The Swiss system knew the benefits of Crypto AG


The crypto leaks affair also revolves around the question of whether the Swiss intelligence service has benefited from the machinations of the CIA and the BND. The search for simple scapegoats falls short.

The Crypto AG case highlights the links between business, science and the army.

The Crypto AG case highlights the links between business, science and the army.

Alexandra Wey / EPA

It is mathematicians and engineers with a cool mind, not shadowy agents, who are at the center of the crypto affair. Thanks to the close links between the Swiss militia system, there is traditionally a lively exchange between industry, science and the military. The Swiss Armed Forces specialists in cryptology, radio reconnaissance and electronic operations are among the best in their field worldwide. The potency of her work for security in Switzerland is a secret that is often told – such as in the case of a deliberately scattered story about the Syrian civil war.

Targeting cryptological service

The Swiss intelligence service is said to have followed the deployment of Russian troops in Syria step by step in autumn 2015 thanks to the army’s technical facilities. The soldiers sent there provided the specialists of the Swiss army with such precise data that they could practically understand the Ordre de Bataille on the bases in Tartus and Latakia, right down to the last man, according to legend. Information that at the time, at the height of the IS reign of terror, was probably worth its weight in gold for the exchange with other intelligence services: the Russians’ line-up against evidence of possible terrorist attacks in Switzerland.

“They listen and look closely,” is how the Army’s Command Support Base (FUB) describes the motto of the Center for Electronic Operations (ZEO) on its website. The cryptologists who are responsible for the information security of the army are also located here. As NZZ research shows, they are now suspected of being, together with the intelligence services, Switzerland’s main link to Operation Rubicon. According to the files that a German source allegedly leaked to international media, the CIA and BND were intercepted using manipulated encryption devices from the Crypto AG company in Zug.

States around the world bought crypto technology from Switzerland

States around the world bought crypto technology from Switzerland

Peculiarities of the Swiss militia system

The mother document of the Crypto-Leaks, presumably a report by the historical service of the CIA for the purpose of myth formation, also describes, among other things, the investigation that the Federal Police (Bupo) stopped in the 1990s. The arrest of crypto employee Hans Buhler in Iran had roused rumors of a spy campaign with the “made in Switzerland” seal of approval for the first time. But Bupo came to the conclusion that there were no concrete suspicions for opening criminal proceedings. According to the CIA report, among other things, the investigations by Swiss cryptologists were manipulated by a news service provider: “The news service had the Swiss encryption service in their pockets.” According to «Rundschau», the then Bupo investigator Jurg Buhler apparently doubts the results of the cryptology section – because of the presumptive influence: «If in retrospect that was the case, then it is clear why the result of the technical clarifications was as it was we got it. »

The CIA document contains little to no information about the structure of the Swiss security system. Maybe also because the militia army is difficult to see from the outside. At that time, the cryptology section belonged to the Federal Office for Transmitting Troops (Bauem), which today is the Command Support Base (FUB). Then as now, there was a hard core of permanent employees, plus a detachment of highly qualified scientists in the militia service, many of them specialist officers who are called “Sugusli” because of their degree badge in jargon. A lively exchange among comrades is cultivated via the ETH, Swiss tech companies and the officer societies, institutionalized in the Foundation for the Promotion of Transmission and Management Support Troops since 1971.

Informal channels of this kind are used to communicate and discuss, but with mutual trust. This is how the Switzerland system works. For some, this is felt, for others it is an expression of inner cohesion and optimal use of Swiss swarm intelligence in the interests of the country. It is difficult to say how much information reaches the political level beyond the operational level. This most likely also applies to Crypto AG, some of whose employees were probably also associated with the army and science.

Responsibility for the intelligence service

The CIA document assumes that key people “in the government”, i.e. the Federal Council, knew about the ownership of the Zug company but did not want to talk about it: “The only reason why the issue was not discussed with the Swiss was was that the government could preserve a situation of credible deniability. » According to the CIA historians, there was no official political contact between the foreign owners and the Federal Council. These spread the smell of a Swiss “deep state”, that is, murky machinations without political control, but are obviously not very familiar with the local situation.

In federal Berbers, it may appear that certain circles are now more or less obviously trying to target cryptologists in particular. This does not do it justice. The FUB and earlier the Bauem only works as a sensor. Leadership and operational responsibility always lie with the intelligence service. This is how the FUB describes the mission of its specialists at ZEO: “It procures information for the VBS intelligence services and achieves effects in electromagnetic and cyber space through electronic operations.”

Meanwhile, the envy of Switzerland’s economic success or possible troublemakers in international power play rubbing their hands: the internal search for simple scapegoats sows doubts and stirs up mistrust – just like the calculation of the parties. The skills of engineers and mathematicians, who in Zimmerwald, “up on the mountain”, as it is called internally, can listen to the vastness of the ether and crack algorithms, are a key instrument for Switzerland’s security. Likewise, the trade in extracted messages. An important goal of the ongoing investigations should therefore be to understand the chain of command and the associated responsibilities.

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