US and German intelligence agencies used a Swiss company for espionage

BERN, (BM) – A joint Cryptoleak study conducted by the Swiss public television program RundschauExternal Link, the German television channel ZDF and the Washington Post newspaper, revealed the fact that the US and German intelligence agencies of the Swiss company use encryption technology to provide global “wiretapping” in more than a hundred countries.

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We used, in particular, specially prepared encryption devices manufactured by Crypto AG from the canton of Zug. The operation of “wiretapping” was carried out at least until 2018. The Swiss government intends to conduct a comprehensive review of the information available. The Swiss Ministry of Economy has temporarily suspended the export license issued by Crypto AG.

Rumors that secret services have been behind the facade of Crypto AG, based in Zug, have been around for a long time. But now the rumors have become a proven truth: these intelligence agencies are the CIA and the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND). Using specially prepared cryptographic devices from the Swiss company Crypto AG, these two secret services have been secretly listening and monitoring global information channels for decades. More than a hundred countries of the world are affected. In particular, the Germans and Americans systematically intercepted hundreds of thousands of messages plying between state bodies, authorities, embassies and military units.

Vulnerable equipment sold as completely reliable

In 1970, West German intelligence BND and the CIA bought in shares the Swiss company Crypto AG, which was managed with the goal of disguising an investment fund in Liechtenstein. Before the purchase, special services collaborated with the company, but with its purchase special services gained complete control over the company. Crypto AG was once the market leader in encryption devices. With their help, secret messages were encrypted, for example, sent to embassies from the “center” and back.

Bruno von Ah, a former employee of the company, told the Swiss television program Rundshau (Review) about how this happened. “At some point, my boss and I realized that a kind of back door was built into all the devices”. In fact, Crypto AG has been integrating two encryption loops into devices for decades in a row: one was secure and the other vulnerable, i.e. it could be completely, knowing how, to crack. Only a few countries received fully reliable encryption devices, including Switzerland.

Possessed a huge advantage

On approximately 280 pages of a secret dossier that fell into the possession of the Swiss, German and American media, the so-called “Operation Rubicon” is regarded as “one of the most successful intelligence operations of the post-war period”. Professor Richard Aldrich of the University of Warwick (Universität Warwick, UK) concludes that “Operation Rubicon was one of the most impudent and scandalous operations in the history of special services. About a hundred countries paid billions of dollars to steal their state secrets. ”

Crypto AG delivered its products worldwide, including Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Iran. The Swiss company was considered neutral, and therefore reliable, which was an important argument in favor of buying its products during the Cold War and the Middle East conflict. The United States used the information most actively obtained in this way. Being able to listen to secret phone calls, the United States had a huge advantage in negotiations or military conflicts.

Hacked Swiss encryption devices played a significant role, for example, in the negotiations at Camp David in 1979, in negotiations for American hostages in Iran in 1981 or during the American invasion of Panama in 1989. Documents received by the media also prove for the first time that the BND and the CIA were fully informed at an early stage of serious human rights violations committed by the Argentine military junta.

The decoded telegrams of the Argentine Navy, transmitted to the British by the Germans and the Americans, made a decisive contribution to the victory of Great Britain in the 1982 war of the Falkland Islands. Erich Schmidt-Eenboom, a German intelligence expert, speaks of this operation as “extremely important.” The information that the CIA and BND received, sometimes at least 50, if not all 70 percent, consisted of data obtained using prepared Swiss cryptographic devices.

What did Swiss politicians and special services know?

From the available documents it clearly follows that the Swiss secret services also participated in this operation, organized by the CIA and the BND. Here is just one quote from the Cryptoleak case file: “The Swiss Federal Police (the Swiss equivalent of the US FBI) ​​was in contact with military intelligence. The top Swiss officials were generally aware of the role of Germany and the United States in connection with Crypto AG, doing everything to cover up this relationship.”

Investigations of the Swiss television program Rundshau confirm that the Swiss secret services were well aware of all this. However, today all those who were allegedly involved in this operation at that time do not want to comment on anything, or they say that they did not know anything about this operation. There is also evidence that “key government officials” knew about Operation Rubicon.

Swiss Ministry of Economy revokes export license of Crypto AG

Alarmed by the revelations in the media, Swiss Minister of Economics Guy Parmelen (SVP) in mid-December 2019 decided to suspend the general export license issued by Crypto International. The representative of the Ministry of Economy confirmed this fact to the TV program “Rundshau”. The review will be valid “until open questions are clarified.”

The Federal Council, the Swiss government, has already responded to the revelations by initiating a comprehensive investigation into the circumstances of the case. At its meeting on January 15, 2020, the cabinet decided to create an interdepartmental working group to investigate the scandal. The Federal Department (Ministry) of Defense, the Federal Department of Foreign Affairs, the Federal Department of Justice and the Federal Department of Economics will work together on this matter. The investigation was entrusted with conducting the former Swiss federal judge, Niklaus Oberholzer.

The leader of the Green Party parliamentary faction, Balthasar Glättli, has already demanded a total investigation. “If official Switzerland, and possibly even the Federal Council, the government, knew about the prepared cryptographic devices, then this would undermine one of the foundations of our political identity, namely, the image of Switzerland as an“ honest broker ”and a non-partisan crisis mediator. All this requires clarification. It seems that this can only be done through the establishment of the Parliamentary Investigation Commission (parlamentarische Untersuchungskommission),” says B. Glettli in an interview with Swiss public non-state television SRF.

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Editorial team
Source: Swissinfo

The point of view expressed in this article is authorial and do not necessarily reflect BM`s editorial stance.