Spies often use businesses as cover for their work, but it can end in tears
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.”
间谍活动与商务向来纠缠不清。在伊恩·费莱明（Ian Fleming）的第二部小说《你死我活》（Live and Let Die）中，詹姆斯·邦德伪装成环球进出口公司（Universal Export）的商人。这是一家经不起查证的幌子公司，背后是“摄政公园附近一座灰色大楼”里的军情六处。在近十年后出版的《女王密使》（On Her Majesty’s Secret Service）中，真相败露。“作为掩护，环球公司很好用，但它的价值已被榨干了，”邦德懊悔地说道，“它被用得太久了。现在，世界上所有的特务机关都打了进去。布洛菲尔德显然什么都知道。”
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.”
作为全球性犯罪集团幽灵党（Spectre）的头目，恩斯特·布洛菲尔德（Ernst Blofeld）需要开展秘密通信，那么他肯定也会对Crypto AG这家瑞士公司的底细了如指掌。这家公司在二战后崛起并主导了全球加密设备市场。上世纪90年代，Crypto AG与美国情报窃听机构国家安全局（NSA）勾结的事实已经昭然若揭。但后来爆出的真相更加惊人。据《华盛顿邮报》报道，从1970年起到至少本世纪初，Crypto AG一直完全由美国中情局（CIA）和德国间谍机构联邦情报局（BND）所有（后者1993年退出后完全交由CIA）。“这是本世纪情报工作非常难得的成就，”CIA的报告中洋洋自得地写道，“外国政府花重金……把自己最机密的通信开放给他人。”
The history of intelligence is littered with such front companies, used to collect intelligence or carry out covert skulduggery. “Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare”, a forthcoming book by Thomas Rid, describes how the CIA seed-funded and controlled a printing house in Berlin in the 1950s to spread propaganda in the Soviet bloc. It published political pamphlets and news magazines, forged and real, as well as a lonely-hearts newsletter, a women’s magazine, and even publications devoted to astrology and jazz. It was one of many publishing houses and publications around the world that were covertly subsidised by the CIA and KGB to spread influence.
像这样的幌子公司在情报史上比比皆是，它们被用来收集情报或开展隐秘勾当。托马斯·里德（Thomas Rid）在即将出版的新书《积极手段：假消息与政治战之秘史》（Active Measures: The Secret History of Disinformation and Political Warfare）中描述了上世纪50年代，CIA如何通过出资创办并控制柏林的一家出版社，在苏联的盟国中展开宣传。这家出版社不仅出版内容真假混杂的政治宣传册和新闻杂志，还出征婚简报、女性杂志，甚至占星术和爵士乐专刊。CIA和克格勃为扩大各自的影响力，都曾在世界各地秘密资助众多出版社和出版物，这只是其中一家。
Some fake firms have been devilishly crafty. 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.
As well as creating sham companies, spies have also cultivated a cosy relationship with the real corporate world. MI6 and the CIA were both reputed to have close dealings with oil companies and the press. Kim Philby, a Soviet double-agent in MI6, served briefly as this newspaper’s correspondent in the Middle East shortly before his defection. More recently, American telecoms firms have been paid hundreds of millions of dollars a year to co-operate with the government, often going beyond legal obligations to do so; the NSA has lauded AT&T for its “extreme willingness to help”. American spies are also reported to have paid RSA, a security company, $10m to use a flawed technique that made it easier to break a widely used form of encryption (the company denies this).
Such clandestine suborning is even simpler for dictators. The KGB would occasionally divert flights by Aeroflot, the Soviet national airline, to collect intelligence from the air. Today, America fears that Huawei, a Chinese telecoms giant that wants to build Western 5G networks, could help China’s espionage efforts.
In some respects, the private sector is more important to spooks than ever. Tech companies hold more personal data than state-owned telecoms firms ever did. And as the use of biometric border controls makes it trickier for spies to travel under an alias—fingerprints are harder to fake than passports—the CIA and others have relied increasingly on recruiting and placing employees in legitimate companies so they can travel under their real names with commercial cover.
What is in it for the suits? Money, for a start. Before it was bought outright, Crypto AG was handed large sums of cash both to buy its loyalty and to ensure that its back-doored cipher machines would have an edge over competitors. Companies might also get access to secrets. MI6 would funnel useful titbits to national champions like BP and British Airways, according to a former intelligence officer. Today the CIA provides pliant corporate partners with “special, tailor-made briefings”, according to a recent report by Jenna McLaughlin and Zach Dorfman for Yahoo News.
这会给企业带来什么好处呢？首先是钱。在被全盘收购之前，Crypto AG就曾得到一大笔钱。这笔钱既是为收买它，也是为确保它安装了后门的密码设备比竞争对手更有优势。此外，公司也可能获得机密信息。一位前情报官员表示，军情六处会向BP和英国航空等国家领军企业传送有用的信息。詹娜·麦克劳林（Jenna McLaughlin）和扎克·多尔夫曼（Zach Dorfman）在近期的雅虎新闻上撰文指出，现今，CIA为听话的合作企业提供“特别定制的简报”。
Live and let die
Yet cloak-and-dagger arrangements can go badly wrong. Companies that collaborate with spooks can put—often unwitting—employees abroad at risk. In 1992 Hans Buehler, a salesman for Crypto AG, was detained in Iran for nine months and freed only after a $1m ransom payment (he claimed he knew nothing of the firm’s back doors). Then there are the reputational costs. An aggrieved Mr Buehler went to the press, and the firm’s secret trickled into the open, prompting German spies to walk out of the deal (with a tidy five-fold return on the original investment). Crypto AG was wound up in 2018; its once-illustrious brand name is now destroyed.
然而，合伙从事秘密活动也可能出严重差错。与间谍机构合作的公司可能将往往不知情的海外员工置于险境。1992年，Crypto AG的销售员汉斯·比埃勒（Hans Buehler）在伊朗被拘留了九个月，直到支付了100万美元的赎金才获释（他声称自己对公司产品被安装后门一无所知）。此外还有名誉损失。愤愤不平的比埃勒找到媒体，公司的秘密由此浮出水面，德国间谍机构于是退出了合作（获得了五倍于原始投资的可观回报）。Crypto AG在2018年停业，它曾经辉煌的品牌现已荡然无存。
A worse fate befell Ferranti, a British engineering firm that purchased International Signal and Control (ISC), an American arms contractor that turned out to be a CIA front for rampant gun-running. Ferranti went bankrupt in short order. When James Guerin, ISC’s CEO, was convicted of fraud and illicit arms dealing, Bobby Ray Inman, a former deputy director of the CIA, wrote to the judge with a character reference: “Mr Guerin displayed patriotism toward our country…even though it could have risked unfavourable publicity for his company.” Alas, gratitude from the spooks is scant consolation for aggrieved shareholders.■
而英国工程公司Ferranti的结局就更惨了。这家公司收购了美国军火承包商国际信号与控制公司（ISC），结果发现后者竟是CIA用来大肆走私军火的幌子公司。很快Ferranti就破产了。ISC的CEO詹姆斯·盖琳（James Guerin）被判欺诈罪和非法军火交易罪，为此CIA前副局长鲍比·雷·英曼（Bobby Ray Inman）在给法官的品行证明信中写道：“盖琳展现了对我们国家的爱国精神……尽管他的公司可能因此遭受负面报道。”唉，对受害的股东来说，间谍机构的感激之情实在起不到什么慰藉作用。