Swiss Encryption Firm Crypto AG At Centre Of Spying Allegation

Allegations have emerged this week that Swiss cryptography company Crypto AG was actually a front for decades for US and German intelligence agencies.

It has been reported that Crypto AG, which was founded way back in 1952, was from 1970 until about 1993 actually owned by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and West Germany’s Federal Intelligence Service (BND).

The CIA reportedly continued as the sole owner until about 2018, when the firm was liquidated (its assets were sold to two private companies).

CIA front?

The media reports have triggered senior members of the Swiss legislature to demand a parliamentary investigation, Reuters has reported.

This is after the Washington Post reported that the firm had added encryption weaknesses to the products it sold, in order to allow the CIA and its German counterpart, the BND, to eavesdrop on adversaries and allies alike while earning million of dollars from the sales.

The Washington Post based its report on the agencies’ internal histories of the intelligence operation.

“It was the intelligence coup of the century,” the CIA report concluded. “Foreign governments were paying good money to the US and West Germany for the privilege of having their most secret communications read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries.”

This mention of five or six countries is most likely a reference to the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing relationship.

The five eyes relationship sees the United States, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand share intelligence information between them.

Cold war

The Washington Post alleges that the operation, codenamed Thesaurus and then renamed Rubicon in 1980s, demonstrated the intelligence value of being able to insert flaws into widely sold communications equipment.

The reported success of the operation over many years has likely reinforced American hostility towards equipment made by Huawei.

It should be noted that neither China or the Soviet Union bought Crypto encryption devices, as those countries were said to be suspicious of the company’s origins.

However the products were sold to more than 100 other countries, including countries such as Iran and Argentina.

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Tom Jowitt @TJowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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