Tuesday, March 03, 2020

How intelligence agencies use businesses as a cover

America suspects that Huawei, the Chinese telecom firm, could be used for espionage. It has good reason to do so, given that it has a long history of using businesses as a cover for its operations.

Schumpeter has a piece on the links between intelligence agencies and the world of business. The classic example he gives is of a CIA-owned company that produced cipher machines. Governments bought the machines not knowing that their secret communications would be read by America's spying agencies:
By the 1990s it was apparent that the firm (Crypto AG)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.”
 Schumpeter cites other instances:
In the 1970s, at the height of the Troubles, the British Army established a brothel and launderette in Belfast. Not only could soldiers use laundry vans to move around discreetly, but IRA suspects’ clothes could be tested for explosive residue (both operations were eventually exposed and shot up). MI6 similarly operated a bogus travel agency that would lure republicans to Spain with free holidays, where they could be recruited as double agents. In the 1980s Mossad, Israel’s spy agency, ran a Sudanese beach resort that was used to smuggle out thousands of Jews from neighbouring Ethiopia.
The intelligence agencies also work closely with genuine businesses, often planting their people as employees.  This enables spies to travel freely as corporate executives instead of having to produce fake covers. Schumpeter makes the astonishing disclosure that Soviet double agent Kim Philby worked as a correspondent for the Economist in the Middle East shortly before his defection.

Businesses get paid for cooperating with the intelligence agencies. Schumpeter notes that America's telecom firms have been paid hundreds of millions of dollars for cooperating with the government. Intelligence agencies also provide useful information to companies for their help, information that could given them an edge over competition.

The links between intelligence agencies and the media have been well documented.Government departments are, of course, penetrated. One wonders now about their links with academia.

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