More on Crypto AG

One follow-on to the story of Crypto AG being owned by the CIA: this interview with a Washington Post reporter. The whole thing is worth reading or listening to, but I was struck by these two quotes at the end:

…in South America, for instance, many of the governments that were using Crypto machines were engaged in assassination campaigns. Thousands of people were being disappeared, killed. And I mean, they’re using Crypto machines, which suggests that the United States intelligence had a lot of insight into what was happening. And it’s hard to look back at that history now and see a lot of evidence of the United States going to any real effort to stop it or at least or even expose it.


To me, the history of the Crypto operation helps to explain how U.S. spy agencies became accustomed to, if not addicted to, global surveillance. This program went on for more than 50 years, monitoring the communications of more than 100 countries. I mean, the United States came to expect that kind of penetration, that kind of global surveillance capability. And as Crypto became less able to deliver it, the United States turned to other ways to replace that. And the Snowden documents tell us a lot about how they did that.

Posted on March 6, 2020 at 7:48 AM16 Comments


David Rudling March 6, 2020 8:56 AM

“… suggests that the United States intelligence had a lot of insight into what was happening. And it’s hard to look back at that history now and see a lot of evidence of the United States going to any real effort to stop it or at least or (sic) even expose it.”

It’s the perennial dilemma of the risk of exposing an immensely valuable source by using it injudiciously. During WW2 Ultra intelligence was never to be used to take action unless an alternative source could credibly be blamed by the enemy.

Curious March 6, 2020 10:12 AM

@David Rudling
Given that the whole fraud of selling compromised crypto was premedited (seems fairly obvious), I think any idea of a “dilemma” isn’t really interesting, because such ideas probably wouldn’t really be dilemmas in a moral sense (meaning involving the people that actually worked for this to happen). Even if they somehow historically documented this concern at the time, which would make up this type of dilemma of not wanting to risk revealing the espionage efforts, I think the convenience of it all in not doing anything or risk exposure (as a general idea at least) would make such a question about ethics dubious to say the least. I think it would make as much sense as expecting a family being a victim of a murder of a family member to then be arguing that ofc the murderer ought to do whatever the murderer can to avoid detection and arrest and so alluding to some kind of fair play that way. As with many things in life, I think such deliberations would make sense for a select audience that in advance would benefit from it in ways, or just being a preference.

And also, anyone elses idea of there now being a dilemma as I see it, philosophically speaking, I would argue that it just wouldn’t be interesting for defending such a thing, because this idea of a dilemma, then wouldn’t really be a moral question if you aren’t directly involved in this in the first place. In my head, simply subscribing to a club of moral ideas, isn’t or more to the point, can’t be ‘being moral’, because it would lack relevance to ones personal experience as relevant to whatever “moral question” is at hand. It would be like, it wouldn’t make sense for me as an individual to discuss ethics (rules and considerations) in regard to a practice, if I am not directly related to working with either the ethics as a regulatory thing, or being subject to such rules in my work, and it would be more like commentary. I haven’t read much about ethics in general, but I don’t think I am off on this. ‘Ethics’ used to be a topic, and maybe still is, for many students in academia where I live. I never got around to reading it myself, iirc I have the book though for the ExPhil course (Examen Philosophicum). I remember it as being about (roughtly translated as) ‘philosophy history, science philosophy and ethics’.

I think this “dilemma” with the perspective of a spectator would have to be more “academic” than being a real dilemma. It might be interesting to talk about, but I like to think it have to be something inappropriate regardless of ones sentiment, because it would be weird imo to try defend or try rationalize other people’s actions that way.

Lastly, I am reminded of something I intended to write about, re. Whitfield Diffie’s comment about spycraft at the RSA conference this year in the cryptographer’s panel, who apparently thought it was a good idea to defended espionage in general, apparently because of the importance of having success given the context of relying on intelligence on a state level and about maybe avoiding conflicts by having real intel about an opponent, as opposed to mere guesswork. I never read much about North American pragmatism (a philosopical tradition in US) because I somehow always thought it had to be bs, but this notion of desiring success and excusing espionage in liue of depending on success, sounds to me like it would be maybe similar to a pragmatist’s philosophy, or bs as I like to think of it in general. 🙂

myliit March 6, 2020 10:29 AM

From the OP transcript

“ DAVIES: And then there was the 1979 Iranian hostage crisis.

MILLER: Right. So Iran was a huge customer of Crypto AG for years and years, bought a lot of these machines and used them. And it left them utterly vulnerable to penetration by U.S. spy agencies as a result. So when radicals stormed the American Embassy in Tehran and took 52 hostages, there were negotiations between the Carter administration and the regime for more than a year. And the United States was able to monitor all of the deliberations and all the conversations of the Iranians because of those – because of their government’s use of these Crypto machines.

I mean, that speaks to a limit here to espionage, right? Knowing what the Iranians are doing and how they’re reacting to the latest proposals and negotiations did not help President Carter get those hostages freed before his term in office ended. But it did give his administration deep insight into the Iranian position and what was happening.”

myliit March 6, 2020 10:33 AM

“ DAVIES: Let’s talk about some of the more interesting moments in the operation of this company which was around for decades. For example, the Camp David talks, trying to establish peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.

MILLER: Sure. So there – the documents lay out numerous sort of global events where this operation gave U.S. officials, including presidents, deep insight into what was happening, an upper hand almost, including the Camp David negotiations under President Carter in the late 1970s between Egypt and Israel. All of the Egyptian communications from Camp David back to Cairo were being monitored because the Egyptians were a huge customer of Crypto AG, and the NSA was able to pick off all of those communications between President Sadat and his advisers back in Cairo and decode them, read them. They knew everything that the Egyptians were doing. There were numerous other cases here. I’ve…

DAVIES: Can I just stop you there for a sec? So the Americans were hearing what the inside Egyptian communications were about their strategy in the talks. Was that communicated to President Carter and his advisers so they knew more about what one side was doing?

MILLER: Absolutely. Absolutely. So I mean, that’s one of the goals. That’s one of the primary objectives of spying or espionage. So yes. So the NSA is monitoring these communications. They’re intercepting all of Sadat’s communications to his advisers back in Cairo. They’re telling Carter and his whole negotiation team. So they come in to all their meetings with the Israelis and the Egyptians with a huge leg up. They already know what the Egyptian positions are, what their vulnerabilities are, what they’re willing to concede and what their redlines are.

DAVIES: Were the Israelis customers of Crypto? Did the Americans know what their bottom lines were?

MILLER: The Israelis were in an interesting status here because the Israelis were not customers of Crypto in the main. They may have used Crypto devices here and there. But they were beneficiaries of this operation.”

myliit March 6, 2020 10:42 AM

Back to Operation Condor, or South America

“ DAVIES: …Are using your encrypted, you know, machines to communicate with each other and execute these missions [dissident assassination campaigns] you’re an accessory to it.

MILLER: You’re right, right? And so at one point, countries in South America banded together, the most – the military dictatorships of South America banded together to create this kind of joint operation where they were trying to track down dissidents that they couldn’t catch within their own borders, and they needed the cooperation of their neighbors. They used Crypto machines to coordinate these activities. They were using Crypto machines to track down and kill dissidents.”

Clive Robinson March 6, 2020 11:04 AM

@ Bruce,

With regards,

    …in South America, for instance, many of the governments that were using Crypto machines were engaged in assassination campaigns.

Do not forget that history shows that the US executive via the US IC, the CIA was very specifically running their own “campaigns” down there.

This included spying for US mining and petro chem companies and a few “assassinations” as well.

This all went on quite happily into the 80’s untill there was a black opps budget crissis. This led to the drugs deals and the involvment of Israel effectively selling arms to Iran which came out in the late 1980’s, and later gave us the “Ollie North and Fawn Hall” shows to watch on TV.–Contra_affair

And that was just the snow flake on top of that black budget opps iceberg…

mark March 6, 2020 11:26 AM

Countries that were running their own campaigns, and suggests the US knew?

What, you mean like the Contras, and the death squads Bolton was involved with, IIRC?

Or maybe you’re thinking of Kissinger’s involvement in the coup in Chile against Salvador Allende, and the bombing of two journalists in the late seventies in Washington, DC?

Oh, right, let’s not forget the “School of the Americas”, teaching suppression and worse for decades.

Of course the CIA knew, when they weren’t directing them or advising them.

nobody March 6, 2020 11:54 AM

I’ve long been of the opinion that the three-letter-agency quest for ubiquitous surveillance–in all its forms from telephone snooping to the quest for encryption backdoors–has far more to do with an institutional sense of entitlement than any security need.

The American intelligence services view gathering, and hoarding, strategically questionable levels of intelligence as an objective unto itself rather than something to be done in support of policy and security objectives. Like a bunch of children playing spy vs. spy, the security apparatus is far more interested in gloating over having secret knowledge than using its legal privileges and technological capabilities to protect people.

The long list of national security failures where ample information was available regarding threats but nothing was done to stop them reflects this.

I’ll also echo what others have said about repression campaigns in South and Central America: the CIA didn’t need backdoored encryption to know about what was going on. The CIA already knew what was going on because they were the ones encouraging, directing, and often funding, attacks by right-wing governments against their citizens.

BlackBag March 6, 2020 2:18 PM


Regarding the Iran-Contra affair don’t know if you recall the assasination of the Prime Minister of Portugal Francisco Sa Carneiro and Minister of defense Adelino Amaro da Costa( <href=””> Portuguese operatives involved on the operation later on declared being paid by CIA. The main target of the bombing was actually the Defense Minister because he found out about arm deals being done by the Portuguese army with Iran. Basically Portugal has served as a platform for the United States to sell arms to Iran. I wonder what the average American citizen would think about its own government selling arms to it’s own “enemy”.

Dave March 6, 2020 6:47 PM

@Clive Robinson: This included spying for US mining and petro chem companies and a few “assassinations” as well.

A friend of mine worked with truth commissions in Uruguay investigating liquidations and disappearances done there in the 1970s and 1980s. It was dangerous work, when they went out to interview people the standard practice for discouraging them was to tie them up, pour petrol on them, and set fire to them. One thing she mentioned at the time was that their biggest source of records on human rights violations in Uruguay was the US, not Uruguay, who had extensive documentation from the time it was happening documenting everything that was going on. I’m not sure whether they were just passive observers or actively complicit in it, the impression I got was that there was some complicity when it came to removing people from land that big corporations wanted, but in any case I found it odd that the primary source of records for torture in Uruguay was contemporaneous documents in the US.

FA March 8, 2020 9:18 AM

@De Braeckeleer

Looks like a Breitbart-style attempt to slander Miller more than anything else.

Jack March 10, 2020 1:48 PM

Lol, why don’t you call me a russian Putin-bot to my face?
The fact that our host deleted my post pointing out that the CIA doesn’t kill people, nor does the NSA spy on everybody, combined with the fact that he peddles the russia-hacked-our-elections bullcrap just confirms my longheld suspicion: security-clearences ain’t free..

Jon March 12, 2020 5:50 PM

@ Jack :

You are a Putin-bot. Or at least an easily duped idiot.

The CIA has and does kill people.
The NSA does spy on everyone – or at least they try to.
The Russians did break into voter registration systems and delivered a massive mal-vertising campaign on social media to support Donald Trump.

You are a Putin-bot. Or at least an easily duped idiot.

You’re welcome.

I didn’t see your post before it was deleted, but given the latest one that has not been, I can see why your previous one was, and I suspect it was done in excellent faith and with reasonable knowledge by the moderator. If you wish to peddle arrant falsehoods and worthless conspiracies, you are welcome to do so elsewhere.


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