VIENNA (Reuters) – The Swiss government has filed a criminal complaint over the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s alleged use of a cryptography company as a front to spy on various governments’ secret communications, the Swiss attorney general’s office said on Sunday.
The complaint against persons unknown for alleged breaches of the law governing export controls follows recent reports on “Operation Rubicon”, which for decades involved the CIA and German BND spy services covertly reading other nations’ secret messages encoded with technology sold by Swiss firm Crypto AG.
The case of Crypto, which sold encryption devices and software while being secretly owned by U.S. and German intelligence services that could freely read what it encrypted, is embarrassing for neutral Switzerland and could hurt its international reputation, particularly if it turned a blind eye.
Although the outlines of Operation Rubicon were known for years, new details about its scope and duration were made public last month by Swiss, German and U.S. investigative journalists.
“The Office of the Attorney General confirms it has received a criminal complaint by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) dated Feb. 2, 2020 regarding possible violations of export control law,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement. SECO is part of the Swiss Economy Ministry.
The attorney general’s office will review the complaint before deciding whether to open criminal proceedings, the statement said, confirming a report by newspaper SonntagsZeitung.
A spokeswoman for Switzerland’s Economy Ministry confirmed that the complaint had been filed but declined to elaborate.
The technology Crypto sold to dozens of governments including those of Iran, India, Pakistan, Libya, Egypt, Chile, and Argentina had deliberate flaws or built-in back doors that made messages easily readable to U.S. and German spies. In effect, those client countries paid millions to be spied on.
SonntagsZeitung said SECO, which is in charge of authorizing exports of sensitive equipment, believes it was deceived into clearing the sale of Crypto’s machines and software, and argues it would never have done so had it known of the scheme.
The Swiss government has appointed a former Swiss Supreme Court justice to look into Operation Rubicon. He is due to report back by the end of June and the cabinet will be briefed.
But pressure is mounting for parliament to launch its own investigation to find out who in Switzerland knew about the scheme.
Reporting by Francois Murphy. Editing by Jane Merriman