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  • The logo of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is shown in the lobby of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia March 3, 2005.

    The logo of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency is shown in the lobby of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia March 3, 2005. | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 February 2020
Opinion

The U.S. intelligence was able to access encrypted messages from nearly 120 countries for several years.

For decades, governments around the world trusted the Swiss encryption company Crypto AG to encode the communications of their spies, soldiers, and diplomats, unaware that it was secretly owned by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence. 

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The classified communications of the Swiss company's clients, which included Iran, military juntas in Latin America, nuclear rivals India and Pakistan, and even the Vatican, were secretly spied on for decades by U.S. and German intelligence services, according to a joint investigation by the Washington Post and German public broadcaster ZDF.

These agencies, after manipulating the Swiss company's devices, were able to access encrypted messages from nearly 120 countries, according to joint research, which uncovered one of the best-kept secrets of the Cold War.

Investigators at the Washington Post and ZDF found a classified and extensive CIA report on the operation, first known by the code name "Thesaurus" and later "Rubicon". 

The U.S. agency report describes how the United States and its allies exploited the credibility of other nations over the years by taking their money and stealing their secrets.

"It was the intelligence coup of the century," concludes the CIA report. "Foreign governments paid 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 Germans abandoned the operation program in the late 1990s, and the CIA continued. But Crypto gradually dissolved and ceased to exist in 2017. 

Now, there is Crypto International and CyOne, because the original company was earned by an investor in 2018. The first one claims it never knew anything about the plot, while the second has "no comments" to add.

The Swiss government was informed of the case last November and appointed a federal judge to investigate it.

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