Falklands The Dutch eavesdropping service helped the British decrypt Argentine code messages

Discussion in 'Postwar' started by morrisc8, May 27, 2020.

  1. morrisc8

    morrisc8 Under the Bed

    A relatively unknown Dutch eavesdropping service helped the British decrypt Argentine code messages during the Falklands War. This was made possible by participating in a secret European alliance.

    Arjen van der Ziel27 May 2020, 11:28
    Dutch spies played a special role in the Falklands War. Bart Jacobs, professor of computer security at Radboud University, reveals this in an article in the scientific journal Intelligence and National Security. According to Jacobs, a Dutch expert traveled to London in 1982 to help the British decrypt encrypted communications from the Argentine Navy and diplomatic service. Reading those reports would have been crucial for the British in recapturing the Falkland Islands.

    At the time, the Argentines used encryption equipment from the then renowned Swiss company Crypto AG. That firm looked neutral, but was secretly owned by the German foreign intelligence agency BND and the American CIA. These services had allowed them to decode the messages from the Swiss equipment. And because the German BND had shared this expertise with the Technical Information Processing Center (TIVC), a relatively unknown Dutch eavesdropping service, the Dutch were also able to read Argentine communication.

    Secret alliance, until now
    When the Falklands War broke out in 1982, it became clear that the British eavesdropping service GCHQ had neglected Argentina; the British could not read the Argentinean messages. Under great pressure, London asked allies for help. A Dutch TIVC expert then traveled to Great Britain to explain how the messages could be decrypted.

    According to Professor Jacobs, the Netherlands had acquired the expertise of Germany because both countries are members of a secret Northwestern European eavesdropping alliance called Maximator, to a beer brand in Bavaria, where the BND's headquarters were located until 2017. Denmark, Sweden and France are also participating.

    The headquarters of Crypto AG in Steinhausen, Switzerland. The company looked reputable and neutral for years, but was secretly owned by the German foreign intelligence agency BND and the American CIA. Image EPA
    This hitherto secret alliance was established in the 1970s to share the costs of spying on satellite communications, and to exchange know-how and become more effective. The TIVC later merged into the Joint Sigint Cyber Unit, a collaboration between the security service AIVD and its military counterpart MIVD, but the Maximator alliance is still functioning.

    The then Argentinian junta occupied the Falkland Islands off the coast of the South American country in 1982, to respond to nationalistic emotions and to divert attention from economic malaise. The generals hoped that the British government, which was also struggling with economic problems, would let it go. But Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher used the raid to unify her country, and British troops retook the islands within three months. The conflict cost 258 deaths on the British side and 649 on the Argentine side.

    During the war, the Argentines learned that their messages were being read. Since they couldn't get new equipment up and running so quickly, they decided to change their encryption key every hour, instead of every three days, which made decryption much more difficult.

    How the Argentines found out their communications had been compromised is unclear. The most common explanation is that South Americans discovered it because a British MP in the House of Commons said that the British could read Argentine diplomatic messages. But according to Jacobs, the story circulates in Dutch intelligence circles that it was because of a British pilot who was shot by the Argentines. He would have carried information he could only have thanks to compromised communication.

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