It is being described as one of the most successful espionage programs ever to exist. For more than half a century the CIA and the German spy agency, BND, oversaw a vast snooping industry which allowed them to pry on as many as 128 countries.
Governments all over the world trusted a single company, Crypto AG, to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret. But the same governments, including many from the Middle East, were completely oblivious of the fact that code-making devices purchased from the Swiss based firm was secretly owned by the CIA in a highly classified partnership with West German intelligence.
Internal intelligence report, discovered by the Washington Post unveiled a sprawling and sophisticated operation said to be the “the intelligence coup of the century”.
“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 article claimed.
The American’s “exploited other nations’ gullibility for years, taking their money and stealing their secrets”. They were able to spy on friends and enemies in the Middle East using Crypto’s compromised devices. Saudi Arabia was amongst Crypto’s biggest customers, followed by Iran, Iraq, Libya and Jordan.
Crypto device purchased by Tehran enabled the US to monitor Iranian communications during the 1979 hostage siege. Libyan officials were overheard celebrating after terrorists exploded a bomb in a Berlin nightclub in 1984. The Americans were also listening in to conversation between Egyptian President Anwar Sadat with officials in Cairo during the 1978 Camp David negotiations, which led to normalisation of relations between Egypt and Israel.
Iran appears to have been spied on the most. US spy agencies reportedly intercepted more than 19,000 Iranian communications sent via Crypto machines during that nation’s decade-long war with Iraq. According to CIA documents Iran’s communications were “80 to 90 percent readable”.