The Long Journey of Investigator Werner Mauss – The Mauss System
Die Welt, 31.07.1998
Karl-Ludwig Günsche and Hans Werner Loose
Hans Werner Loose in a WELT interview with the former secret agent
DW Berlin - Agent Werner Mauss (58) was an undercover man for many years. Working internationally, he helped to bring about the arrests of 1600 criminals and the releases of around 60 hostages. In France, he tracked down the missing toxic waste barrels from Seveso, and, in a later operation, recovered the treasures stolen from Cologne Cathedral. He always worked at his own risk.
Working for the German government in Colombia in November of 1996 he was arrested while attempting to secure the release of a German hostage and accelerate the peace process. His cover with various identities and aliases was blown.
Mauss talked to DIE WELT about how the son of a draper from Essen became an international investigator.
The Mauss System
For thirty years Germany’s first undercover agent was a phantom. Here he tells DIE WELT about his life
His missions took Werner Mauss into a nebulous grey area between good and evil; travelling the world in the employ of private companies, police and intelligence services, he helped bring more than 1600 criminals to justice and oversaw the releases of almost 60 hostages. Now he is back in Germany and wants to pass on his knowledge.
Bonn – He is unarmed and not accompanied by any bodyguards. At a castle perched high above the Rhine he lays two shabby bags of documents on a garden seat, his mobile phone on the table.
“Our meeting place has to remain secret”, he says in a quiet voice that permits no contradiction. The wiry man with the steel-blue eyes lived the life of a phantom for decades, moving between the worlds of crime and politics, money and mayhem. He carried out his spectacular missions in the service of the state, working in a twilight zone between legality and illegality; he was an agent working for others, but at his own risk, a chameleon with many identities. “I don’t know any more how many pseudonyms I used – only one name is real; my name is Werner Mauss.”
Now, for the first time, one of the most colourful characters of the post-war period in Germany talks about his adventurous life – from his roots in the Ruhr area to a prison cell, via the palaces of presidents and potentates.
“I was born on the 11th of February 1940 in Essen. My father was a draper. My father died when I was just eight years old”, he says of his early years. His mother had to look after the family alone, but her attempt to carry on her husband’s business failed.
“I never used violence in my work, and never used a gun, nor fists; I preferred to use my head”
Life at home is frugal, with necessities in short supply. For son Werner, however, the future seems secure. He is to take over an estate, and takes a qualification in agronomy at Warendorf, near Munster. Crazy about horses, he takes a bronze badge in riding and coach driving and learns to handle a coach and six. “That’s something I’m really proud of.”
However, Werner Mauss has long since discovered the fascination of something else. He takes up private lessons with instructors at various police training centres. Providing for his mother and financing his training means working as a waiter and as a vacuum cleaner salesman.
At just 20 years old he opens his first detective agency in the exclusive Essen suburb of Bredeney and buys his first car, a clapped out VW. He considers joining the police, but rejects the idea, determining to stay “free and independent”.
His first job is passed on by a lawyer friend – “a divorce case where a lot of money was at stake”. The case is settled to the customer’s complete satisfaction, quickly, precisely and discreetly.
Having made his mark, his rise is swift. The first jobs from industry follow. His first international case involves undercover work on patent protection, a three-month job that takes him to Austria, London and South Africa. He is 21. “Two years later, I had offices in Essen, London and Locarno. I had several cars, a pilot’s licence, and then bought my first plane, a single-engine Cessna 182. No other detective owned a plane.”
By this time he is already married, to a legal secretary. While Werner Mauss is travelling the world, his convenience marriage is on the rocks.
The young detective adopts a maxim to which he has always remained true. “No alcohol, very little nicotine and a great deal of discipline – and rule number one – no affairs.” He works alone. “When I am alone, I know that I can count on myself.” He develops a system which becomes known as “the Mauss System ”. “I learned how to infiltrate criminal gangs, without disguises, wigs or false beards, under various identities. At one point I even operated with three different names and three different cover stories in the same organisation. Each time I am someone else, and yet always the same person. Using my system I am even able to infiltrate gangs where I am known. Then I sit like a spider in its web. How I do it, will remain my secret. A good cook keeps his recipes to himself, but I will say this: “one must be secure in one’s own identity in order to change roles so often.” At 25 he is already in a position to be selective about the jobs he takes on. “People were throwing money at me”, he says with a laugh, “I could pick the cherries off the cake.”
Industry and insurance companies recognise his talents and pay him well for them. “11,000 Deutschmarks a month, later 15,000, always tax-paid. Expenses extra, of course.” Three or four times he was paid bonus money for successes. “But I didn’t want to be better off than the police officers with whom I was working, so I passed the money on for the benefit of officers who were badly hurt during my operations.”
Werner Mauss operates throughout Europe, on the trail of criminal gangs involved in armed robbery, burglary and drugs. “That was the beginning of organised crime. The only way to put a stop to these organisations was by infiltrating them. I was the pilot project for the undercover agent in Germany.” On all his missions the professional operator takes precautions to cover himself; the public prosecutor’s office authorises his activities. “It was the police special commissions who decided where I would be operating, not the insurance companies; they were simply my sponsors.”
Ever since that time Mauss has always answered those who ask about his job, with: “I am a civilian operative for the police.”
He uses his plane like others use their cars. He takes his professional pilot’s and his blind flying licences and by 1984 has clocked up more than 3,700 flying hours at the controls of a new turbo-prop machine. Mauss has seen Bond films, but remains unimpressed. “I never used violence in my work, and never used a gun, nor fists; I preferred to use my head”. I hardly ever carry a gun, and only once did I ever shoot at someone – in 1968, close to Munich.” He fired at a heavily armed gangster in order “to save the life of a police officer whom the gangster was trying to attack.”
He works for local police forces, for the intelligence services, state criminal investigation departments and the Chancellor’s Office. The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) coordinates the work of the man it leads as “Institution M”. His cases cover the entire spectrum and read like an A-Z of the statute book, everything from theft and murder to drug trafficking and arms dealing, “you mention it, I’ve done it.” The order book is always jam-packed. “I always worked for four or five special commissions at the same time, and always with different identities, but always with genuine identification documents issued by departments with the legal authority to do so”.
The BKA assigns Mauss to track down police murderer Alfred Lecki who, at Christmas in 1969, had taken the advice of the Christmas song, Fling Wide the Door, quite literally and broke out of prison in Essen with his sidekick Helmut Derks. Mauss follows their trail to Spain, organises the first telephone bugging and later oversees the pair’s arrests in Alicante and Marbella. He is congratulated by General Franco in Madrid who rewards him with two bottles of wine. They were 200 years old and “tasted like a mixture of sherry and vinegar”.
Mauss infiltrates the first Euro gang in Austria, Italy, France, Belgium and Germany. One surveillance operation in 1972 takes an unusual twist. While eating out one evening in Paris in the company of a group of killers (“even I go armed on such occasions”), the restaurant is surrounded by police. The entire company is rounded up and taken to Santé prison. Mauss hides his gun behind the waistband of his trousers until he is able to pass it out through the bars to the astonished guards some days later – “but my cover wasn’t blown.”
He shudders now as he recalls his first imprisonment. “The guillotine was still in operation at the time!” His incarceration lasts longer than it should because the only BKA officer who can identify him is on holiday. It takes two weeks before his contact at Interpol in Paris finds him. Mauss is returned to the outside world and carries on with the job – unmasking the 80-man gang. “It included 27 members of the Italian police force; the boss was the police commissioner.”
The cases Werner Mauss is involved in become more and more spectacular. In 1974 comes the smashing of another Euro gang and more than 200 arrests. In 1976 he recovers the treasures stolen from Cologne Cathedral three years earlier. He becomes involved in the worldwide hunt for terrorists. “Even today I cannot talk about this”, he says discreetly.
About a success in Athens in 1976, however, he does speak. He knew that RAF (Red Army Faction) terrorist Rolf Pohle was hiding out in the Greek capital. “I sat at the Acropolis wondering about how I could catch him.” Mauss also knew that Pohle was a regular reader of the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” newspaper which was sold at 75 kiosks in the city.
“If I had known Uwe Barschel he would still be alive today.”
He asks the police chief to let him have “200 officers for an hour” – his request is granted. After setting up his control point in the Plaka, he positions police officers at all of the likely kiosks. “20 minutes later we had found him; 35 minutes later he had been arrested.” And once more a grateful head of government shook him by the hand. “I drank camomile tea with Konstantin Karamanlis and learned to appreciate its healing powers”, says the ascetic agent.
In 1983, Mauss tracks down 41 barrels of poisonous dioxin to a French slaughterhouse. They are the dangerous remnants of the explosion disaster at Seveso in Italy in 1970. The intention was to throw them into the sea. The German agent is able to prevent “an environmental disaster of incalculable magnitude.”
However, things also go wrong. In the case of the alleged robbery of the Hanover jeweller Düe, for example, in 1981, where jewellery to the value of 13,565,962 Deutschmarks goes missing. In 1983, Düe is sentenced to seven years imprisonment after giving valuables, earlier reported as stolen, to Mauss during an undercover operation. Three years later, in an appeal hearing at the Brunswick district court, the undercover operation carried out by the state criminal investigation department is criticised and the jewellery given to Mauss by Düe disallowed as evidence. Düe is acquitted though the civil courts are of a different opinion. All actions brought by Düe are dismissed with costs. The judges believe Mauss’s version of events and that Düe had faked the robbery. The risk-taking agent protests: “Düe even admitted to me that the robbery had been set up by himself.”
The Düe case brings the first rents in Mauss’s invisibility cloak. Though his face is concealed in a police helmet as he is flown to Hanover for cross-examination, and though he is permitted to give his evidence via microphone from a side room in the court, a short time later the first photograph of the “man without a face” surfaces – unclear, yet treacherously revealing nevertheless. The image comes from a police surveillance photograph. Mauss comments: “According to reliable information, it was a BKA officer who was responsible for leaking it to the press.”
“One must be secure in one’s own identity in order to change roles so often.”
“My work was betrayed by the indiscretion but not impaired, my system is too good for that”, he says. However, following the Düe case, the hunter had become the hunted. Public interest in him was stirred up by “certain journalists”, he says, and adds: “I was downright criminalised.”
At this time, Mauss had already been directing a new operation for several months involving the German Lebanon crisis squad and working out of Geneva. So he was there on the day that Schleswig Holstein Minister President Uwe Barschel died in mysterious circumstances. It didn’t take long before “those journalists” were trying to claim that he was the mysterious “Roloff” with whom Barschel is said to have met. Mauss smiles in mild amusement. “I was involved in negotiations with Hezbollah, attempting to gain the release of the two German hostages Cordes and Schmidt who were being held in Lebanon. We had in fact booked into the 'Beau Rivage' hotel on the same day as Barschel, but the Hezbollah people preferred the 'Richmond'. I never saw, nor spoke to Uwe Barschel”, he continues animatedly. One thing he can say with certainty: “If I had known him, he would still be alive today.” In any case, Mauss, for his own safety, spent his time in Geneva under the watchful eye of German and Swiss security – round the clock. “There is no better alibi.”
In the meantime it has started to rain at the castle on the Rhine. Under a protective sunshade Werner Mauss carries on regardless. His wife Ida rescues the expensive jacket that her husband has carelessly left hanging on a garden chair and brings it under shelter beside the rhododendron before re-filling her husband’s glass with water. The attractive Italian has been his constant companion for the past 17 years.
They met in a café in Cagliari, Sardinia. The then 20 year old was the third fastest woman over 100 metres in Italy, a political science student, who wanted to go into diplomatic service. But things worked out differently. Three months after their meeting she travelled to Mainz to meet the man who had told her he was a pilot. Werner Mauss is waiting for her on the platform. “For the first time”, he laughs, “I didn’t recognise a target.” The young woman had disguised her long brunette hair under a huge hat. Soon they were talking of marriage, but first, the bridegroom would have to reveal his true profession. “I wasn’t shocked”, recalls the Sardinian who speaks five languages, “it just took a little getting used to.”
The couple have now three sons, fifteen, eleven and six years old. In spite of their dangerous jobs, the couple do everything they can to give their children a protective home environment. Ida Mauss has taken up her husband’s profession. He admits: “I don’t only love my wife more than anything, she is also my number one colleague, we stick together through thick and thin.”
In 1996, it seemed the success story was about to come to a sudden end. On the 16th of November the couple were arrested at the Rionegro airport in the Colombian drugs capital of Medellin. Mauss talks of plot and “intrigue”. The highest Colombian authorities would later have to apologise. Mauss was accused of supporting the ELN guerrilla organisation and of complicity in the kidnapping of Brigitte Schoene, wife of a former BASF manager in Colombia.
Colombia brings a sea change in the couple’s life. Their first visit to the Latin American country in 1984 brings them to the realisation that: “If we want to have peace to the country after 30 years of civil war, then we must fight against the poverty, not the guerrillas.” The Mannesmann Company asks for help; it wants to build an oil pipeline and is having problems with the guerrilleros. Together with the Catholic Church, Mauss & Mauss begin a programme of “charitable works along the route of the pipeline”. With the help of relief organisations from all over the world and financial contributions from industry, schools and hospitals for the poor are built. The National Liberation Army (ELN) gives its support to the projects. Werner Mauss: “We even got dressed up in Santa Claus outfits and distributed small gifts in areas where the people knew nothing but murder and destruction.”
The two German agents understand the laws of the jungle. “The guerrilleros kidnap foreign workers and release them on payment of ransom.” But they themselves, through humanitarian actions “brought successful conclusions to kidnapping affairs and helped prevent further kidnapping and attacks.” This was the case in 1988 when five Europeans were released without any ransom being paid after Mauss invites a small group of the ELN to Germany. He was able to find “the political rather than the financial key to the situation.” The ELN handed over a petition for Chancellor Kohl on the massacres in their homeland.
In 1995 the German Government entrusts the agents with the carrying out of a special mission. It involves risking their own lives by travelling to the ELN guerrillas’ central camp and, in January of 1996, bringing their top commanders back to Germany. Mauss smuggles the rebels through Europe to participate in exploratory talks. “Afterwards”, he says, “all the politicians agreed that the ELN wanted peace.” In 1996, when Colombian Minister of the Interior Horatio Serpa visits the Federal Chancellery in Bonn, Mauss is also at the table. In New York he arranges a meeting between Minister of State Bernd Schmidbauer and Colombian President Ernesto Samper, and participates in the discussion. Peace negotiations are to begin on December 16th 1996, a ceasefire from January 1st 1997. The condition set by intelligence services chief Schmidbauer is that no European hostage is to be in rebel hands.
“That was the only reason for our mission”, says Mauss recalling his arrest in Medellin, “the result of a two month intrigue against ourselves by the governor and the insurance company Controlrisk.” Werner and Ida Mauss are paraded before the international press, their cover blown for good. The peace process appears over before it has begun. “We were working on behalf of the German government”, says the agent. “We were provided with a letter of safe conduct and several identities on what was our most dangerous mission – to fetch hostage Brigitte Schoene back from the jungle after she had been freed from her criminal kidnappers by the ELN.” The couple survive nine months of “degrading” incarceration in Colombian prison. Werner Mauss can hear the “kidnappers of Frau Schoene screaming under torture”.
In his cell with pay phone he even has a degree of comfort. His wife, on the other hand, has to settle for a 1.60 x 1.80 metre cell with murderers and poisoners as neighbours. “It was dreadful, my only consolation was that I was permitted to talk to my husband on the phone for 15 minutes every day.” Once a month they were brought together. Ida Mauss, guarded by 130 soldiers, is transported in an armoured car to the prison where her husband is being held. “It was only our love for one another and the thought of our children that gave us the strength to get through”, he says, revealing another side to himself beneath the tough exterior.
Diplomatic activity between Bonn and Bogotá is frantic. Finally on July 28th 1997 the couple are released. On May 20th 1998 the Colombian Supreme Court decides that the arrest and imprisonment had been illegal; Ida and Werner Mauss have violated no Colombian laws. Of one thing Mauss is sure. “Without the German government and Schmidbauer we would still be in prison.”
Their liberty just restored, they are requested by Colombian President Samper to revive the peace process suspended through their arrest.
By courtesy of the publisher
“I don’t only love my wife more than anything, she is also my number one colleague.”
The couple travel to the central camp of the guerrillas on several occasions and are able to arrange for a group of the ELN’s central command to travel with them to peace negotiations in Germany. At the Wurzburg Carmelite monastery of Himmelspforten in July of 1998, a unique constellation of participants – state, church and guerrillas – sits down around the same table. After 40 years of a civil war that has claimed the lives of around 35,000 people annually comes the signing of the first peace document. Werner and Ida Mauss, both present, describe the paper as “historic”.
The agent takes stock of his life on this rainy day. He has overseen the releases of almost 60 hostages, and assisted in the arrests of more than 1600 criminals. “I would not advise anyone to emulate me”, he says earnestly. He may perhaps pass on the secret of his “Mauss System”. “I could pass my knowledge on to handpicked police officers in the same way as I was taught my craft by the police back then.”
Ask the man with the brush cut about his most difficult mission and he will laughingly reply: “My negotiations with the BKA about my pension.”