A Spy in every Embassy
“The intelligence coup of the century.” The extraordinary story of the longest running and most successful secret intelligence operation of the 20th Century.
For more than half a century, governments all over the world trusted a single company, Swiss-based Crypto AG, to keep the communications of their spies, soldiers and diplomats secret. But what none of its customers ever knew was that Crypto AG was owned for over 20 Cold War years by the CIA in partnership with the BND, the German Intelligence Service. The machines that many customers bought had deliberately weakened security – a window through which the CIA and BND could read the diplomatic traffic between their embassies, their trade negotiators and their own spies.
The BND sold out its share in 1993 for a tidy profit while the CIA continued until the company was broken up in 2018.
Crypto AG’s own secret was only cracked last year in a combined investigation by German ZDF television, Swiss SRF and the Washington Post following the discovery of a secret history, Operation Rubicon, that had been assembled by some of the operatives who had been involved in the deception.
A Spy in Every Embassy is the story of the story, presented by German intelligence journalist Peter F Muller, who produced last year’s television programme for ZDF, and British journalist David Ridd.
It gives the chronology of the manoeuvrings, arguments, successes and deceptions of the partnership that remained secret for a quarter of a century. Its revelations offer a new perspective on some of the landmark events of those decades – the Falklands War, the US bombing of Libya from British airfields, the negotiations that lead to the Camp David Accords and the Iranian Hostage crisis, as well as the daily churn of intelligence information from around the world about both friends and opponents.
The programme considers the collateral damage of deception on a grand scale. Most employees of Crypto AG knew nothing of the built-in weaknesses of the machinery they were building or trying to sell to governments in some very dangerous parts of the world.
Produced by John Forsyth
Assistant Producer: Alexandra Quinn
A Loftus Media production for BBC Radio 4
Extracts read by Lanna Joffrey, Annette Kossow, Blanca Belenguer, Mike Christofferson and Thilo Buergel.
Archive by kind permission of ZDF Television, Crypto Museum, Harry S Truman Library, National Security Agency Archive and Bletchley Park podcast.