Monday, September 27, 2010

Former Stasi Cryptologists work for NATO

Archives from the former East-German Ministerium für Staatssicherheit (MfS), better known as the Stasi, have already shown the excellent skills of their SIGINT (Signals Intelligence) department HA III. Little was known about what happened with all those most capable experts after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the former German Democratic Republic...until now.

The German magazine Der Spiegel now revealed that cryptologists from the former East-German central cipher bureau ZCO (Zentralen Chiffrierorgan), were secretly recruited by the German Federal Office for Information Security BSI (Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik ). They are now employed at Rohde & Schwarz SIT GmbH, a front company for the secret recruiting operation and a subsidiary of the renowned German communications and security firm Rohde & Schwarz.

The Stasi cryptologists had already proved very successful in both making and breaking codes during the Cold War era. They managed to break several encryption systems, including the secure communications of the West-German Foreign Intelligence Agency BND (Bundesnachrichtendienst). The last thing the German government wanted, after the dissolving of East-Germany in 1990, was the exodus of Stasi crypto expertise to other countries. The defection of these cryptologists and a compromise of Western encryption technology to rogue states would be a nightmare. It was decided to recruit them, whatever it takes.

Rohde & Schwarz SIT became both a surreptitious employment pool for former Stasi crypto experts and a most successful subsidiary of Rohde & Schwarz, in both commercial and security point of view. SIT took over Siemens' cryptology division and employs many of Germany's top mathematicians. They are specialised in Information and Communications Security, offer encryption for numerous analog and digital systems, and are currently an important supplier of high security crypto equipment for NATO (image above: Rohde & Schwarz Elcrodat 4-2 voice and data encryption).

Or how a former enemy of NATO (and partner of the Soviets) became a vital part of NATO's communications security. At the end, the secret operation prevented critical crypto expertise to go awalk and provided experienced mathematicians for BSI's crypto bureau. A win-win situation.

Let's just hope that none of these Stasi cryptologists are still serving their old mentor, the former KGB 8th Main Directorat Communications and Cryptography (now absorbed by Russia's SIGINT agency FAPSI). I'm sure the German Federal Intelligence BfV (Bundesamt für Verfassungsschutz) has them all checked thoroughly. Nevertheless, recruiting old enemies is a hazardous undertaking (see Heinz Felfe), and far-sighted Russian Intelligence has a splendid record in long-term planning regarding former Soviet states (see also Hermann Simm).

The full story, in English, can be read on the website of Der Spiegel. Do also visit the Rohde & Schwarz SIT GmbH website. On the splendid SAS- und Chiffrierdienst website you will find more information about the East-German Zentralen Chiffrierorgan (ZCO), and plenty of info and images of Stasi encryption equipment (click its "Technik" link at the lower left). More about the Stasi SIGINT capabilities on this previous blog, and more on Russia's FAPSI (today's counterpart/sister agency of the former ZCO) on this previous blog.

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