Dutch Army using NSA, Philips phones

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The Dutch army used secured phones that were encrypted by the American NSA and their British counterpart, GCHQ, up to a few years ago. Philips sold the secured phones to the Dutch government.

Philips did not really have a lot of choice in the matter, as evidenced from studies of the archives and interviews with former staff of subsidiary, Ultra Sonore Fabricage Afdeling (USFA).

Philips headquarters in 2005

The company wouldn't stand a chance of getting orders from NATO countries without the NSA, according to investigative journalist and Philips biographer, Marcel Metze.

Philips joined forces with the NSA in the early eighties to acquire a 200 million guilder order for a new communications network for the Dutch government. In the following years Philips delivered digitally secured "Zodiac" phones and communication devices to the Dutch army, as well as to embassies and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The NSA delivered the encryption program for the phones, named Saville, consisting of three built-in chips. Few Philips staff members knew the algorithms.

All the devices of the NATO countries contained the NSA encryption. It is unclear whether the Americans took advantage of their knowledge, possibly by building in a weak spot in the software, a so-called  "backdoor." A "backdoor" would leave them vulnerable too, since they use the same equipment within the NATO, according to Bart Jacobs, professor in computer security at the Radboud University.

Documents, released by Snowden last year, proved the NSA did build in a so-called "backdoor" in commercial encryption software.

It's not clear whether the NSA still supplies devices to NATO countries. 'I wouldn't see why not,' said Jacobs. Philips can not shed light on the matter, since USFA was sold to a French company, Thomson, in 1989, and all files were transferred.