Interview: Mauss: A Life in Danger
The Adventurous Life of the Ex-agent
RZ (Rheinzeitung) 27.03.1999
Mauss: A Life in Danger
Master detective, super agent and government negotiator in risky peace mission: Werner Mauss is a living legend. Until his cover was blown in 1996, he had been involved in the arrest of 1600 criminals and had infiltrated 100 organised gangs.
Mauss and his wife, Ida agreed to be interviewed for this newspaper – at a secret location.
For decades there was only one hazy photograph of him – super agent Werner Mauss was faceless, a phantom of the German intelligence services, a hide-and-seek virtuoso – until an intrigue led to his cover being blown by the Colombian authorities in 1996.
One of our editor’s met up with Werner Mauss one afternoon, to talk, and try to get closer to the man.
An airport – somewhere in Germany – the perfect place for a meeting with Werner Mauss. The unmasked special agent still loves places that smack of arrival and departure, the anonymous settings of brief encounters.
The former shadow man prefers to remain invisible, to cover his tracks. He is responsible for bringing hundreds of criminals to justice, has infiltrated terrorist groups and bargained with guerrillas for human lives. For him, being careful is not a thoughtless habit – caution is his life insurance. Mauss himself is his own best disguise. The most conspicuous thing about him is his inconspicuousness. The man who enters the room carrying two old bags, seems the epitome of the ordinary. He is of medium build, with thinning hair and a roundish face. He is wearing a grey jacket, conventional blue shirt and trousers – your average Joe amidst the milling airport masses. The famous private agent leaves no impression at all – not even in the memory. He recalls recently discussing an illustration of himself with fellow passengers in a plane; “they didn’t recognise me.”
Mauss – the chameleon. The elite investigator, the ice-cold hunter, can also turn on the charm when he wants to. When he takes his leave, for example. Then he will look you in the eyes and shake you warmly by the hand. Or, with infectious enthusiasm, relate one of those unbelievable stories from his almost unbelievable life.
How was that again, 1976 in Athens? The Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA) had set him on the trail of terrorist Rolf Pohle, the man at the top of all their wanted lists. Mauss knew that RAF (Red Army Faction) member Pohle was in the habit of buying the “Süddeutsche Zeitung” (German daily newspaper) shortly after its delivery to the kiosks.
The special agent asked the Greeks to provide him with 200 police for one hour. At 4 o’clock in the afternoon, surveillance of the likely newsstands began. At 16.40 Pohle walked into the trap. He would have to read his “Süddeutsche” in prison from then on. Mauss, of course, had pulled off one of his most spectacular coups.
“BKA boss Horst Herold later modelled his computer-aided criminal search method on the investigation ”, he says, obviously still holding it in fond remembrance.
The statistics from his career are staggering: “I’ve been involved in the arrests of more than 1600 criminals”, he says, “and with the releases of 61 hostages worldwide.” Working for police agencies, public prosecutors’ offices and intelligence services he has been busy around the world on the trail of criminals of every kind, from burglars to art thieves and murderers. “I was able to move through the underworld like a fish through water.”
Mauss is both a living legend and an enigma at the same time. How was it possible for him to infiltrate so many criminal organisations and then bust them? How did he manage to win the confidence of so many crooks and get them to spill incriminating information? How is it possible for someone to investigate in a syndicate, using three different identities simultaneously, and not be found out? “I have a psychological feel for it”, he says laconically. The “System Mauss” is the name he has given to his secret strategy. It’s his name for a pool of experience which he prefers to keep locked up in his inner safe. Let’s just call it classified material.
Yet a meeting does tell you some things, intuitively, about the man. If he wants to be, the former top agent can appear as opaque as a sheet of frosted glass. No trace of emotion is perceptible – no matter how personal or delicate a question may be. His face seems petrified, an impenetrable mask. His voice is low, sounding almost cracked. Between thumb and forefinger he turns some small object, slowly and at an even pace. Caution, with perfect cover. Above all it is the alert, penetrating blue eyes and searching look that reveal the lively mind. He does not look at all dangerous this small, curiously reserved man. But he is.
Criminals of all classes have made the same mistake and paid for it by having their careers cut short. Mauss is a genius in disguise and deception, a cool and calculating illusionist.
With the help of criminologists and the intelligence services he created hundreds of brilliant fronts with which to bamboozle opponents. One time an art dealer, the next a drug dealer, a mafia boss or a terrorist. Elaborate preparations were made to “create” international criminal organisations, to make arrangements for pretended purchases of stolen goods, to simulate crimes or provoke confessions. Mauss jetted around the world, the stages for his performances shifting like the legends behind which he hid his motives. With trickery and deception he lured criminals into his net.
He occasionally turned up the bizarre and curious.
The robbers involved in the stealing of the Cologne Cathedral treasures, for example, told Mauss, who had infiltrated the gang, that they had been disturbed by loud knocking sounds as they were busy packing up their precious haul into sacks. The undercover agent, who was, by the way, the first of his kind in Germany, investigated and discovered it had been the cathedral sexton. He meekly admitted later to having been in the treasure vault on the night in question. He had heard noises, knocked, and on looking through the keyhole had seen something uncanny. In the darkness were strange flickering lights, which he took to be heavenly beings. When questioned he had kept this to himself, not wanting to appear ridiculous. The mysterious beings were, however, a gang of audacious criminals, wearing miner’s lights on their heads in order to leave their hands free for lifting the heavy valuables. The sexton’s admission provided the last piece of the jigsaw, converting suspicions against the gangsters into certainty. The case was soon solved.
V-Man Mauss (official civilian operative for the police) always went about his gang-busting activities by seeking out the weakest link in the chain. The less stable, insecure characters were his preferred targets. “I worked on them until they themselves wanted to talk”, he says.
The masterly actor would delve deeply into his box of psychological tricks. He would pamper and flatter, provoke or irritate by turns. The jealousy and quarrelling that was so much a part of the criminal scene made Mauss’s task easier. “Most of them were happy to see somebody else in trouble.” And some – stirred up by false accusations of betrayal or blame – were prepared to sacrifice others. Nevertheless, the German 007 led a very dangerous life.
In 1975, he narrowly escaped his own execution. Court clerks had betrayed him to a terrorist group that he had infiltrated under an assumed name. The unsuspecting agent was ordered into the forest by an execution squad – the site for a tribunal. “I had walked into a trap” he recalls, “but I managed to unsettle the members of the group so much that they let me live.” A dangerous situation, but Mauss claims he was not afraid: “I was very calm. My pulse rate is always around 120/65.”
Despite their indisputable success rate, Mauss’s unorthodox methods have been the subject of controversy throughout his remarkable career. He has been accused of being an unscrupulous bounty hunter and a power-mad egocentric. At a later period the rumour mill began to turn with stories that Mauss, the Colombian negotiator, was forcing up the ransom sums demanded by the guerrillas for kidnapped employees of European companies. None of the accusations was ever proven.
Mauss, himself reacts angrily: “I was the most checked-up-on man in Germany.” The only time I ever received a bonus payment for a successful operation I donated the money to police who were badly injured when we worked together. All missions were arranged in cooperation with criminal investigation agencies, intelligence services or even the Chancellery. “The people who attack me have no idea about my work.”
In any case, much of the criticism is not aimed only at the agent. Questions were also raised about his partners in government service. Mauss was able to move more freely through the twilit underworld than anyone with official status could have done. At the same time, he was risking his neck.
A major stir came in 1983 with the Düe jewellery robbery case. Mauss and his paymasters believed they had obtained a conviction against the jewellery dealer for insurance fraud and faking a 13.6 million Deutschmark robbery. However the verdict was later overturned. The appeal court judge ruled that Mauss and the state criminal investigation department in charge of the case had incriminated the jeweller by unfair means. In other words V-Mann Mauss alias “Claude” had induced Düe to produce part of his allegedly stolen valuables for a deal that was really a set up. The Brunswick district court excluded all of the evidence turned up by the undercover operation on the basis that it was thereby inadmissible.
The civil courts gave no credence to Düe’s version however. The jeweller claimed unavailingly that he had found some of the jewellery again by chance that he had earlier believed stolen. The actions of the police and the private agent made headlines for months, eventually leading to the forming of a parliamentary enquiry committee and to an incognito interrogation of the mysterious, unknown crime fighter.
It is something that still irks with Mauss. “Düe confessed to me that the robbery was a set up.”
See also HAZ of 29.06.2000 [Link] and Die Welt of 31.07.1998 [Link] (All of the jewellery reported as stolen by Düe (with a value of 13 million Deutschmarks) was found 19 years later during renovation work carried out by the new owner in the former business premises of Düe’s father just 400 metres from the scene of the crime. It was still in its original packaging. Düe’s guilt is confirmed. Unfortunately, by the time the find was made, the statute of limitations applied. As it turned out, the original conviction by the district court in Hanover was justified.)
In 1984 came a new beginning for Werner Mauss, in Colombia. Mauss, along with his Italian second wife Ida (Alida Maria), took on the double task of negotiating the building of an oil pipeline through territory controlled by the guerrillas of the national liberation army (ELN) and trying to win the release of four employees of the Mannesmann company – it was a challenge with a happy outcome.
The hostages were freed and Colombia’s black gold was soon flowing freely – the question of whether, or how much, money the guerrillas were paid has been the subject of a great deal of speculation. Mauss himself claims: “the guerrillas received no money from us.”
What happened was that, as part of a pilot project, we provided small kindergartens and hospitals along the 300-mile route of the pipeline. That was what finally brought about the releases of the hostages. “For my wife and I it was clear that poverty was the real obstacle to peace in Colombia, not the guerrillas.”
The troubleshooter and his wife, who is fluent in four languages, soon established a good relationship with the leaders of the ELN. For many of the European hostages languishing in the jungle the couple were a last hope. The guerrilleros, on the other hand, used to dealing in millions through their kidnapping activities, only received humanitarian support via Mauss – a mobile field hospital for example.
“We were there on behalf of the government.”
In 1996, with the Chancellery keen to test the guerrillas willingness for peace, Mauss brought the ELN leaders from their country, civil- war-torn, but rich in raw-materials, to Bonn in a unique secret mission. Intelligence services coordinator Bernd Schmidbauer was the man pulling the strings – with the backing of the Chancellor. The legendary team of 007 Mauss and 008 Schmidbauer had been established. In the meantime, the jungle fighters were also making the right noises about readiness for peace. Though the guerrilla group, led by Nicolás Rodriguez and Antonio Gárcia were clearly playing the international card in order to exert pressure on their government in Bogotá.
The 5000-strong ELN was demanding development assistance for the regions under their control in Colombia, a say in political matters, and an end to the terror of the right-wing death squads. In an effort to move the peace process forward, Schmidbauer had several meetings with the Colombian president, amongst other places in New York. Mauss laid the groundwork, while Schmidbauer provided the political traction. An ambitious project – a peaceful Colombia would have offered an immense market to German companies – it was derailed by the arrest of the super agent and his wife in 1996.
The Colombian authorities presented the pair to the world press. Mauss’s agent career was over. Only after the rehabilitation of the pair were there official Colombian talks in Germany. These were held in June of 1998 in Mainz and at Himmelspforten. From then on there was no escape from the peace process for Ida and Werner Mauss, with a negotiating mandate for the ELN while also acting as mediators with the Colombian government in the peace process. It’s almost as if the exposure of their old identities had uncovered new ones. “The killing in the Colombian jungles has to stop.”
“The life story of an agent”
Youth and fast-track career as detective
Born in Essen on February 11 1940, trained agronomist Mauss opened his own detective agency at 20 years old. He married his wife Margret in 1961. Sponsored by industry and insurance companies, directed by the Federal Criminal Police Office (beg. 1970) and intelligence services, the couple were involved in operations all over the world. By the time of their separation Werner and Margret Mauss had become the “Institution M”.
Spectacular success as top investigator
Top spy Mauss catches police murderer Alfred Lecki, takes up fight against terrorists. Smashes Euro gangs with police help, and in 1983 finds the Seveso toxic chemicals. In 1987 – on the night that the Minister-President of Schleswig-Holstein Uwe Barschel is found dead – Mauss too is in Geneva. “I never met Barschel”, says Mauss. I was in Geneva to negotiate with Hisbollah for the release of the German hostages Rudolf Cordes and Alfred Schmidt.” Both were freed.
His years as specialist for kidnapping cases and as government-backed peace negotiator come to an end on the 16th of November 1996.
Mauss and his second wife Ida fall victim to intrigue, are arrested in Medellin and remain in prison until the 28th of July 1997. On the 20th of May 1998 they are acquitted and rehabilitated. The judgement makes clear that they never, at any time, violated Colombian laws. 23 Colombian prosecutors and eight police officers are suspended.
A glimpse into the private life
Of his wife, Werner Mauss comments:
“Even in the most difficult situations she exudes calm. She is a tough negotiator, but also very human.”
Of the beginning of her relationship with Werner, Ida Mauss says:
“A point came when he told me what it was he really did for a living. It didn’t shock me, it just made me rather curious.”
Of the beginning of his relationship with Ida, Werner Mauss reports:
“She was 20, the third fastest woman over 100 metres in Italy and jumped from a ten-metre-high platform into a diving pool in pitch darkness. After we had got to know each other in Sardinia, we wanted to meet again in Mainz, but I didn’t recognise her at the railway station because of her big straw hat.”
On his wedding with Ida, Werner Mauss notes: “I had told her parents I was a pilot with Hapag Lloyd. It was true that I had a pilot’s licence. My missions involved 3,700 flying hours, without a co-pilot, day and night in the air.”
Werner and Ida Mauss on their family life:
“Nothing is more important to us. We have built a nest for our children. We are like eagles who fly in, then away again.”
Werner Mauss on James Bond films
“I don’t watch them. They are too boring.”
By courtesy of the publisher