Apple's AirTag uncovers a secret German intelligence agency

Posted:
in General Discussion edited January 25
A researcher has sent one of Apple's AirTags to a mysterious "federal authority" in Germany to locate its true offices -- and to help prove that it's really part of an intelligence agency.




Apple's AirTags have already been used for good and for bad in cases involving the tracking of individuals, but now a German researcher has used one in an expose of government secrets.

Activist Lilith Wittmann claims that she has uncovered how Germany's little-known Federal Telecommunications Service is actually a "camouflage authority" for a secret intelligence agency. Initially she wrote how she "accidentally stumbled upon a federal authority that does not exist."

Now Wittmann has detailed her subsequent and extremely thorough attempts to prove her suspicion. She has methodically gone through every step of learning what she can of the intelligence agency, including where it is.

Some of the steps she details are no longer possible to reproduce, such as her initial one of simply looking up a list of federal authorities online. Similarly, Wittmann includes transcripts of phone calls with an official whose cell number that she reports then ceased working.

Through calls like that, IP searches, and even driving to official buildings, Wittmann worked to track down the mysterious Bundesservice Telekommunikation, or Federal Telecommunications Service.

She establishes multiple reasons to believe it is part of the Federal Ministry of the Interior (BMI), and ultimately concludes that there are actually two "camouflage" authorities. Both are allegedly a secret part of an intelligence agency named the Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution.

Using an AirTag

Wittmann says that everyone she spoke to denied being part of this intelligence agency. But what she describes as a "good indicator," would be if she could prove that the postal address for this "federal authority" actually leads to the intelligence service's apparent offices.

"To understand where mail ends up," she writes (in translation), "[you can do] a lot of manual research. Or you can simply send a small device that regularly transmits its current position (a so-called AirTag) and see where it lands."

She sent a parcel with an AirTag and watched through Apple's Find My system as it was delivered via the Berlin sorting center to a sorting office in Cologne-Ehrenfeld. And then appears at the Office for the Protection of the Constitution in Cologne.

So an AirTag addressed to a telecommunications authority based in one part of Germany, ends up in the offices of an intelligence agency based in another part of the country.

Wittmann's research is also now detailed in the German Wikipedia entry for the federal telecommunications service. It recounts how following her original discovery in December 2021, subsequent government press conferences have denied that there is such a federal telecommunications service at all.

In her latest post detailing her research, activist Wittmann says she is continuing in a forthcoming third part in her series. In the meantime, she writes that the intelligence service can keep the AirTag. "I heard they are supposed to be very expensive," she concludes.


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patchythepiratespheric
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 47
    Heil Hydra. 
    patchythepirateMacProStrangeDays
  • Reply 2 of 47
    Sometimes, it makes you wonder which side these people are in.

    Of course, not all secret agencies are good. But what point she can proof other than it is a secret agency. Did they do evil stuff? Or they are hunting down Isis cell in Germany? She do t even know. What if some bad guy send a pipe bomb to the address like she did and kill a few.

    What can she accomplished by doing this?
    patchythepirateshaminowilliamlondonOrionEridanuscommand_fJapheyspheric123Go
  • Reply 3 of 47
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 1,988member
    I find it amazing that a super secret federal intelligence agency could be outed by such a simple method. As Viclauyyc said what if a bad guy sent a bomb to the same address. That they didn't have some sort of off site sorting and mail inspection arrangement is amazingly amateurish. Do you think mail sent to the President of the United States goes anywhere near the White House before it's been opened, read, scanned, inspected, tested, and approved? Yet she just sent a letter with a live transmitter in it and it made it all the way through without setting off any alarm. 

    viclauyyc said:
    Sometimes, it makes you wonder which side these people are in.

    Of course, not all secret agencies are good. But what point she can proof other than it is a secret agency. Did they do evil stuff? Or they are hunting down Isis cell in Germany? She do t even know. What if some bad guy send a pipe bomb to the address like she did and kill a few.

    What can she accomplished by doing this?
    What did she accomplish? I think this agency is going to overhaul its security. It'll be a lot tighter from now on. She is a whistleblower and deserves to be rewarded for doing so. She brought this huge vulnerability to their attention before the Bad Guys thought of it.
    patchythepirateStrangeDayswilliamlondoncommand_fcaladanianjony0
  • Reply 4 of 47
    larryjwlarryjw Posts: 906member
    When they tell you we’re the good guys, remember.

    there are no good guys. 
    dewmedarkvaderdocno42xixo
  • Reply 5 of 47
    seanjseanj Posts: 288member
    A busybody discovers that a democratic nation has an intelligence agency to protect it. I’d suggest any democracy lacking one would be incompetently complacent, and probably non-existent too. 
    Only paranoid conspiracy theorists freak out over this kind of thing.
    macbootxcogitodextermacapfelGraeme000sbdudelorca2770williamlondondewmeviclauyycJFC_PA
  • Reply 6 of 47
    This is great cannon fodder for the next Apple TV+ hit. 🤣
  • Reply 7 of 47
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    viclauyyc said:
    Sometimes, it makes you wonder which side these people are in.

    Of course, not all secret agencies are good. But what point she can proof other than it is a secret agency. Did they do evil stuff? Or they are hunting down Isis cell in Germany? She do t even know. What if some bad guy send a pipe bomb to the address like she did and kill a few.

    What can she accomplished by doing this?

    It seems that media has shifted from reporting on government to thinking their job is to attack them -- and any form of "outing" is good.  The "us against them" mentality is not good for society.

    It was media who outed Nixon and his wrong doing.  But now it is getting to be a game that is running out of control.
    macapfelGraeme000shaminosbdudedewmeviclauyyccommand_fpscooter63applguyjony0
  • Reply 8 of 47
    viclauyyc said:
    Sometimes, it makes you wonder which side these people are in.

    Of course, not all secret agencies are good. But what point she can proof other than it is a secret agency. Did they do evil stuff? Or they are hunting down Isis cell in Germany? She do t even know. What if some bad guy send a pipe bomb to the address like she did and kill a few.

    What can she accomplished by doing this?

    It seems that media has shifted from reporting on government to thinking their job is to attack them -- and any form of "outing" is good.  The "us against them" mentality is not good for society.

    It was media who outed Nixon and his wrong doing.  But now it is getting to be a game that is running out of control.
    What you call “attack” I call “hold accountable” - one of the main purposes of a free press.
    muthuk_vanalingamronndrdavidbeowulfschmidtStrangeDayslorca2770dewmeJanNLdarkvadersconosciuto
  • Reply 9 of 47
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,988member
    Okay, the line has been crossed. Governments do not like being ‘outed’, not one little bit. Governments spy on their citizens, they won’t tolerate their citizens spying on them. Watch for the push to ban AirTags or greatly diminish their ability to know where they are. /s (but only slightly)
    Alex_Vjony0
  • Reply 10 of 47
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 9,988member
    viclauyyc said:
    Sometimes, it makes you wonder which side these people are in.

    Of course, not all secret agencies are good. But what point she can proof other than it is a secret agency. Did they do evil stuff? Or they are hunting down Isis cell in Germany? She do t even know. What if some bad guy send a pipe bomb to the address like she did and kill a few.

    What can she accomplished by doing this?

    It seems that media has shifted from reporting on government to thinking their job is to attack them -- and any form of "outing" is good.  The "us against them" mentality is not good for society.

    It was media who outed Nixon and his wrong doing.  But now it is getting to be a game that is running out of control.
    What you call “attack” I call “hold accountable” - one of the main purposes of a free press.
    By your definition of accountability the media should publish the names, addresses, telephone numbers, locations of every NSA or CIA operative as they are ‘outed’. 
    TarteTatinGeorgeBMacviclauyyc
  • Reply 11 of 47
    Lilith Wittman's mission - as she declares in German and English - is 'disruption as a service'. The whole detective story is amusing to read (AirTags play only a small role there), but there is a lot of stuff in there to put in context. The BMI is of course in no way 'secretive'; and Germany has both internal and external intelligence services that have physical addresses (by the way in Berlin and Köln) as part of the BND (internal), and MAD (external). Both have campuses, addresses that are public (and I am sure, lots that aren't). The 'story' here is just that this Bundesservice Telekom is under the BMI rather than an outright BND institution which is.... interesting I guess?

    I have a problem with the whole outset and mission of Lilith - making a bigger story out of something to - and I quote here: "Abolish the agency for protecting the constitution. Abolish all secret services".  She lost me there - this whole thing is a means to an end for her, not 'journalism'.
    edited January 25 Graeme000lkruppGeorgeBMacsbdudewilliamlondonviclauyyccommand_ffastasleeppscooter63applguy
  • Reply 12 of 47
    DAalseth said:
    I find it amazing that a super secret federal intelligence agency could be outed by such a simple method. As Viclauyyc said what if a bad guy sent a bomb to the same address. That they didn't have some sort of off site sorting and mail inspection arrangement is amazingly amateurish. Do you think mail sent to the President of the United States goes anywhere near the White House before it's been opened, read, scanned, inspected, tested, and approved? Yet she just sent a letter with a live transmitter in it and it made it all the way through without setting off any alarm. 

    I don't find it surprising at all considering that even NSA employees routinely fall for the old "let's insert the USB key I found in the parking lot into my laptop".
    welshdogcommand_f
  • Reply 13 of 47
    So an AirTag addressed to a telecommunications authority based in one part of Germany, ends up in the offices of an intelligence agency based in another part of the country.

    I’m not sure how much that really proves. If you sent an AirTag to a senator and you see that the package ends up at the FBI’s offices, does that mean that the senator is secretly working for the FBI? I can think of other, more rational explanations.
    TarteTatinGeorgeBMacshaminolorca2770pscooter63applguysconosciutojony0
  • Reply 14 of 47
    DAalseth said:
    I find it amazing that a super secret federal intelligence agency could be outed by such a simple method. As Viclauyyc said what if a bad guy sent a bomb to the same address. That they didn't have some sort of off site sorting and mail inspection arrangement is amazingly amateurish. Do you think mail sent to the President of the United States goes anywhere near the White House before it's been opened, read, scanned, inspected, tested, and approved? Yet she just sent a letter with a live transmitter in it and it made it all the way through without setting off any alarm. 

    viclauyyc said:
    Sometimes, it makes you wonder which side these people are in.

    Of course, not all secret agencies are good. But what point she can proof other than it is a secret agency. Did they do evil stuff? Or they are hunting down Isis cell in Germany? She do t even know. What if some bad guy send a pipe bomb to the address like she did and kill a few.

    What can she accomplished by doing this?
    What did she accomplish? I think this agency is going to overhaul its security. It'll be a lot tighter from now on. She is a whistleblower and deserves to be rewarded for doing so. She brought this huge vulnerability to their attention before the Bad Guys thought of it.
    None of these institutions or the addresses that the AirTag appeared at are secretive. The only thing she 'uncovered' is that there is an agency previously unknown (and still is in terms of what it does) that is within the BMI. The places the AirTag appeared you can go by, literally. And you can send there too. There is nothing 'whistleblowing' about this - she is looking to 'abolish all intelligence services' and "disrupt". She has an agenda that isn't journalism
    edited January 25 jony0
  • Reply 15 of 47
    tundraboytundraboy Posts: 1,814member
    Democracies should not have super secret intelligence agencies.  Democracies can have super secret intelligence ops but agencies should be publicly known so that they can be held accountable if and when they misbehave.

    So many people do not understand what liberal democracy (the type of government that western countries claim to practice) really means.
    edited January 25 beowulfschmidtStrangeDaysronnsphericdarkvaderdocno42Alex_V
  • Reply 16 of 47
    AppleZuluAppleZulu Posts: 1,368member
    larryjw said:
    When they tell you we’re the good guys, remember.

    there are no good guys. 
    This is precisely the sort of nihilism that has been weaponized by the power-hungry folks who really, truly are the bad guys. It feeds easily into the attitudes and worldview of those who fashion themselves as wizened cynics. 

    By implicitly defining good guys as only including those who are perfect in their goodness, it's pretty easy to conclude there really are no good guys. This insidiously creates a binary picture where none actually exist. No one is perfectly good, so there are no good guys. Leaning into such binary thought, this then means, by definition, there are only bad guys. That's certainly the implicit message in declaring that "there are no good guys." This then leads to a nihilism that provides cover for people who really, truly are bad guys. If there are only bad guys, then there can be no expectations of anything but bad behavior. Kids are always trying the same thing on their mothers, hoping to excuse bad behavior: "everyone's doing it, mom!" Smarter moms don't buy it.

    The error in logic behind such nihilism is the failure to apply the same rigor to the definition of bad guys. Just as no one is perfect in their goodness, neither is there anyone perfect in their badness. To wit, even Hitler loved his dog.

    The reality is that there is a complete spectrum of very good guys all the way to very bad guys. His dog notwithstanding, Hitler was a very bad guy, and so were his followers. So was Stalin. FDR was far from perfect, but lands in that era way over to the good guy side, as did his followers who fought the Nazi fascist scourge during the Second World War. 

    So I expect more, and I call bullish*t on saying "there are no good guys." There are no perfectly good guys, but we're all depending on the pretty good guys to stand up and oppose the really bad guys. I'm with the smarter moms who expect better behavior and aren't fooled by all-too-clever nihilism.


    edited January 25 TarteTatinGeorgeBMacshaminosbdudewilliamlondonroundaboutnowradarthekatpscooter63muthuk_vanalingamsconosciuto
  • Reply 17 of 47
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    viclauyyc said:
    Sometimes, it makes you wonder which side these people are in.

    Of course, not all secret agencies are good. But what point she can proof other than it is a secret agency. Did they do evil stuff? Or they are hunting down Isis cell in Germany? She do t even know. What if some bad guy send a pipe bomb to the address like she did and kill a few.

    What can she accomplished by doing this?

    It seems that media has shifted from reporting on government to thinking their job is to attack them -- and any form of "outing" is good.  The "us against them" mentality is not good for society.

    It was media who outed Nixon and his wrong doing.  But now it is getting to be a game that is running out of control.
    What you call “attack” I call “hold accountable” - one of the main purposes of a free press.

    That's only true if the basis for the attack is based on truth -- all of it.   Not just some cherry picked facts used to push an agenda or to attack for the sole purpose of attacking.

    Nixon was held accountable.   But it has gone far, far beyond that at this point.  It's become a cat-&-mouse game of 'gotcha's'.
    edited January 25 sbdudeapplguy123Gojony0
  • Reply 18 of 47
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 11,421member
    tundraboy said:
    Democracies should not have super secret intelligence agencies.  Democracies can have super secret intelligence ops but agencies should be publicly known so that they can be held accountable if and when they misbehave.

    So many people do not understand what liberal democracy (the type of government that western countries claim to practice) really means.

    Ok, let me know when we start to practice what we preach.  Meanwhile, it's a mean, tough world out there and there are lots and lots of people, organizations and countries who are out to do us harm.

    When I was younger, people trusted their government and their leaders and their motives -- even if they didn't agree with them.  We need to return to that if we and our liberal democracy are to thrive -- or even just survive.
    sbduderoundaboutnowapplguy123Go
  • Reply 19 of 47
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 12,000member
    lkrupp said:
    viclauyyc said:
    Sometimes, it makes you wonder which side these people are in.

    Of course, not all secret agencies are good. But what point she can proof other than it is a secret agency. Did they do evil stuff? Or they are hunting down Isis cell in Germany? She do t even know. What if some bad guy send a pipe bomb to the address like she did and kill a few.

    What can she accomplished by doing this?

    It seems that media has shifted from reporting on government to thinking their job is to attack them -- and any form of "outing" is good.  The "us against them" mentality is not good for society.

    It was media who outed Nixon and his wrong doing.  But now it is getting to be a game that is running out of control.
    What you call “attack” I call “hold accountable” - one of the main purposes of a free press.
    By your definition of accountability the media should publish the names, addresses, telephone numbers, locations of every NSA or CIA operative as they are ‘outed’. 
    No, you're just making an entirely dense slippery slope fallacy.

    https://yourlogicalfallacyis.com/slippery-slope
    edited January 25 ronnroundaboutnowpscooter63muthuk_vanalingamdarkvaderAlex_V
  • Reply 20 of 47
    I would not recommend that stupid use of AirTag. Intelligence is not a nice service and I remember many years ago people were interrogated in very secret places in foreign countries (although some were transported terrorists like those interrogated by CIA in small airport in remote place Szymany, Poland). You do not want to end up in interrogation room with intelligence. This is not the same as police. They are not law enforcement - they are law breakers and they will move to methods you do not want to experience in your life. Think twice when messing with ANY intelligence agency.
    williamlondondewme
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