Interview: “We Wanted to Save Lives”
Former secret agent WERNER MAUSS talks about his role in the negotiations over the release of the German hostages on the Philippine island of Jolo.
Stern: Herr Mauss, the German government has accused you of interfering counter-productively in the release of the Philippine hostages. How would you respond to the allegation?
Mauss: Having worked as an undercover investigator for the past 35 years, I have good sources and contacts all over the world. I phoned a high-ranking member of the Social Democratic Party to offer my help for purely humanitarian reasons. We had a personal meeting on May 6th and preliminary work was then undertaken, with his knowledge. What we found out was clear enough, and according to the information I had, would have made it possible to negotiate the release of the hostages as early as June, and probably without any payment of any ransom. Due to the importance of this information the SPD delegate asked intelligence services coordinator Uhrlau to listen to me. The German government, however, had, as is now publicly known, already committed itself to doing things via Libya.
Stern: What was it then that made you want to get involved?
Mauss: As conscientious German citizens my wife and I made sure to pass on all information that we received after the exploratory talks to the German government in the hope that this might save lives. Were one to ignore a seriously injured accident victim on the motorway one would be guilty of failing to render assistance. We wanted to do it free of charge, a purely humanitarian service. All we wanted was to have our expenses paid. We expected nothing for our work and we have never received anything for it.
Stern: According to the Federal Foreign Office and the Chancellor’s Office, you even got actively involved in August before the release of Werner Wallert, at a time when, according to the German government, an agreement was about to be concluded with the kidnappers. Why?
Mauss: No agreement was about to be concluded. It was only during the second half of August that the Libyan government, with the agreement of the German government, agreed to make millions in ransom money available for the rebels, although our government had, until then, refused all ransom demands. During the exploratory talks in May we found out that there were high-ranking decision-makers from the MILF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front) outside the Philippines. They were responsive and willing to seek a political solution to the hostage problem with the German government. These persons also had contacts in Europe. Our plan was that representatives of the German, or another European government should meet with them. Had we received assurances of safe conduct for them, my wife and I would have been able to use our contacts to arrange a meeting in Berlin, or some other place, by the end of May. We had also received clear signals telling us that other Asian countries would have supported this procedure. The problem that had led to the hostage-taking threatens to destabilise an entire region. We became involved because we hoped we would be able to help to bring peace to a region in which great social inequality prevails and where a Moslem minority is engaged in an armed struggle to establish its right to live according to its own ideas and beliefs, and is supported in its struggle by the Islamic states of the region.
Stern: You tried to intervene just prior to the release of Werner Wallert. Your wife telephoned Commander Robot before the 21st of August. You also offered to set up a conference circuit between the German government, Commander Robot and the hostages. Why did you continue your talks at this time?
Mauss: We had been talking with our sources and with the kidnappers since May via intermediaries, and later even Commander Robot became involved. We immediately passed on the information given to us, via third parties, to the German government. That’s why they knew about our telephone calls. In the course of various discussions which occurred between the 10th and 12th of August, Commander Robot indicated personally that he would be interested in a conference circuit with European dialogue partners. He was also prepared, as proof of this, to let the hostages talk by telephone with their families. As far as I know, delegates from the CDU and CSU (Christian Democrats, Christian Social Union) had informed the Federal Foreign Office and the Chancellor’s Office of this because members of the SPD government had refused to make any further use of my information. The German government could, at any time, have demanded that I turn off the telephone I was using to call the group. I did not want to take this responsibility upon myself. The calls to me from the MILF only ceased when Libya paid out in millions.
Stern: Various politicians from the CDU, CSU and SPD did their utmost to ensure that you would be officially assigned to the task. Why?
Mauss: Because they were convinced that the way I was suggesting was the right way. The facts spoke for themselves.
Stern: We reported that you had become actively involved and were using the alias Sondermann. That was an unfortunate mistake – sorry. Have you any idea who may have been behind the calls to a BKA representative in Zamboanga, the German military attaché or the German embassy, using the alias Sondermann?
Mauss: According to official findings in my possession, the information is a fabrication. In any case, one thing is certain, and I have affirmed that in lieu of an oath, that is, that I never, neither in this year nor earlier, made any such calls on the Philippines, not even under the name of Sondermann. Just as wrong is the claim that I had passed myself off as the special adviser of the Libyan negotiator Azzarouk.
Stern: The French and the Finns are supposed to have complained to Berlin because the European negotiators felt themselves to have been severely disturbed in their work. They apparently had evidence that the Germans had gone their own way via a second channel. Have you any comment on that?
Mauss: To the best of my knowledge there never was any such complaint. It’s just the same sort of nonsense as the Sondermann thing and I would like to correct another of Stern’s false assertions by stating categorically that at no time in the Philippines affair was I working with the former intelligence services coordinator, Minister of State Schmidbauer.