For decades, the CIA secretly monitored government communications from allies and adversaries through its previously undisclosed ownership of a Swiss firm, The Washington Post reported Tuesday.
Beginning in 1970, the CIA and National Security Agency controlled nearly every aspect of Crypto AG, which started as a code building asset for U.S. troops during World War II.
Crypto’s operations — hiring decisions, technology design, subverting algorithms and sales target management — were controlled by the CIA and West German intelligence until the early 1990s.
The arrangement allowed the U.S. and its West German allies to make money off foreign governments while simultaneously stealing sensitive foreign government data and information. Crypto AG sold equipment and made millions of dollars from the governments of Iran, India, Pakistan, the Vatican and military juntas in Latin America, who were all unaware of the CIA’s involvement.
In the early 1990s the BND, the German spy agency, reportedly saw the risk of exposure as too high and left the operation. The CIA bought Germany’s stake and kept the operation going, using Crypto AG for all its reconnaissance worth until 2018, when the agency sold the company’s assets, according to current and former officials cited by the Post and ZDF, a German public broadcaster.
The CIA and the BND declined to comment to the Post, though U.S. and German officials reportedly did not dispute the authenticity of the documents.
Andreas Linde, the chairman of Crypto AG, told the two publications he did not know about the company’s connection to the CIA and BND before confronted with the details.
Linde said Crypto AG is now investigating all of the technology it sells to determine whether it has any hidden vulnerabilities.
“We have to make a cut as soon as possible with everything that has been linked to Crypto,” he said.
The U.S. and other governments have become extremely cautious of foreign technology that they believe could assume the same role as Crypto AG to spy on sensitive U.S. intelligence information.
The U.S. has argued that Chinese smartphone maker Huawei poses a national security threat with its next-generation cellular networks.
President Trump spoke last week with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson about the United Kingdom’s decision to allow Huawei a limited role in developing its 5G mobile network. Previously, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a trip to the U.K. to discuss similar telecommunications matters with Johnson.
“It’s all very well to tell our friends and allies they shouldn’t install Huawei’s, but whose infrastructure are they going to install?” Barr said.
CIA press secretary Timothy Barrett said in a statement, “We are aware of press reporting about an alleged U.S. government program and do not have any guidance.”