The Hamilton Spectator

A Fugitive, Hiding in Plain Sight


BERLIN — It took authoritie­s more than 30 years to hunt down one of Germany’s most wanted fugitives. For Michael Colborne, a journalist running old photograph­s through a facial recognitio­n service, it took about 30 minutes.

At the request of a German podcasting duo, he had been asked to search for matches to the decades-old wanted photograph­s of Daniela Klette, a member of the leftist militant group

Red Army Faction, Germany’s most infamous postwar terrorist group, known as the Baader-Meinhof gang.

Instead, the facial recognitio­n software he used lighted upon a woman called Claudia Ivone. In one image, she posed with her local capoeira troupe as they waved their arms. Another showed her tossing flower petals with an Afro-Brazilian society at a local street festival.

He had stumbled on an alias Ms. Klette had used for years, as she hid in plain sight in the German capital.

The German police announced on February 27 that they had caught Ms. Klette, now 65, trumpeting her arrest as a “masterpiec­e.” Some German

journalist­s had a different interpreta­tion of events.

“What was their success?” one journalist asked, challengin­g officials at a news conference. “Listening to a podcast?”

It is still unclear whether Mr. Colborne’s findings for the podcast, Legion, actually led to Ms. Klette’s being discovered by the police. The police say they found her through a tip in November, around the same time Mr. Colborne, 42, and Legion were doing their research.

It raised an awkward prospect: That Mr. Colborne, a Canadian journalist who works for the investigat­ive website Bellingcat, had identified with relative ease a fugitive who had eluded the German police by using two publicly available programs, PimEyes and AWS Rekognitio­n.

“Somebody like me, who does not speak German, who does not know much beyond the basic background of Daniela Klette — Why was I able to find such a lead in like literally 30 minutes?” he said. “There are hundreds of German far-right extremists with warrants for their arrest. If I can find somebody who’s been on the run for 30 years, why can’t German authoritie­s find some of these other wanted people?”

Peter Neumann, a German professor of security studies at King’s College London, said a major flaw in Germany’s ability to hunt down extremists was an overly zealous applicatio­n of data protection laws, which many attribute to the country’s history of surveillan­ce under the Nazis and in communist former East Germany.

The German police, Professor Neumann said, hamper their own ability to fight crime through overly strict laws. He said the police are unable to record conversati­ons between organized crime members, for example, if they may be sitting next to someone at a restaurant having an innocent conversati­on that would also be heard.

Another problem, he said, was that Germany has been struggling and failing for years to digitize a government that has remained stubbornly beholden to paper mail.

“They are not necessaril­y even thinking in terms of people’s presence in the virtual space,” he said. “Right wing extremists, but also jihadists, they are operating in online spaces on messaging forums — in places that German authoritie­s wouldn’t consider it to be real. But they certainly are real.”

Ms. Klette is a remnant of a different era of security threats, when leftist militancy was one of the most violent threats to society.

During her time in hiding, the police say, Ms. Klette and two accomplice­s, Ernst-Volker Staub and Burkhard Garweg, who are also wanted in connection with Red Army Faction activities, committed at least 13 violent robberies, netting them about $2 million.

The police are still searching for Mr. Staub and Mr. Garweg.

On February 28, after finding a hand grenade in her home, the police evacuated the nondescrip­t, rent-controlled building. The next day, they discovered a grenade launcher and a Kalashniko­v machine gun.

 ?? ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Daniela Klette, now 65, in a 1988 image distribute­d by the German police in 1993.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Daniela Klette, now 65, in a 1988 image distribute­d by the German police in 1993.

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