Austria cautious in crypto interception affair

Authorities in this country have been very cautious about revelations about the decades of spying on dozens of states by the US foreign intelligence agency CIA and the German Federal Intelligence Service BND. An official confirmation whether Austria had used the manipulated devices of the company Crypto AG is still pending. Experts assume that this was the case.

According to research by Swiss radio and television SRF, ZDF and the “Washington Post”, the CIA and BND owned the Swiss company Crypto AG, through which manipulated ciphering devices were allegedly sold to about 120 countries between 1970 and 1993. Customers included Iran, South American governments, India and Pakistan, as well as Austria. The secret services are said to have accessed the encrypted information, as a former Crypto employee SRF said. The profits made from the sale of the devices are said to have been channelled into black accounts of the secret services.

According to ZDF editor Ulrich Stoll, who was involved in the research, Austria has, however, recognized that the devices were manipulated. The German “plan” had been “too transparent”, which is why some customers, including Austria and the former Yugoslavia, had recognized the “readability” of the machine, according to a paper by the US secret service CIA, from which the ZDF quotes The corresponding voice encryption device (MCC 314) was sold to Austria in the 1970s, Stoll says. It is unclear when Austria saw through the practice and whether secret information had been leaked to the CIA and BND until then.

So far there is no official confirmation or denial by Austrian authorities, the Ministry of Defense does not want to comment on the case. Head of department Klaudia Tanner (ÖVP), however, emphasized in “ZiB2” on Wednesday that there was “without doubt a great need for clarification in this matter”. NEOS member of parliament Douglas Hoyos called for “urgent clarification” after the affair became known to Twitter and declared via Twitter that he had asked a parliamentary question to clarify whether Austria’s government had also used “spy software”.

As the daily “Presse” reported, citing a former diplomat, the devices of the Swiss company Crypto AG are said to have been used in the 1970s both in Vienna and in “selected embassies”. Even former members of the armed forces are still familiar with the Crypto devices. The Foreign Ministry stressed that, at least for the 1980s, it could be ruled out that encryption devices from the company Crypto had been used.

In the USA, the operation ran under the code name “Minerva”, and with the German Federal Intelligence Service under the name “Rubikon”. The “Operation Rubikon” is said to have run from 1970 to 1993. According to ZDF, the US Secret Service continued it until 2018.

Meanwhile, the interception practices of Crypto AG are also keeping the Belgian military secret service ADIV busy. The service has been informed about “Operation Rubicon” and is “currently investigating the possible extent of the reported bugging practices”, the ADIV announced Wednesday evening, according to the German news agency dpa. According to the agency, the secret service did not go into detail as to whether Belgium was also targeted by the operation.

In Switzerland, members of the FDP and Greens called for a parliamentary commission of inquiry (PUK). German members of the opposition parties were also outraged and demanded clarification.

According to the daily newspaper “Standard”, the company Crypto AG is now called Cy One Security AG. The international The Crypto Group AG has been in Swedish ownership for about two years. The company’s website said on Thursday that the reports on the wiretapping practices were “very worrying”. As soon as a more precise picture of the situation is available, the company intends to make a public statement.