German and Swiss lawmakers have called for an investigation after a Washington Post report claimed that the US and West German intelligence agencies had for decades owned a Swiss-based manufacturer selling equipment for coded correspondence to state clients all over the world.
The deputy chairman of the left-wing party Die Linke's parliamentary group, André Hahn, who branded it a unique scandal, pledged to call for the government to reveal what happened at the time, what the BND did with the data, and what the agency was apparently still receiving from the CIA until 2018 without telling the Control Panel for the Intelligence Services of the German Parliament. What interests him above all else is whether it is true that the BND was aware of war crimes and did nothing to inform the German government about it, or whether it had informed the government, but the latter deliberately did nothing.
"Obviously, mass surveillance of all communication that is available anywhere in the world, as well as spying on friends and political partners, has apparently not only been the feature of the recent past, but this approach has a tradition that has been going on for decades, which is, from my point of view, absolutely unfortunate", he said, referring to allegations made by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Another aspect troubling the lawmaker is the manufacturer Crypto AG’s vast profits and the money that came from the BND selling its share.
“What happened to that money? Was it possibly used for other BND secret operations that passed or even passed Parliament without any control?” he asked rhetorically.
FDP Brands Reported Operation Outrageous
The deputy leader of the Free Democratic Party’s parliamentary group, Stephan Thomae, echoed his perturbance, saying that it is outrageous that the BND and CIA apparently spied on long-term friends and foes in such a large-scale operation, Merkur.de reports.
"That could develop into the largest espionage affair in the history of the German Republic", he said, noting that the government must immediately break its silence and initiate an unreserved and comprehensive investigation into these allegations.
No Comment From BND
However, the country’s intelligence service declined to comment on the report when asked to do so by the German broadcaster ZDF, saying that it “does not comment publicly on matters, concerning operational work". However, former Chancellery Minister Bernd Schmidbauer, who represented the Christian Democratic Union, confirmed that there was a secret service operation called “Rubikon”.
"The Rubikon mission has certainly contributed to making the world a bit safer", he told ZDF.
The revelation also prompted a backlash in Switzerland: the chairman of the Swiss party FDP, Petra Gössi, called the scale of the scandal shocking in an interview with Tamedia newspapers.
The Swiss government has called a committee to probe the affair. The country’s Federal Council tasked Niklaus Oberholzer, who was a federal judge until the end of 2019, on 15 January to probe the matter. Oberholzer is to report on his findings by the end of this year. As the Swiss Ministry of Defence revealed, the country's Federal Council was informed about the bombshell revelations in the "follow-up to media research" in November 2019. However, reconstructing events dating back years is difficult.
"The events under discussion started around 1945 and are difficult to reconstruct and interpret today", the Swiss Ministry of Defence told the German Press Agency.
Decades of Manipulating Encryption
The Washington Post, which evaluated and analysed the intelligence reports, wrote that governments around the world relied on the Swiss company Crypto AG to encrypt their communications without knowing that the CIA and BND owned half of it and meddled with the technology to hack the encryption.
Notably, Spiegel reported already in 1996 about the allegations that the German and US secret services had been manipulating Crypto AG's encryption in order to carry out operations in crisis regions. The text referred to the “brazen intelligence secret of the century”. However, the company rejected the report and said that it was a “pure intervention”.