For decades, the Central Intelligence Agency was a secret owner of a Swiss encryption firm, giving US officials the ability to read encoded documents from both allies and enemy nations, according to a CIA analysis obtained by the Washington Post and the German public broadcaster ZDF.
But the company's real owner was the CIA in a secret partnership with West German intelligence, which rigged the company's devices so that messages from foreign countries could easily be decrypted. "Foreign governments were paying good money to the US 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 CIA and the National Security Agency (NSA) spied on allies and adversaries alike through Crypto AG specialising in making cryptography equipment, the report said.
At the same time, the report notes the Soviet Union and China were never Crypto customers as they were suspicious of the company's ties to the West. "Their well-founded suspicions of the company's ties to the West shielded them from exposure, although the Central Intelligence Agency history suggests that USA spies learned a great deal by monitoring other countries' interactions with Moscow and Beijing", said the report this week.
The Washington Post got access to internal CIA accounts of the intelligence operation known as Rubicon.
"It was the intelligence coup of the century", the CIA's analysis concluded, according to the report.
Washington Post and German public broadcaster ZDF reported their findings on Tuesday. The U.S. acquired West Germany's part of the organization in the early 1990s.
"The records show that at least four countries - Israel, Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom - were aware of the operation or were provided intelligence from it by the United States or West Germany", the report noted.