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CIA/NSA Bickering Nearly Sank the Deal of the Century

But the CIA and West German intelligence eventually bought the Swiss firm Crypto AG
By Neal Colgrass,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 7, 2020 4:00 PM CST

(Newser) – Friction between the CIA and NSA has come up before—think 9/11 intelligence failures—but it turns out their bickering nearly sank a deal that later revolutionized intelligence gathering, the Washington Post reports. "There was not a lot of love lost between CIA and NSA over the years," says a former officer of both agencies. According to a classified document compiled by the agencies, they almost bought a Swiss company in the 1950s that would allow US intelligence to crack most of the world's encrypted messages. But the risk-averse NSA backed out at the last minute, citing minor objections that no doubt frustrated their intel counterparts. The CIA and West German intelligence ended up buying the firm, Crypto AG, on their own in 1970.

And that was huge, allowing the US to monitor over 100 countries. The CIA managed much of it while the NSA, coming on board, followed and decoded messages. The document also reveals how the CIA was an impatient, powerful, dismissive force, and the NSA, populated by technically brilliant people, didn't always see the big picture. What's more, the Crypto operation "helps to explain how US spy agencies became accustomed to, if not addicted to, global surveillance," Post journalist Greg Miller tells NPR. "And as Crypto became less able to deliver it, the United States turned to other ways to replace that." Miller says the Edward Snowden documents show how the US turned to "companies like Google and Apple and Microsoft" and found "ways to exploit their global penetration." (Read more intelligence agencies stories.)

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