A global encryption company called Crypto AG is now under investigation by the Swiss government, after revelations that the company had back doors in its products which intentionally allowed US and German intelligence agencies to eavesdrop on highly sensitive geopolitical conversations of officials from countries all over the world for decades. The company is based in Zug, Switzerland, which is why the Swiss government is in charge of the investigation.
A recent report in the Washington Post has indicated that Crypto AG was owned and controlled for by US and German intelligence through decades of operation. The report concluded that the company made millions of dollars selling equipment to more than 120 countries, much of which had secret security flaws that allowed the CIA and German BND intelligence agency to monitor the transmissions.
A CIA report cited by the Post said, “It was the intelligence coup of the century. 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.”
The report said that the company spied on enemies and allies alike, through an intelligence operation codenamed “Thesaurus” and then renamed “Rubicon” in the 1980s. However, countries like China and the Soviet Union never purchased anything from Crypto AG, due to fears that the company was a front for western intelligence agencies. Still, over 100 other countries purchased services from the company over the many decades that it was in business.
Carolina Bohren, a spokeswoman for the Swiss defense ministry, said in an emailed statement to The Guardian that “The events under discussion date back to 1945 and are difficult to reconstruct and interpret in the present-day context.”
Most of the employees at Crypto AG were kept in the dark about the actual mission of the company, but there have been whistleblowers over the years, and media reports questioning the origins of the company. In 1977, an engineer was fired from the company for noticing the security flaws in the service and then fixing the algorithm for the Syrian government’s version of the product. In 1995, the Baltimore Sun reported on ties that Crypto AG had to US intelligence agencies, which led many countries to stop buying from the company.
The company was able to survive the scandal by insisting that the reports were only rumors, and managed to do business internationally for over two more decades until the truth finally caught up with them.