NSA, CIA argued for 12 years before starting ‘intelligence coup of the century’

Military Technology
encryption machine

MYSTERY WIRE — The “intelligence coup of the century” sat on the shelf for more than a dozen years as the CIA and the NSA bickered over details.

In a follow up to its blockbuster report in mid-February, the Washington Post reports that the National Security Agency nearly torpedoed the whole deal. And then NSA had to rescue it when the CIA got cold feet later.

READ: As the U.S. spied on the world, the CIA and NSA bickered

The story of Crypto AG and how it became the key to US intelligence in Latin America and around the world reveals a cats-and-dogs relationship between the two top intelligence agencies. The Post describes the CIA as the “big brother” of the “squabbling spy siblings.” NSA, it seems, is the smart younger brother that doesn’t always follow the CIA’s lead.

The CIA ended up leading the operation, buying into the Swiss company that manufactured encryption machines. The machines were then rigged by US and German intelligence so they could be easily hacked.

US intelligence agencies used this method of listening for decades, and more than 100 countries used the encryption devices. The operation finally shut down in 2018. NSA lost interest years earlier.

Among the operations based on the crypto machines: Spying on Chile, Argentina and Uruguay as military regimes targeted political opponents for “liquidation.”

The BBC reports that revelations about Crypto AG have damaged Switzerland’s reputation for neutrality.

Switzerland also suspended foreign sales of the company’s products.

Washington Post reporter Greg Miller described the reach of the Crypto AG operation, codenamed “Minerva,” in an interview on National Public Radio:

I mean, it’s staggering, the scale of this operation. And what the US got as a result is just intelligence on the activities of these countries, on terrorist operations, on bombings — like the bombing of a disco in Berlin in the 1980s — of military operations. The United States helped England in its war over the Falklands Islands with Argentina thanks to these devices.

Greg Miller, Washington Post reporter who broke the story

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