Cyberbunker: The Criminal Underworld once again makes us privy to one of the strangest characters you would ever meet and his entire team of like-minded people, who were living a different reality altogether. At times, after watching these Netflix documentaries, the thought comes to our mind: how can an individual think something like that? But history has given us enough proof that such strange men have walked amidst us, and it is always seen that their conviction and self-belief are 100 times greater than those of an average human being. Directed by Kilian Lieb and Max Rainer, Cyberbunker tells us the story of a man named Herman Johan Xennt, who believed himself to be a cult figure and who had these weird set of ideologies where his notion of liberation and freedom was very bizarre and different as compared to what a law-abiding citizen perceived. Herman had picked people like Sven Olaf Kamphuis to be in his team, who aimed to establish a parallel regime and almost went to the extent of creating an independent state and making themselves the heads of so-called ministries. Herman Johan Xennt’s crimes were still understandable, but his ideologies were beyond comprehension. Till the very end, we were not able to decipher what the man wanted to achieve or if he was as delusional as we perceived him to be. So let’s find out what happened in Cyberbunker, who was Herman, and what were the motives and intentions that drove him ahead.
What was the cyberbunker?
An abandoned underground base, from which NATO used to operate, was bought by Herman Xennt back in 2013. This 5-story massive bunker was located in Traben Trarbach, Germany. When the deal was being finalized, the mayor and other people in the town did have concerns about the kind of activity that Herman would be conducting from there, but at that time, nobody really followed up on the matter, and Herman went about his business very secretively. He only picked the people he knew and trusted from before, as the work they were doing there was top secret in nature. These volunteers and employees were not given a lot of salary, though they were given food and a place to stay. The cyber bunker was basically a data center for criminal businesses. Herman always said that they were different from other service providers as they guaranteed full privacy to all businesses.
In their memorandum, it was mentioned that apart from terrorist activities and child pornography, they hosted any website, not taking into consideration if it was legal or not. But as a matter of fact, terrorist activities were happening on their platform, and they probably knew about it, too. One of the most famous dark web markets, called the Wall Street Market, was hosted by Cyberbunkers, and they were well aware of what happened there. Now, Herman might have explicitly said that they were not involved in terrorist activities and child pornography, but Sven Olaf, who called himself the minister of communication and foreign affairs, had different views about it. He compared child abuse to a bank robbery and said that if someone posts a picture of a robbery on the internet, then they are not at fault, and they cannot be charged for robbery. So basically, it could be surmised that somewhere, the team knew about what the websites were doing, and we cannot believe that Herman Xennt was so innocent that he didn’t have any clue about it, as he said in court.
How did Herman Xennt and his team get caught?
Jorg Angerer, the prosecutor, looking into the case together with Tim Henkel, the cybercrime investigator, realized that they would have to find a way to go inside the bunker and see for themselves the kind of activities the team was indulging in. First, Tim and Angerer made use of the Network Node technology to see the kind of inbound and outgoing traffic, and they realized that there were hundreds of illegal websites being hosted by the Cyberbunker team. The calls were also intercepted, and Tim Henkel got to know that they were talking in code, which meant that they didn’t want the world to know about the transactions taking place. Meanwhile, a journalist named Nicola Tallant found out that the infamous godfather George Mitchell, aka The Penguin, was also associated with Herman Xennt, and he frequently visited the Cyberbunker in Germany. It was said that the drug lord was trying to develop an encrypted phone system together with Xennt, and he sought to gain a lot of profit from the entire initiative.
The FBI got involved, and it was then decided that they would try to get the informant inside the bunker. A guy named Harry, posing to be a gardener, got a job in the cyberbunker, and he started leaking information to the law enforcement authorities. Tim Henkel and the FBI got to know about the names of the key players and their hierarchy in the system. They came to know about all the weird things that Sven did and the ideologies these madmen had. After Harry, another police informant named Julia applied for the position of maid. Julia also got a job there since she pretended to be Harry’s girlfriend, and Herman and others already had a lot of trust in the man. It was imperative for the law enforcement authorities to somehow bring all these perpetrators out of the bunker, so that the police could arrest them and then seize the place and conduct a thorough search to find evidence. Harry asked Herman and everybody else to come out for dinner as he told them that he wanted to thank them for what they had done for him. It was a trap, and it seemed like the criminal masterminds lacked common sense, so they all walked right into the trap, apart from Sven, who didn’t attend the dinner. They were caught by the law enforcement authorities, and a trial started against them in a court in Trier.
Where is Herman Johan Xennt now?
We came to know in Cyberbunker: The Criminal Underworld that Herman had opened one such bunker in the Netherlands before he escaped from the country after the authorities came to know that a part of that facility was used to run an ecstasy lab. Approximately 300 arrests were made in 22 countries after the illicit activities happening on the platform came to light. Michiel Ruggers, the manager of Cyberbunker, decided to testify against Herman, and that helped the prosecutors in a huge way. This was not a straightforward crime, and it was very difficult to establish in court that Herman and his team were indirectly involved in all the crimes happening on their platform. It is surprising that Sven Olaf Kamphuis, who openly accepted that cyber bunker hosted child abuse websites and that each and every key player was aware of it, is still free and hasn’t faced any punishment, apart from the 2 months he spent in jail. It seems like the authorities aren’t willing to catch him too, which is beyond our understanding, as through the documentary we realized that he was equally guilty if not more as compared to the other perpetrators.
The intelligence agencies were not able to prove that Herman was involved in aiding and abetting the crimes, and he was only charged with creating an illegal organization. It was a failure on the part of the law enforcement authorities, as Herman was only sentenced to 6 years on December 14, 2021. It is a major concern that the man will be out once again, and he intends to do the same thing that he had been doing before. When the ecstasy lab was found in his bunker in the Netherlands, he said that he was unaware of it, and very conveniently, even this time, he said the same thing. He plans on developing a wallet next, where people would be able to make anonymous payments, and he says that he was targeted only because the government doesn’t want people to have that kind of privacy. The man believes that he has done nothing wrong and says that he continues the good work for the common people.