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CIA Had an Incredibly Easy Way to Spy on Nations

Agency secretly owned a tech firm that stored governments' secrets
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 11, 2020 9:01 AM CST

(Newser) – A fascinating story in the Washington Post sounds like the far-fetched plot of a spy thriller. But it's all true: The piece details how the CIA, with help from West Germany, was able to read the secret communications of other nations with surprising ease for more than 50 years. It seems these nations paid a Swiss firm called Crypto AG for equipment used to safeguard the communications of spies and diplomats. The company got its start with code-breaking machines in World War II, then evolved to remain on top of the field. Here is the takeaway in the Post: What "none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence," writes Greg Miller. "These spy agencies rigged the company’s devices so they could easily break the codes that countries used to send encrypted messages."

The newspaper, in tandem with German broadcaster ZDF, got the scoop by obtaining a classified CIA report on the now-defunct program. “It was the intelligence coup of the century,” the CIA report says. “Foreign governments were paying good money to the U.S. 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.” The lengthy story notes that Germany left the partnership in the 1990s, but the CIA kept it going until 2018. Of note: Neither Russia nor China were customers of Crypto, but the US was able to glean info on both from nations friendly to them, including Iran. Read the full story, which includes interviews with Western officials who ran the secret program. (Read more spying stories.)

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