?


An unsolved cryptogram

From Andreas Baader comes the following encrypted text:

Quelle/Source: Social History Portal

Unfortunately, I do not know the solution. It is possible that this message was encrypted with the cipher described above.


A Challenge

I think the above described encryption method of Andreas Baader is quite interesting. To my knowledge, there has been no research on the security of this cipher. Blog reader Allan Carstairs has thankfully created a challenge using this method. The challenge is to decrypt the following cryptogram:

87 31 12 47 17 45 33 52 65 84
44 23 64 66 85 35 18 48 67 37
73 87 19 52 16 35 65 11 26 53

The key consists of a list of eight English words. These have a length of six to nine letters each. The plain text is also English. Counting starts with the number one, not with the number zero. Can a reader decode this message?

If you want to add a comment, you need to add it to the German version here.

Further reading: Gesucht: Sechs verschlüsselte Verbrecher-Nachrichten


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