The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States and West German intelligence have seen secret messages from governments in more than 120 countries with the help of the famous Swiss company Crypto AG, which has earned millions by selling its devices to many states.
According to a joint investigation by The Washington Post and the German broadcaster ZDF , Crypto AG, a Swiss communications encryption firm, secretly worked with the CIA and West German intelligence. For many years, the company sold devices to foreign governments to spy on messages that its users considered encrypted.
Journalists talked about the details of a multi-year agreement that allowed the United States and its allies to gain access to encryption equipment shipped to more than 120 countries in the 21st century. Crypto’s customers were Iran, India, Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Syria and even the Vatican. At the same time, the Soviet Union, and later Russia, as well as China, have never been clients of Crypto. A CIA report said that US intelligence read up to “80-90 percent of the Iranian government’s reports.”
The authorities of the countries using Crypto devices to protect their communications did not know that they were designed specifically so that Western intelligence officers could easily crack codes used by foreign governments to send messages. During the operation, first known as Thesaurus and then Rubicon, the CIA regularly intercepted secret correspondence, with the help of which it informed the American administration about global military operations, hostage crises, killings and bombings.
“It was a reconnaissance coup of the century,” the CIA report said, one of the documents received by The Washington Post and ZDF as part of their investigation. “Foreign governments did not know that they paid good money to the USA and West Germany for the privilege that their most secret messages were read by at least two (and possibly as many as five or six) foreign countries,” the document says.
Crypto AG was founded by a native of Russia Boris Hagelin, who fled to Sweden after the October Revolution of 1917. He arrived in the United States in 1940 and offered the U.S. Army an M-209 encryption machine, which was less complex and voluminous, like the famous Nazi Enigma. The Pentagon became the first customer of the company founded by Hagelin in Switzerland, having purchased 140 such machines for its needs. After Hagelin created a more advanced cryptosystem in 1955, the American authorities, according to journalists, made a deal with him, which ultimately led to the start of Operation Thesaurus. In cars sold to foreign countries, intelligence officers began to place bookmarks that allowed reading information of interest to Western intelligence.
Journalists managed to gain access to the CIA report of 2004, the company itself suspended operations in 2018, since its services, taking into account the rapid growth of closed communication systems and protection technologies, were not in demand.
The Swiss government has officially opened an investigation into Crypto, according to Swissinfo, the International Service of the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation. The general export license for Crypto devices was suspended “until the circumstances of the investigation are clarified.”