Technology

Swiss cabinet blames intelligence community for Crypto AG affair

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ZURICH, May 28 (Reuters) - The Swiss government on Friday blamed the state intelligence leadership for concealing that a Swiss company had for decades sold encryption devices as a front for the U.S. and German spy agencies, insisting the cabinet itself had remained in the dark.

Crypto AG, based near Zug, sold supposedly secure communications systems while secretly owned by the Central Intelligence Agency and Germany's BND intelligence service, which could freely read what it encrypted.

The technology was sold to dozens of governments including those of Iran, India, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, Chile, and Argentina.

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Although the outlines of "Operation Rubicon" were known for years, new details about its scope and duration became public in 2020 thanks to Swiss, German and U.S. investigative journalists -- prompting a parliamentary probe into where political responsibility lay to draw a line under the affair.

The case embarrassed officially neutral Switzerland and raised questions about who knew what about the operation.

The government in Bern said on Friday the main problem surrounding Crypto AG was not a lack of supervision tools at the defence ministry or from within the federal cabinet.

Instead it blamed the main state intelligence agency and its successor organisation.

"This long-standing operation remained a well-kept secret of a small circle of people within leadership of the Strategic Intelligence Service and later within the Federal Intelligence Service, and thus escaped political control," the government said in response to the now completed parliamentary probe.

The intelligence agency said only it took note of the government's statement and would not comment further.

The cabinet largely accepted most of parliament's recommendations on how to ensure such cases did not arise again.

These included that the defence ministry inform the cabinet of any joint intelligence operations that involve a Swiss company and that the spy agency improve information in its archives.

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Reporting by Michael Shields, Editing by John Miller and Alison Williams

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