UPDATE 2020-10-26: I replaced the word “cryptophones” with “two-way radios” everywhere because in this (historic) context, the use of the word “cryptophones” is anachronistic and needlessly confusing.
This is a translation of a piece published at Nu.nl today, covering an upcoming story by investigative journalists of Dutch radio program Argos (Twitter: @Argosradio1) about how Operation Rubicon, the German-U.S. joint operation involving Crypto AG, (may have) affected the Netherlands.
- Note 1: at the time of writing, nothing about this is mentioned yet on the website or Twitter account of Argos. Nu.nl is however a reliable online news site.
- Note 2: hyperlinks were added by me.
‘Two-way radios of Dutch police and Royal Netherlands Marechaussee (KMar; military police) could be eavesdropped by the NSA’
23 October 2020 13:46
For years, Dutch police and security units reportedly used specially secured two-way radios that could be eavesdropped on by the U.S. intelligence agency NSA.
That was revealed by documents that Dutch radio program Argos has seen.
Among others, the Dutch police and Royal Netherlands Marechaussee [military police] purchased hundreds of Swiss-made Ascom SE-660 Crypto devices. These two-way radios used encryption to protect the confidentiality of conversations.
It would now be clear that these devices contained a backdoor placed by the NSA. This allowed the NSA to eavesdrop on the communication. It is unclear how often conversations have actively been eavesdropped.
Use by special services
In the Netherlands, the equipment was commonly used by special services, including the department that protects diplomats, and the Special Security Missions Brigade. The devices were also used by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) in The Hague.
Earlier this year it become clear that backdoors had been placed in the radios. This was part of Operation Rubicon, in which the German foreign intelligence service BND and the NSA jointly secretly acquired Crypto AG.
The acquisition enabled Germany and the U.S. to eavesdrop on the so-called secured conversations since the 1970s. This became evident when anonymous sources talked to The Washington Post and ZDF.
Impact on the Netherlands previously unknown
Previously it was clear that many countries could be eavesdropped in that way, but the exact impact on the Netherlands was not clear until now. The documents that Argos has seen show the extent to which Dutch police services were affected.
According to an anonymous source, at least 625 of the Ascom devices were bought by the Netherlands. A spokesperson of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee stated that about 150 were in use. The Dutch police could not yet share numbers.