Tracking Secret German Organizations with Apple AirTags

A German activist is trying to track down a secret government intelligence agency. One of her research techniques is to mail Apple AirTags to see where they actually end up:

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.

Here’s the original Medium post, in German.

In a similar story, someone used an AirTag to track her furniture as a moving company lied about its whereabouts.

EDITED TO ADD (2/13): Another AirTag tracking story.

Posted on January 28, 2022 at 6:13 AM30 Comments


Beatrix Willius January 28, 2022 6:55 AM

The original articles are so much more than using AirTags. The articles show that using security by obscurity is very very hard in the digital age. The woman used publicly available data to get more information about the secret organisation. She even called them in the middle of the night. The reaction of the government (in the linked video on Twitter) is just embarrassing.

apple January 28, 2022 7:55 AM

If Apple was truly about privacy, they would try to make these kind of things impossible, not enable it…

Mervyn Bickerdyke January 28, 2022 8:11 AM

Regularly transmitting its position is exactly what Apple Airtags DON’T do. That’s what GPS trackers do.

There is already enough confusion on what each of them does and doesn’t

Ben January 28, 2022 8:59 AM

As someone living in Cologne, Germany, I think her findings are not interesting, at all if you apply Occam’s Razor.

Germany is very decentralised. Berlin may be the capital again since 1991, but a lot of important bureaucracy still hasn’t move there, like the “Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution” which is in Cologne and makes no secret at all about its location:

The agency she mailed the Apple AirTag to might simply not have any staff to handle incoming mail. Yes, they have a postal address, but they could simply, as every private citizen is able to, too, have set up a forwarding address with the postal service.

The Cologne offices are huge, many people work there, so it’s likely they receive a lot of mail for related agencies, check it, and forward it (in case it’s not something like Anthrax, or an unsolicited Apple AirTag, I guess).

This would mean the mail will be delayed, but as Germany isn’t the US, it would only be a day or two max.

Nothing to see here, I think.

Winter January 28, 2022 9:11 AM

“The Cologne offices are huge, many people work there, so it’s likely they receive a lot of mail for related agencies, check it, and forward it (in case it’s not something like Anthrax, or an unsolicited Apple AirTag, I guess).”

Let’s see. The author sends a package to the BMI (=Ministry of Internal Affairs) at a post-office box in Cologne. That package is “forwarded” to the BfV (=Federal Office for the Protection of the Constitution) a TLA if there ever was one.

And you argue that this is just a “forwarding address”?

The BMI officially stated it does not HAVE an office in Cologne, but a package addressed to that non-existing office ends up inside the BfV. And that non-existing office has 24/7 manned phone numbers that are unable/unwilling to give ANY information about what the department where the phone is answered is actually doing?

You are living in Cologne, do you work there?

Ted January 28, 2022 9:48 AM

Oh my on the army wife tracking the dodgy mover. It seems like hers was an empowering experience in what could have otherwise been a very helpless situation.

It’s fortunate that there must have been nearby Apple devices to pickup its bluetooth signal.

I guess we know what army spouses will be handing out as welcoming gifts. Beyond this, I hope these families are able to set up some kind of network to share info on mover reliability.

On a flip side, if the army has any reason to suspect these AirTags could be used to perniciously track its own movements, I hope they come up with safer alternatives.

Clive Robinson January 28, 2022 10:34 AM

@ ALL,

The “post an airtag” idea is not new, somebody actuall sent one to North Korea…

Anyway after a discussion and having a bit of a laugh about it a group of Amateur Radio operators I know did this. I’ve posted the link before but anyway,

Oh and if you find yourself in the area and have your own transportation as it’s a little bit of a walk from the station, they are normally pleased to see new faces (behind masks at the moment 😉

JonKnowsNothing January 28, 2022 12:08 PM

@Ted, @All

re:Air Tag safer alternatives

Before you can define “safe” which is pretty much like the definition of “relevant == all”, you might want to consider exactly what this device is or does. Not the glitz one might see in ads and web tout pages but functionally what it does.

It is a Consumer Ankle Monitor.

Electronic Tagging is used by many court systems which require criminals and certain classes of persons to wear an Ankle Monitor 24×7.

A consumer subset is the wristwatch sports calculators that track GPS, heart rate, workout levels and much more. (1, 2)

The problem with the sports devices is that people can and did take them off or turn them off. Watches get left in drawers or lost in gym locker rooms.

So how to fix that?

Flood the market with very cheap monitors and can be tossed anywhere and dropped in millions of locations. Interconnected phones do all the telemetry and tracking.

Even in books and movies they know to toss the thing onto the local garbage truck and run the other direction.

Except now, YOU are the garbage truck and you have no way of knowing if you have been Air Tagged.(4)

It’s almost perfect, only detectable under weirdo conditions.


1) Disclosure I have a device for my bicycle. It is an older model and I refused to upload the telemetry after viewing the manufacturer’s web site. My device records data from the bike and not my biometrics but if they know the rate you are spinning, they can figure that out.

2) Such devices exposed CIA hidden tracking stations and military bases in foreign countries. The heat map of shared GPS data gave perfect outlines of roads and perimeters. The Locals did not know the CIA bases were there. Their respective governments knew of course. (3)

3) If you are interested, the CIA is flogging a Torture Black Site in Lithuania. The site has been decommissioned but the building is “not certified as safe”.

  “We don’t push any buttons, so as not to turn anything on by accident”

It is a possible tourist attraction, the decommissioned KGB site in Vilnius is popular.

Search Terms:

  • For sale: CIA ‘black site’ where terror suspects were tortured in Lithuania
  • Project No 2 or Detention Site Violet, which has windowless, soundproof rooms

4) Telemetry tags are very popular with wild life researchers and game wardens. All kinds of things can carry a tag, from bears to whales. Some hunters find the large leather collars and/or tracking canisters make for ideal targets. Just Follow The Beeps.

pup vas January 28, 2022 1:59 PM

Wiltshire Police ‘Digi-dogs’ trained to sniff out technology

=A police force has two new recruits to help investigate cyber-related crime.

The two springer spaniels have been specially trained to assist Wiltshire Police officers at crime scenes and in cases such as drug investigations.

The so-called ‘Digi-dogs’ are able to sniff out USB sticks, hard drives, and even mobile phone SIM cards.

Dora and Bonny are part of the force’s Digital Investigations and Intelligence Unit. (DIIU).

Dog handler Sam Dutton said digital evidence can be vital in investigations because it is important to find people’s contacts and mobile phones.

She said: “If people are concerned in the supply of drugs, we want to find the drugs, but we need to be able to prove who these people have been in contact with and what they’ve been in contact with them about.=

Clive Robinson January 28, 2022 2:52 PM

@ Ted, ALL,

On a flip side, if the army has any reason to suspect these AirTags could be used to perniciously track its own movements, I hope they come up with safer alternatives.

You can not come up with a “safer alternative” because realistically there is not one that will work.

The primary functions are,

1, To tag an object.
2, Let the network track the location of the tag.

Don’t believe the hype that Apple does not know the tag location.

Apple certainly know the location of the phone that picks the tags beacon up, as does the Network Provider that forwards the beacons transmission back to Apple for forward routing to the phone that is registered / paired with the tag.

To do that Apple has to know not just where the phone that picks the tag beacon up is, Apple also know not just the phone that is paired to the tag but where that phone is as well.

But consider the actual base function of the airtag,

1, To locate a missing object.

How does the system know what the object is and if it’s “missing” or “being tracked”?

It can not so it’s going to work just as well for both “finding” and tracking.

Take the case of “putting it in the post” or with a parcle courier like DHL. How does the system tell it appart from say “missing luggage”?

Put simply it can not.

But lets say some huristic gets used. How does that huristic tell if the object being tracked is a human, or an object in the humans pocket like their keys…

Long answer short it can not.

The thibg about technology is either it works or it does not.

When it’s working it can be used in many similar or even identical ways.

Which is “good” like finding lost keys, or “bad” like stalking someone is a human choice, by three entities.

1, The Directing mind that owns the tag.
2, The Independent Observing mind that sees the tag in use.
3, The human mind that is taged directly or indirectly via another object.

So lets say I’m a married man with children…

1, I put one in my little daughters favourite doll she goes every where with.

2, I put one inside my wifes handbag.

Which is good? which is bad?

The correct answer is,

“To little information to decide the context let alone if it is good or bad.”

So how do you expect the technology to decide? Or Apple? Or the mobile network provider?

Ugur12 January 28, 2022 3:28 PM

I also think this story / research is a non-starter. First of all, the scope and capabilities of this alleged secret agency is an old rumor in conspiracy theory circles in Germany, maybe comparable to the “room full of crashed aliens living at Area 51”.

What this activist did is akin to someone mailing an envelope containing an electronic device with a battery to “Bill Gates 5G Mind control agency, White House, Washington DC”.

Nobody sane would expect this envelope to actually make it into the White House; Of course it will be caught and redirected to an authority equipped with staff and processed to deal with possibly dangerous / hazardous mail, i.e. discarding it safely and identifying the sender.

And to no one’s surprise, this is exactly where her envelope ended up: At the German authority watching fringe groups like organised conspiracy theorists, neo-Nazis, etc.

The safety system to protect federal agencies from mail bombs or other attacks worked. Her envelope was flagged because of the strange address she sent it to and the content, sent to the handling authority, and she’ll probably be put on some watch list.

But all she found is that if you mail an envelope with a possible explosive device to the president, it will not be delivered where you think it will.

David Leppik January 28, 2022 3:32 PM

I continue to be amazed that, with all the tracking devices on the market, AirTags are the only ones that get mentioned. Apple has managed to get everyone to forget or ignore all the competition—even though high-resolution tracking is literally built into Bluetooth 5, and AirTags don’t use GPS.

The main advantage Apple brings to the table is integration with iPhones. If you are in a place without very many iPhones, AirTags don’t work—but plenty of other tracking devices that don’t have Apple’s safeguards will work.

Clive Robinson January 28, 2022 5:30 PM

@ David Leppik, ALL,

If you are in a place without very many iPhones, AirTags don’t work

Or in a place like South Korea where the background network is not enabled for “privacy” legislation/regulation reaaons.

If the Western First World had sensible Privacy legislation / regulation, all of this would be entirely a “non-issue”.

Tile would not have been able to “crowd fund” and Apple, Samsung, and others would not be going down the “Me Too” path.

The lack of any effective Privacy legislation in the US –where legislation is highly hostile to Privacy– has enabled the Mega-Corps in Silicon Valley to creat a totaly faux-marketplace that extracts billions out of the world economy for effectively nothing…

Sometimes I wonder which is more of an ecological and societal disaster in the making, the likes of Alphabet/Google, Facebook, Pay-Pal, Palantir, and similar or crypto-currency…

Ted January 28, 2022 8:42 PM

@JohnKnowsNothing, Clive

Yeah, “safer alternatives” was probably not the best choice of wording. I guess what I was wondering is if any military would find the AirTags to be security risks and restrict them in any capacity.

In this age of ubiquitous technology I have no idea how they would do that, or what they do at security-critical sites.

Also, I was a little off that the army wife was tracking the movers. As was stated in the original post, she was tracking her furniture. That seems to be a lawful and appropriate use.

Ted January 28, 2022 8:46 PM


Also, I’m not an expert on how the military coordinates moves, but McNulty seems to find it a little lacking.

There is so much grey area when it comes to the military moving you. There are People that don’t care about your stuff, people that can’t help because they are the middle man, and people that try to abuse the system by lying and stealing.

Unfortunately the instillation we moved to we have no contacts to help us diffuse the situation. The Army needs to do better. Military families need an advocate/point of contact from the beginning of the PCS process to the very end at their next duty station

I guess the military is working on first things first. I do see that the Military Times article proclaimed it a ‘brilliant solution.’ So it looks like they are at least good with AirTags being used appropriately.

Freezing_in_Brazil January 30, 2022 2:26 PM

Air tags… the perfect example of the dual use of technology.

A minor nitpick: the typical garbage truck looks like a pretty decent Faraday cage to me. Could you track an air tag thrown inside one?

Clive Robinson January 30, 2022 5:21 PM

@ Freezing_in_Brazil,

… the typical garbage truck looks like a pretty decent Faraday cage to me.

That is where you and I see things differently,

I see a section of multimode waveguide[1] potentialy forming a cavity resonator[2], with lots of slot radiators that act as antennas[3]…

So it is not just beauty that is in the eye of the beholder 😉

What we see, is almost always entirely based on our experiencs in life. As I’ve spent quite some time of my life as a communications engineer, working with all kinds of what looks like “junk” or worse to other people I just see things differently…

For instance, I don’t know if you have those “metal beer-barrels” about 60cm tall by about 60cm diameter that hold a month or so of beer[4] for even the thirstiest of people? Well I see them, not just being used for moving beer, but also as “cavity resonators” used for making highly selective tuned circuits.

Because there was a time when I could convert a couple or four of those barrels to cavity resonators and tune them up in the VHF through low UHF band for you at a price. That would buy me beer for a month or so… Sadly though the Chinese mass manufacturing has killed that market deader than an early cambrian trilobite[5].




[4] They hold about 164 metric liters or 288 Imperial pints, or 36 days worth if you stay at the limit and don’t go “one over the eight” or an imperial gallon –4.5liters– of beer a day

[5] Trilobites, had a fair old innings as far as living creatures go. The entered the fossile record about half a billion years ago, and faded out about a quater of a billion years ago. If manking gets to be around that long we realy will be doing well, so far we’ve only clocked up for a little under a third of a million years, and some –FAS– reckon we are at “two minutes to midnight, or the end of our “day in the sun” (ie we’ve about 200years left and we will be extinct as a species).

SpaceLifeForm January 30, 2022 8:22 PM

@ Freezing_in_Brazil, Clive

I agree with Clive on this.

The trash truck normally would not be closed completely, moving up the street. Except for random crush.

The trash truck worker may have an iPhone.

FYI: when a trash truck blows a tire with 14.5 tons (Imperial) of weight inside, it is loud.

JonKnowsNothing January 30, 2022 9:52 PM

@Clive, @Freezing_in_Brazil, @SpaceLifeForm

re: metal beer-barrels” about 60cm tall by about 60cm diameter resonator

You aren’t alone thinking of these as resonators. They make steel-drums and percussion drums and bells-gongs from them. Normally they cut it in 2 parts, although it depends on the sounds wanted. Steel drums made from oil barrels are also made.

They flatten different parts of the “top” to produce different sounds waves like a piano keyboard in metallic form.

With computer music chips lots of techniques for hand-made stuff gets lost; the chip can produce a similar sound and plays a player-piano-roll-scroll script. A entire one person band orchestra solo gig.

I dunno if bad music would disrupt an air tag, but maybe some pitch would fry it. Live or Memorex?


h ttp s://

ABC notation is a shorthand form of musical notation for computers. In basic form it uses the letter notation with a–g, A–G, and z, to represent the corresponding notes and rests, with other elements used to place added value on these – sharp, flat, raised or lowered octave, the note length, key, and ornamentation. This form of notation began from a combination of Helmholtz pitch notation and using ASCII characters to imitate standard musical notation (bar lines, tempo marks, etc.) that could facilitate the sharing of music online, and also added a new and simple language for software developers

Clive Robinson January 31, 2022 2:47 AM

@ JonKnowsNothing,

Live or Memorex?

Now there is a blast from the past…

Back in the very early 1970’s that advertising line was seen in “discerning gentlemens magazines” from both the “High Fidelity” and “High infidelity” shelves…

If faded memory serves correctly they used Ella Fitzgerald, for the shattering experience.

Freezing_in_Brazil January 31, 2022 10:00 AM

@Clive, SpaceLifeForm, JonKnowsNothing

I see a section of multimode waveguide[1] potentialy forming a cavity resonator[2], with lots of slot radiators that act as antennas[3]…

Silly me. As you said, your training predisposes you to see the problem immediately. For an embarrassing moment I didn’t take into account the cavity effect.

agree with Clive on this.
The trash truck normally would not be closed completely, moving up the street. Except for random crush.

Yeah, now I agree with both of you. But still it seems to me that the same cavity effect would constrain the propagation into certain directions over others, making tracking troublesome, am I right?


For instance, I don’t know if you have those “metal beer-barrels” about 60cm tall by about 60cm diameter that hold a month or so of beer[4] for even the thirstiest of people?

Well, we downed a couple of those last month in the holidays week (sea side – life can be good soetimes), So, I got some vague idea. 🙂

Clive Robinson January 31, 2022 4:08 PM

@ Freezing_in_Brazil, JonKnowsNothing, SpaceLifeForm,

So, I got some vague idea.

But can you remember 😉

As for radiating in different directions, “slot radiators” are effectively “dipole radiators” so when in a sheet of metal that is comparable to the wavelength are effectively omnidirectional (see “skeleton slot antennas” for the low down). On the side of a box they would radiate like a halfwave dipole “just above ground” so radiate out sideways quite well (vertical halfwave dipoles are considered better DX antennas than quaterwave verticals as they have a lower angle of radiation).

In the US where “Home Owner Associations”(HOA’s) have way to much power, some amateur radio enthusiasts have had to resort to putting in what the HOA thinks is a satellite TV dish “therefore approved” but has a hidden slot for either the 2m or 70cm bands…

SpaceLifeForm February 1, 2022 8:17 PM

@ Freezing_in_Brazil, Clive, JonKnowsNothing, ALL

But still it seems to me that the same cavity effect would constrain the propagation into certain directions over others, making tracking troublesome, am I right?

No. If the trash truck worker has an iPhone in her pocket, and throws trash into the cavity, it makes it easier.

Cavity directs signal towards the trash truck worker.

lurker February 1, 2022 8:43 PM

@SpaceLifeForm, Freezing_in_Brazil

Can trash truck workers afford an iPhone? at least one new enough to do this tracking? And perhaps a savvy trash truck worker might have data and blutooth off while they are on shift, to save battery and plan Mhz…

JonKnowsNothing February 1, 2022 9:38 PM

@lurker, @SpaceLifeForm, @Freezing_in_Brazil

re: Can trash truck workers afford an iPhone?

In the USA, yes.

Particularly if they are members of a Union.
If they are non-Union maybe.

One reason nearly everyone can have one is the come-on-and-get-it deals offered by the Wireless Phone Providers. This deal-scam offers a 2 for 1 deal or buy 1 and get the 2nd for $low ($10 USD).

They way they work this financially to scrape the max dollars is:

  • You pay the normal monthly fee for the primary phone.
  • You may get some rebate or discount on this ($100 rebate)
  • Most folks take this as a lump sum discount on the first billing. Bill-Mo-1 $200-$100 rebate: out of pocket $100/ remaining months $200
  • The amount of this portion depends on speed, packages and optional purchases.
  • Second Phone has 2 parts for billing: Part 1 is likely to be identical in service charges for speed, packages and optional purchases. However, this is often split on the bill so that the second phone appears cheaper. The primary phone hits $250-300, Secondary phone $50-$150. This is for the service, not the cost of the phone.
  • The full cost of the phone is divided into N-Months. $1200/12mo =$100/month. This amount is added onto the bill. Billing $250+$150+$100.
  • After the 12 months expire the Provider credits back the full amount $1200. So that month billing $250+$150-$1200 or they credit the amount back on the same monthly basis $250+$150-$100
  • They also add in the sales tax, licenses and fees either front loaded or back end load depending on state and other regulations.

In order to keep the sales churn going, at some point you will get a Wanna Upgrade? promotion. This will lump sum forward your outstanding balance-credits and set you up with another phone and another round of Pay It Off Then We Will Give You Another Phone Discount.

The effect is: you never really own the phone but you are required to “buy it”. You pay for options and service packages and must maintain an active service contract or the whole thing collapses to PAY NOW. Many plans have a required minimum of 3+ years before you can exit the plan. Any residual owed is payable RIGHT NOW, unless you agree to renewing services with that provider.

Any changes you want to make to the service plan may/can/will renew the 3 year contract. (1)

1) disclosure: I am still paying for two phone numbers with zero service usage because to remove them from the account will reset it to a 3year contract. It’s cheaper to pay for the unused numbers than pay the renewed contract minimums. And, no, I didn’t know I would have 2 extra phone numbers attached to my account until they showed up on the billing as required by the contract service plan. ymmv

Clive Robinson February 2, 2022 9:34 AM

@ lurker,

Can trash truck workers afford an iPhone?

Who knows, but in the UK in some places the driver gets given one…

When they go down the road the bin-men shout out the number of the house they don’t collect from and the driver taps into an iPhone on top of the dash board…

So I’m assuming that the “out sourcing company” has it’s own App written by someone.

Chris Drake February 15, 2022 10:56 PM

The same happens with email. I run a paid tracking service – the number of times email gets opened by unexpected parities is mind-blowing (e.g. private defence lawyer emails being opened by plaintiff lawyers, husbands/wives/lovers, government shenanigans, etc etc.)

Billy February 16, 2022 11:55 PM

@Clive I think you’re missing the point about HOAs vs Ham Radio Operators.

They don’t care if you’re a ham

They don’t care of your satellite dish is fake.

They just don’t want a big ugly antenna. If you made your antenna look like a satellite dish, then it’s no longer big and ugly. You’re not cleverly secretly tricking them. You’re just cooperating with the rules you agreed to before you were permitted to buy your home.

You could probably just as easily use your gutter as an antenna, or rooftop, or fence and as long as it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb they won’t care.

Clive Robinson February 17, 2022 5:38 AM

@ Billy,

I think you’re missing the point about HOAs vs Ham Radio Operators.

I think you have that the wrong way around.

The HOA agrements are about “all antennas” some even stop you putting up terestrial or satellite television dishes irrespective of if they are visable from off your property or not[1].

As for,

You could probably just as easily use your gutter as an antenna, or rooftop, or fence and as long as it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb they won’t care.

Actually they do care. Such “stealth” antennas are way more likely to cause “interferance” and some HOA’s have taken action against home owners who have stealth antennas. As far as the HOA agreements are concerned the fact you repurpose a fixture or fitting so it’s “dual use” still does not stop it being an antenna they can say NO to.

It’s why not so long ago they tried to get Federal legislation for Hams to be able to put up antennas, because their FCC licence makes them technically an “emergancy service” provider[2].

The way around an HOA much to their disgust is to have the antenna be mounted on a vehicle as it does not form part of the property. I know of someone with a 50ft “winch up” mast with an HF muti-band “cobweb” antenna on it that looks like an upside down rotary laundry drier. It’s mounted on a trailer that when parked is not visable from off the property, unlike the mast and antenna when deployed. The HOA went to court and lost, then they got sued in return and found themselves unable to pay… I gather those appointed to it’s board got the boot by the actual home owners.

[1] There is federal legislation saying you have a right on “your property” however many people even though they own the property technically don’t own the outside areas such as walls, roof and anything else the HOA “does maintainance” on.

[2] H.R. 1301 the “Amateur Radio Parity Act” started a chain of events that are not yet over. It would have succeded earlier if not for one senetor. But it got amended and the fact is nobody trusted it for various reasons in the end.

So the ARRL have in theory started again. But the real problem with HOA’s is not the general idea, but the fact some people are by nature “unreasonable” and/or crave “power” and “servitude from others”. Such people are not normal, but their aberations cause them to seek outlets for their desires. Unfortunately they frequently get their outlet because others do not want to do the job.

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