West German Law Enforcement Intelligence Analysis and Reaction to the Red Army Faction

The West German student movement of the late 1960’s sought to address perceived injustices found in West German society. Many of these demonstrations often resulted in clashes between students and the police. On June 2nd 1967, a state visit by the Shah of Iran to West Berlin sparked particularly turbulent protests against the Shah by various left leaning German student movements. When some of the Shah’s secret police clashed with German students, the demonstration erupted into chaos, resulting in the police shooting of Beno Ohnesorg.  Ohnesorg’s death was the impetus for the formation of one of Europe’s most dreaded terrorist organizations. Initially they were referred to as the Baader-Meinhof Gang and eventually more officially known as the Red Army Faction (RAF). This band of international terrorists would operate throughout the world for a little over two decades. Operations carried out by the RAF inspired leftists in other countries to form similar terror organizations engaging in crimes such as kidnappings, bank robberies, assassinations, and bombings based on a political agenda. This article discusses some of the evolving methods and tactics used by West German law enforcement by utilizing combinations of intelligence analysis and Human Intelligence (HUMINT) collection while simultaneously engaging and disrupting RAF operations during the initial stages of their terror campaign in the 1970’s. The flexibility and detailed analysis exhibited by West German law enforcement enabled police to mitigate the overall effectiveness of the RAF.

West German law enforcement and intelligence communities were forced to adapt and respond to a politically motivated form of crime. By 1972, the three founding members of the RAF, Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof, and Gundrun Ennslin were in prison and awaiting trial. Their arrests were the result of a combination of dogged police and intelligence work carried out by West German law enforcement and domestic intelligence services. Leading the effort were Horst Herold and Alfred Klaus of the Bundeskrimminalamt (BKA). Herold was ultimately responsible for bringing computer analysis and intelligence sharing to the forefront of counter-terrorism and law enforcement operations. Klaus was responsible for providing law enforcement with in-depth intelligence analysis of individual RAF members. These profiles focused on their political philosophy, education, writings, and childhood up-bringing.    

The BKA, HUMINT and the Investigators

The RAF situation in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s was truly a unique kind of criminal activity for law enforcement. After a successful raid freeing Baader from imprisonment; Baader, Meinhof, and Ensslin and others traveled to Jordan to receive military style training from the terror organization Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Each RAF member was provided with a passport from the United Arab Republic for their journey to Jordan. While at the PFLP terror training facility, Baader and Ensslin became confrontational with the PFLP leadership over the type of training being conducted. Engaged in an infantry style of combat training, due to the ongoing struggle with Israeli Defense Forces (IDF), the PFLP leadership was unwilling to alter their training regimen based on demands made by Baader and Ensslin. Baader insisted that the RAF were in need of an urban warfare type of training as the RAF was an urban guerilla movement. Eventually the group was expelled and forced to return to Western Europe through East Germany.[1] Once back in West Germany, the group made arrangements to begin the armed struggle to “expose” what they believed was a fascist state hidden within the West German government.[2] Using her numerous contacts with left-wing political sympathizers, Ulrike Meinhof coordinated a series of safe houses for the RAF while in West Berlin. After conducting a string of successful RAF bank robberies, the frustrated Berlin Police seized on an opportunity when they received an anonymous tip on an RAF meeting.

The police and intelligence officials in the RAF case did not have access to surveillance technology that intercepts telephone traffic or uses computer software that can keyword search conversations that reveal possible terrorist conversations, locations, and plans. The West German law enforcement community relied heavily on HUMINT in order to take advantage of any opportunity presented by their human sources. Berlin Police detective Kotsch’s intuitive decision to act on this tip—the first bit of real actionable intelligence they received—ultimately resulted in the first victory over the seemingly evasive RAF.

Kotsch received a telephone call from an individual identifying himself only as Mueller. Mueller provided Kotsch with information about a meeting between members of the RAF in a West Berlin apartment and gave Kotsch license plate numbers, two addresses, meeting times, and then abruptly hung up.[3] It is critical to note that Mueller advised Kotsh that previous attempts were made to provide similar information to other police officials and that his information had gone ignored. Cooperative intelligence is usually provided by defectors like Mueller. Unlike the other law enforcement officials that did not think Mueller’s information credible, Kotsch must have recognized that Mueller’s information was something that only a defector would be able to provide.  Kotsch dispatched several detectives to stakeout the location of the meeting. This proved to be a watershed moment for the war with the RAF; Mueller’s information was accurate and the stakeout proved to be fruitful. The conclusion of the operation saw several key RAF figures in police custody along with weapons, explosives, and key documents.

Detective Kotsch’s decision to act resulted in the first success of West German counter-terrorism and provided further information to be exploited. Captured documents revealed the group’s financial status and established that Gundrun Ensslin was the group’s chief financial officer.[4] Among those arrested was an RAF attorney by the name of Horst Mahler. Mahler’s membership in the RAF gave police insight into the kind of role left-wing activist attorneys would play later as the investigation wore on. For example, their role in smuggling weapons and communications between incarcerated RAF members were some examples of how the attorney client privilege could be abused.[5]

Exploring the Culture of Terrorist Groups

During the early stages of the RAF crisis, the BKA assembled the Bonn Security Group. BKA investigator Alfred Klaus was reassigned from another BKA detail to oversee this new investigative body. Once reassigned, Klaus began his investigation of the RAF with an extensive examination of the entire philosophy of the RAF. Klaus studied Marx, Mao, and numerous RAF publications like The Urban Guerilla Concept authored by Ulrike Meinhof. He would read and reread news stories and magazine articles that focused on the group’s activities and crimes.[6] Like Klaus, the West German internal intelligence service, Bundesamt fuer Vassungsschutz (BfV), also studied the culture of the radical left. BfV investigators made extensive use of open source intelligence collection by examining the speeches, theses, and brochures of prominent leftist leaders, students, and political agitators.[7] Ulrich Wegener, the founder and first commanding officer of the GSG 9, also analyzed terrorism from this target centric perspective. Wegener studied theories on guerilla warfare, political motives, methods of operation, strategies, and tactics.[8]

Adopting this target centric approach, Klaus, Wegener, and the BfV investigators assisted in establishing an accurate model of the RAF culture, individual members, and their supporters. This form of analysis and profiling permits police to narrow their field of focus.[9] While West German agencies used a high degree of professionalism in their investigation of their adversary, BKA investigator Klaus took his research to an entirely different level using determination and his interpersonal skills to advance his investigation. Most notably, Klaus was gifted with a personality that people generally found charming, disarming, and magnetic.  Klaus used this, as well as his determination, as he went out and visited the families and associates of known RAF members. By doing so, he was able to conduct an assessment of individual RAF members and associates. For example, Klaus interviewed Gundrun Ensslin’s parents and is reported to have had wine with Andreas Baader’s mother while discussing Andreas’s childhood. Interestingly, Klaus made it a point to never ask the family members to turn in the RAF member; he would only ask that if they did come into contact with the RAF member that they ask the member to stop committing these violent acts. Klaus’s efforts allowed him to skillfully develop individual personality profiles of each known RAF member by innocuously eliciting information from family members and associates. Klaus’s studies convinced him that the RAF was not just a bunch of criminals committing random acts of violence for some obscure ideology.[10] Instead, Klaus’ innovative intelligence collection approach allowed him to establish a solid understanding of the personalities, psychology, and culture within the RAF which he assembled in a sixty page analytical report. Klaus also traveled to the various police precincts around West Germany to give lectures on the personalities, political motives, intentions, and political philosophy of the RAF. Klaus’s intelligence collection, analysis, writings, and presentations covering the RAF helped overcome some biases that existed within German law enforcement with respect to the RAF.[11] Klaus was able to understand and circulate the view that the objectives of the RAF were forms of political actions and not an ordinary crime spree as many in the West German law enforcement community had suspected.

Some in the law enforcement community were shocked at what appeared to be Klaus’s admiration of the RAF. Fellow police officers were stunned when Klaus remarked that he was impressed at the planning and thought that went into some of the RAF operations.[12] Klaus’s analysis of the RAF helped to limit any bias traps or analytical vulnerabilities that he may have developed as a long standing BKA investigator.[13] These analytical efforts were clearly designed to give law enforcement an advantage in addition to addressing the principles of counter-deception.

Horst Herold, the BKA, and Computer Analysis

When Horst Herold took over the BKA in 1971, it was a relatively small federal institution with little law enforcement authority. When Herold left the agency, it had doubled in size and had become one of the Federal German Republic’s best weapons against crime and terrorism. Herold is probably best known for his development of criminal computer analysis within West German law enforcement. The system that he developed has been compared to the internet for German law enforcement. His idea ultimately used a combination of the target centric analytical approach and computer analysis against the RAF. [14] Herold believed that how he approached the RAF problem and used the potential advantage gained by his use of technology helped law enforcement to focus limited resources on the RAF and gain an advantage.

The fight against terrorism, in Herold’s view, was somewhere between military operations and a political policy struggle.[15] He clearly shared the views of Klaus in that both men believed that the conflict between the German state and the RAF was political. Herold considered the possibility that terrorism at the time may have been the result of the situation as it existed between the eastern and western spheres of political influence. Herold surmised that the type of terrorism promulgated by the RAF must be destroyed at its origins and this required that the police respond independently with accurate and reliable intelligence.[16] As such, computer analysis, access to intelligence, and communications among a decentralized police community like West Germany’s were essential in defeating the RAF.

Herold’s computer system, used by a highly dispersed police force among the independent states and districts throughout West Germany, enabled intelligence to pass throughout the entire West German law enforcement community. Ensuring that BKA agents, police officers, and detectives in the field had timely access to the intelligence that they all needed gave the police the advantage over the terrorists. Researcher David Gugerli notes that Herold’s computer system eventually contained all the information that had been assembled by the German police. Herold further strengthened the BKA position by providing open channels of communication between local police and detectives in the field so they could collect and analyze information rapidly, while keeping the BKA informed.[17]

Information from police reports and documents were transcribed into the BKA database.  This system was designed so that the search engine could assemble information based on statistical patterns based on the description of the criminal being sought. This enabled law enforcement managers and supervisors to effectively deploy their resources.   Every police station in West Germany was connected to the new BKA computer system, with some 800 computer work stations in total available to police. The system contained thousands of names of known RAF associates, suspect organizations, millions of fingerprints, and photographs. Detectives found that the system offered them easy and quick access to some fundamental law enforcement information. In the 1970’s, this was the state of the art technical surveillance system.[18] Herold would use his computer system to coordinate his RAF dragnet across West Germany using computerized profiles of potential terrorists and supporters.[19]

Movement around West Germany became increasingly difficult for the RAF because of Herold’s police computer system. The RAF developed an elaborate and deceptive counter measure designed to evade police check points and traffic stops. One of these methods was known as “the doubles game.” In “the doubles game,” a particular make, color, and year of vehicle was stolen. RAF members then made efforts to find an innocent civilian who operated the same make, model and color car. Once a person was found and identified, duplicate license plates were manufactured along with identification documents that were made from stolen blank driver’s licenses and identity documents. In the event of a police road block or traffic stop, all of the corresponding identification and vehicle information appeared legitimate. In order to assist police in countering “the doubles game,” Herold hoped to enlist the help of the nation’s gas station employees. BKA flyers were circulated to gas stations around West Germany requesting that they look for individuals exhibiting suspicious behavior or individuals with hair that appeared to have been dyed and report it to police.[20] Even in the dawning age of sophisticated computerization, the BKA had to resort to public reporting.

The detailed research conducted by the West German law enforcement community forced the RAF to burro further underground, thus limiting their effectiveness. The RAF was able to cross the border into East Germany with the help of the East German security services in order to receive additional training and get some rest. This placed West German intelligence and security services at a great disadvantage.[21]

The focus on the background of individual terrorists, their philosophy, and the RAF’s organizational culture assisted West German law enforcement to effectively engage the RAF thus diminishing their overall effectiveness. Dieter Munzinger’s account of the GSG 9’s operations during their pursuit of Christian Klar provides insight into how effective West German police intelligence was becoming. Munzinger claims that the GSG 9 and BKA were often arriving at identified RAF safe houses only moments after Klar was believed to have abandoned it. By maintaining pressure on the terrorist Klar, West German police limited his ability provide leadership and to coordinate terrorist attacks until his eventual arrest outside of Aumuele, Germany at an RAF weapons cache. The BKA learned this information from HUMINT sources.[22]

The introduction of computer technology in conjunction with HUMINT management and group cultural study were paramount in assisting the West German authorities in defeating the RAF. The study and understanding of the culture of any group must not be underestimated. This is how we come to understand the intentions of an enemy or competitor. HUMINT played a major role in this type of investigation and contributed significantly to the eventual dismantling of the RAF. Once the information was synthesized into intelligence, it was then disseminated to those operating on a national level thus assisting in making their investigations successful.  

[1] Tom Vague (1994). Televisionaries: The Red Army Faction Story 1963-1993. AK Press. Edinburgh, UK. Pp.20-24. 

[2] Stefan Aust (Trans. Anthea Bell) (2008). Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF. Oxford University Press, UK. Pp. 72-73

[3] Stefan Aust (Trans. Anthea Bell) (2008). Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF. Oxford University Press, UK. Pp. 81-84.

[4] Stefan Aust (Trans. Anthea Bell) (2008). Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF. Oxford University Press, UK. P 83.

[5] Tom Vague (1994). Televisionaries: The Red Army Faction Story 1963-1993. AK Press. Edinburgh, UK. P. 96.

[6] Stefan Aust (Trans. Anthea Bell) (2008). Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF. Oxford University Press, UK. Pp.101-102.

[7] J. Smith & Andre Moncourt (2009). The Red Army Faction: A Docuemntary History, Volume 1: Projectiles for the People. PM Press, Oakland, CA.  P.116

[8] Rolf Tophoven (1985). GSG 9: The German Response to Terrorism.  Bernard & Graefe Verlag. Oldenburg, Germany. P. 18

[9] John O. Koehler (1999). Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. West View Press. Boulder Colorado. P. 399.

[10] Stefan Aust (Trans. Anthea Bell) (2008). Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF. Oxford University Press, UK. Pp. 103-104.

[11] Roger Z. George and James B. Bruce (Editors)(2001).  Analyzing Intelligence: Origins, Obstacles, and Innovations.  George Washington University Press. Washington DC. P.127-130.

[12] Stefan Aust (Trans. Anthea Bell) (2008). Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF. Oxford University Press, UK. Pp. 103.

[13] Roger Z. George and James B. Bruce (Editors)(2001).  Analyzing Intelligence: Origins, Obstacles, and Innovations.  George Washington University Press. Washington DC. P.127-130.

[14] David Gugerli (2009). “Search Engines: The World as a Database.” http://networkcultures.org/wpmu/query/2009/06/16/a-new-view-on-old-seargh-engines/ [accessed June 10, 2012].

[15] Stefan Aust (Trans. Anthea Bell) (2008). Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF. Oxford University Press, UK. P. 138.

[16] Stefan Aust (Trans. Anthea Bell) (2008). Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF. Oxford University Press, UK. P. 140.

[17] Stefan Aust (Trans. Anthea Bell) (2008). Baader-Meinhof: The Inside Story of the RAF. Oxford University Press, UK. P. 140.

[18] J. Smith & Andre Moncourt (2009). The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History, Volume 1: Projectiles for the People. PM Press, Oakland, CA. P.116.

[19] John O. Koehler (1999). Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. West View Press. Boulder Colorado. P. 399.

[20] J. Smith & Andre Moncourt (2009). The Red Army Faction: A Documentary History, Volume 1: Projectiles for the People. PM Press, Oakland, CA. P. 335.

[21] John O. Koehler (1999). Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police. West View Press. Boulder Colorado. P. 399.

[22] Dieter Munzinger (Winter 2009). “Firsthand:  GSG 9 Terrorist Apprehension.” The Counter-Terrorist: Official Journal of the Homeland Security Professional. Volume 2, Number 6. Security Publications International. Miami, FLA. USA. Pp. 8-18.


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Two years ago I read a library copy of Stefan Aust's book, The Baader-Meinhof Complex; so it is not to hand, I too recall it made critical comments on the German state's response. Note the author used it in nine of his twenty-two citations.

The Baader-Meinhof gang in West Germany started in 1970 and ended in 1998. At one time the gang had six members engaged in a campaign of terrorism and was described as "the war of six against sixty million". The early gang was captured in 1972, a prolonged trial started in 1975 and ended in 1977 when three died in custody - after the famous GSG-9 (and SAS) hostage rescue at Mogadishu.

Aust's book is not only a really good read, its has excellent coverage of radicalisation, the state response (much still shrouded in secrecy), the importance of international links - notably with the Stasi of East Germany and the impact on German society.

Given the importance to the creation of the RAF in 1970 of an un-provoked shooting dead of a student at a Berlin protest by a police officer in 1969, it is vital to read the update on the policeman being a Stasi agent! Read: http://20committee.com/2013/02/24/what-if-everything-you-know-is-wrong/

This is an interesting article in that it ignors a specific event that clouds the summation of the article.

In a Celle, Germany train station (in mid 86) shootout with a BKA stakeout team which involved two RAF females and one RAF male companion--- one of the females was killed, the male companion was seriously wounded, and a second female was captured.

WHAT was not known to the BKA stakeout team was that the male companion had started his career as a street radical and had worked his way into the core of the RAF was a successful BKA plant---the only one who had made it into the RAF core--it took him seven years to make it there and in the spann of five minutes of shooting the BKA plant was eliminated and the seven years were wasted---from that moment on the BKA was no longer successful in capturing any RAF members until the wall came down.

What we saw in the BMG then RAF and 2 Jun groups was that with the eliminatation of a leadership level by the German intel and police services the next generation improved their opsec by analyzing the failures of the past leadership group---by the mid to late 80s we were seeing the 4th leadership generation which also impacted the abilities of the German intel and police services.

A trend we also saw in Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups.

A bit flattering IMHO. To this day BKA and BfV are either unable or unwilling
to clear up some of RAF's 1st and 2nd generations crimes. And they know next to nothing about the 3rd generation. The role of East German and Soviet Intelligence services in aiding, arming and hiding of RAF cadres has been largely ignored.
Connections to Tupamaros (and there 1972 anti Jewish bombing campaign in Munich) an Revolutionäre Zellen were either not investigated or they did not lead to arrests. BKA was unable to prevent the assassination of Herrhausen and Rohwedder and most 3rd generation RAF terrorists are still at large. The RAF was a very small group of about 20 people in the underground at any one time. But fighting them bound a large part of BKA's and BfV's resources for nearly 30 years and caused enormous costs. If the overall operations against the RAF were successful intelligence work, I do not want to imagine what a failure would look like.