The “intelligence coup of the century” has now been exposed. A Swiss company in Zug is at the center of the investigation. The CIA listened in to more than 100 countries via the Crypto company in Steinhausen.
Using the Zug company "Crypto", the CIA (the US American Central Intelligence Agency) and the German BND (Federal Intelligence Service =Bundesnachrichtendienst) intercepted the transmissions of more than 100 countries This has been revealed by joint research carried out by the SRF "Rundschau", the ZDF and the Washington Post, which calls it the "intelligence coup of the century". The spying was carried out through manipulated encryption devices from Crypto AG.
There had long been rumours that secret service organisations were behind the Crypto company. Leaked documents from the CIA and the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) are now showing that the two secret services intercepted and decoded the transmissions of more than 100 countries, and hundreds of thousands of secret messages between government agencies, authorities, embassies or military agencies were systematically intercepted.
The West German BND and the CIA bought the Crypto AG company, based in Zug, in equal parts In 1970 – under the cover of a foundation in Liechtenstein. There had been a loose cooperation earlier, but, through the 100% purchase of the company, the secret services now had total control. Crypto AG was the market leader for encryption devices - machines that are supposed to encrypt secret communications so that they cannot be decoded.
Bruno von Ah, a former employee of Crypto, told the Rundschau: "At some point, my supervisor and I noticed that the devices had a back door." Crypto AG built two forms of encryption into its devices for decades: one that was secure and one that was not, i.e. the transmissions could be ‘cracked’. Only a few countries, including Switzerland, received the secure model.
Photo 1: The Crypto headquarters in Steinhausen, Zug
Photo 2: The CIA intercepted 100 countries with, among others, this modified Swiss encryption machine.
On around 280 pages of the secret service dossier, the so-called “Operation Rubikon” is described as “one of the most successful intelligence activities in the post-war period”. Prof. Richard Aldrich from the University of Warwick concludes: “Operation Rubikon was one of the boldest and most scandalous operations, with over a hundred states paying billions of dollars, only to have their state secrets being stolen."
Which countries were affected?
The Washington Post identified 62 countries as being among the total of 120 countries to whom Crypto delivered encryption units, including the UNO: These countries included:
Crypto AG supplied the whole world, including Saudi Arabia, Argentina and Iran. The company operated from Switzerland, which was considered neutral – and this was an important selling point during the Cold War and the Middle East conflict. The USA in particular exploited this politically, as they could thereby eavesdrop on countries, giving the United States a huge advantage in their negotiations or strategic warfare. The crypto devices played an essential role in the Camp David negotiations in 1979, the negotiations on the American hostages in Iran in 1981 and the US invasion of Panama in 1989, as well as in the Falkland War in 1982.
According to the SRF, the documents show that the Swiss secret services had been informed about the operation of the CIA and the BND: “The Bundespolizei (Swiss federal police = the Swiss counterpart to the American FBI) contacted the military intelligence service. Senior officials in the organisation were generally aware of the role of Germany and the United States in connection with Crypto AG, and helped to protect this relationship.”
Research by the "Rundschau" confirms that employees of the Swiss intelligence service knew about it. At the time, those who were suspected of being involved did not want to comment, or said they had no knowledge of the operation. There is also evidence that "key government officials" knew about the operation.
The BND decided to leave the operation in 1993. Bernd Schmidbauer, who was then responsible for the BND in the Chancellery, negotiated this exit. He confirmed the research and added: "The operation certainly contributed to making the world a bit safer."
The CIA kept its control of the company at the time, and continued this operation until at least 2018. Several sources confirm this.
Federal Councillor Viola Amherd informed the Bundesrat (Federal Council) about the affair in November, and, on January 15, based on the research, the Federal Council decided to commission an investigation. Renato Kalbermatten, spokesman for the Federal Defence Department (VBS), confirmed this to Keystone-SDA.
Niklaus Oberholzer, who served as federal judge until the end of 2019, was commissioned with the investigation, which should clarify the facts and report to the DDPS by the end of June.
The VBS informed the Federal Council of the case on November 5, as it wrote in a statement. The events under discussion began around 1945, and are difficult to reconstruct and interpret today, the VBS notes. For this reason, the Federal Council have decided to have the subject investigated.
The intelligence service e informed Defence Minister Viola Amherd on August 19 about the rumours that were circulating regarding the Crypto company. After further research, more detailed information was provided on October 31. Federal Councillor Amherd then informed the Federal Council at its meeting on November 5. The regulators were also informed by the intelligence service on November 12.