20 Feb 2020

ESPIONAGE AND business have long been entangled. In “Live and Let Die”, Ian Fleming’s second novel, James Bond masquerades as a businessman working for Universal Export, a flimsy front company for MI6 that occupies a “big, grey building near Regent’s Park”. In “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”, published almost a decade later, the game is up. “As cover, solid cover, Universal was ‘brûlé’ with the pros”, rues Bond. “It had been in use too long. All the secret services in the world had penetrated it by now. Obviously Blofeld knew all about it.”

Ernst Blofeld, head of Spectre, a global criminal syndicate—a man in need of secret communications—would doubtless also have been wise to Crypto AG, a Swiss company that rose to dominate the global market for cipher machines after the second world war. By the 1990s it was apparent that the firm was in bed with the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s eavesdroppers. The truth, it turns out, was even more remarkable. From 1970 to the 2000s, at least, Crypto AG was wholly owned by the CIA and, until 1993, the BND, Germany’s spy agency, according to the Washington Post. “It was the intelligence coup of the century,” crowed a CIA report. “Foreign governments were paying good money…for the privilege of having their most secret communications read.”

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This content was originally published by The Economist: Business. Original publishers retain all rights. It appears here for a limited time before automated archiving. By The Economist: Business

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