Washington/Vienna (dpa) – Intelligence officials in the United States and West Germany spied on dozens of countries for decades, using a Swiss company that sold encryption products, the Washington Post and German broadcaster ZDF reported, citing internal documents.
Swiss firm Crypto AG sold its products to more than 120 countries, with the two Western nations having taken control from the 1970s onwards. Germany’s BND spy agency pulled out of the venture in the early 1990s but the CIA kept going until 2018.
The access to communications within governments in the Middle East, Latin America and elsewhere helped Washington’s spy agencies gain insights into events around the world, from the 1979 hostage crisis in Iran to the Libyan bombing of a Berlin disco in 1986, the reports said.
The Soviet Union and China did not buy encryption devices from Crypto, which kept the communist adversaries largely protected from the firm’s spying activities.
The Swiss Defense Department said in a statement that the government in Bern has decided to launch an investigation into the matter and to clear up the facts on this issue.
“The events under discussion started around 1945, and it is difficult to reconstruct them,” the statement cautioned. The Defense Department said that a report on the matter should be concluded by the end of the year.
The Post report noted that the CIA and BND shared the millions of dollars in profits generated from Crypto’s sales.
Crypto was liquidated in 2018, and the identity of the shareholders at that time remain permantly protected by laws in Lichtenstein.