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CIA read secrets of spies and foreign governments for years, report reveals

A man carries a locked document bag into the Senate SCIF at the U.S. Capitol on January 8, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

Foreign governments have relied on one Swiss company to encrypt all their secret communication for years. But an investigation published by the Washington Post on Tuesday revealed that the company was a front for the CIA all along.

KIRO Radio’s Dave Ross spoke to Greg Miller, a national security reporter for the Washington Post. The Post obtained a classified history of the operation, which the U.S. suspended in 2018.

“The CIA did not think it was okay to release this,” Miller told Seattle’s Morning News. “This is not material that has been declassified. We obtained these documents through sourcing that we’re not really able to disclose.”

The classified report revealed that the CIA, in collaboration with West German intelligence, could read any communication encrypted through front company CryptoAG. That included the secret communications of American allies.

“One of the most astonishing aspects of this operation was its reach,” Miller said. “More than 120 countries bought devices from a company that they trusted to help them keep their communications secret, without knowing that company was secretly owned by the CIA, and that all the devices they were buying were secretly rigged to allow the United States to read all their secrets.”

There has been a huge international reaction to the story, Miller said, and the Swiss government has opened an investigation. Perhaps most stunning of all? The operation made the U.S. some money.

“We’re talking about tens of millions of dollars here for agencies whose budgets are deep into the billions, so this was a rounding error in their annual budget,” Miller said. “But nevertheless, a money-making enterprise.”

The story highlights a changing landscape for companies with international reach, especially in the digital age.

“I think that there are echos of this all over the place,” Miller said.

He pointed to Huawei Technologies Co., the Chinese telecommunications company that is building 5G networks across the West. The U.S. government charged Huawei with racketeering conspiracy and conspiracy to steal trade secrets in a federal indictment unsealed Thursday.

The CIA, Miller said, described the operation in their documents as an utter triumph.

“‘The intelligence coup of the century’ is one of the lines that’s in the documents,” Miller said.

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