Venona files

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The Venona project intercepted codes passed among agents of the communist Soviet Union during World War II, and attempted to decrypt them. This was a project by the United States and United Kingdom during the Cold War. It helped identify people who were spying for the Soviet Union, and passing military secrets (such as information about the atomic bomb). Historians John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr have stated,

Unfortunately, the success of government secrecy in this case has seriously distorted our understanding of post-World War II history. Hundreds of books and thousands of essays on McCarthyism, the federal loyalty security program, Soviet espionage, American communism, and the early Cold War have perpetuated many myths that have given Americans a warped view of the nation's history in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s. [1]

Contents

History

The U.S. Army project to decrypt coded Soviet cables began in 1943.[2] The following year, Finnish intelligence officers approached the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) mission in Stockholm with an offer to sell some 1,500 pages of material relating to Soviet codes, including a code used by the NKVD.[3] Finnish troops had acquired the scorched codebooks and cryptographic materials in June 1941, during the Soviet invasion of Finland.[4] Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius Jr. (whose aide was Soviet agent Alger Hiss)[5] told OSS Director Donovan to reject the offer on the grounds that Russia was an ally, but the OSS purchased the material anyway. At the instigation of the State Department, Roosevelt ordered Donovan to return the material to the Soviets forthwith. After a failed attempt to deliver it to Pavel Fitin, head of NKVD foreign intelligence, the material was finally handed over to Soviet Ambassador to the U.S. Andrei Gromyko.[6] As a result, the application of this material to decrypting the Venona traffic would be delayed until 1953.[7]

After November 1944, “decrypts of messages were shown to President Roosevelt by a United States Naval Officer whose duty it was to take the decrypts to the White House.”[8] In May 1945 a U.S. Army intelligence team discovered a second codebook at a German signals intelligence archive in Saxony, in territory assigned to the Soviet zone of occupation. Only a day or so prior to Soviet occupation of the area, the team removed the material, which then made its way to the Army's Signals Intelligence Service (SIS).[9] But several months before the war would end on August 14, 1945, Brigadier General Carter Clarke of Army G-2 (Intelligence) would notify SIS that he had received instructions from the White House to "cease any effort against the Soviet problem."[10]

On June 4, 1945, six weeks after becoming President, Harry Truman was briefed about Venona, according to former National Security Agency (NSA) officer Oliver Kirby, deputy director of the Russian code-breaking project. Based on notes Kirby made at the time, Jerrold Schecter, former National Security Council spokesman for the Carter administration, reported that Clarke, chief of the then-new Army Security Agency (precursor of the NSA), advised President Truman that the code-breakers were decrypting messages that revealed massive Soviet intelligence operations in the United States, though it was too early to identify operatives or operations.[11] According to Kirby, Clarke described this meeting as "NDG" (no damn good),[12] the president telling the general that his account of code-breaking sounded "like a fairy story."[13]

Background

The Moynihan Commissions of Government Secrecy wrote in its final report, "The first fact is that a significant Communist conspiracy was in place in Washington, New York, and Hollywood" [14] The Commission's final report also included, "the United States Government possessed information which the American public desperately needed to know: proof that there had been a serious attack on American security by the Soviet Union, with considerable assistance from what was, indeed, an “enemy within.” ... Only the American public was denied this information." [15]

During World War II, the Soviet Union ran espionage operations against the War Department and the State Department, the War Production Board, the Office of Economic Warfare, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS)—the forerunner of the CIA— and even the Office of the President of the United States. The names included Harry Dexter White, Assistant Secretary of the Treasury, cover name "Lawyer;" Larry Duggan, Chief of the Division of American Republics at the State Department, cover name "Prince;" Lauchlin Currie, Senior Administrative Assistant to President Roosevelt, cover name "Page." There was not a single agency of the American government that Soviet espionage had not infiltrated, and it stole the secrets of many other organizations concerned with national security. No modern government was more thoroughly penetrated. [16]

Between 1942 and 1945 thousands of encrypted cables were sent between KGB stations in the U.S. and Moscow. However, less than one percent of the total of the messages could be read, these being those which that reused sheets of the one-time pad. No messages sent after 1948 could be broken because the code breakers had been betrayed by Russian linguist William Weisband, who worked with American code breakers at Arlington Hall outside Washington, D.C.

Approximately 2,200 of the messages were decrypted and ultimately American counterintelligence found cover names for more than 300 Americans who spied for the Soviet KBG in World War Two, but only 100 were identified.[17]

The decryption rate was as follows:

  • 1942 1.8%
  • 1943 15.0%
  • 1944 49.0%
  • 1945 1.5%

With the first break into the code, Venona revealed the existence of Soviet espionage[18] at Los Alamos National Laboratories.[19] Identities soon emerged of American, Canadian, Australian, and British spies in service to the Soviet government, including Klaus Fuchs, Alan Nunn May and Donald Maclean, a member of the Cambridge Five spy ring. Others worked in Washington in the State Department, Treasury, Office of Strategic Services,[20] and even the White House. The decrypts show that the U.S. and other nations were targeted in major espionage campaigns by the Soviet Union as early as 1942. Among those identified are Ethel and Julius Rosenberg; Alger Hiss; Harry Dexter White,[21] the second-highest official in the Treasury Department; Lauchlin Currie,[22] a personal aide to Franklin Roosevelt; and Maurice Halperin,[23] a section head in the Office of Strategic Services. By comparing the known movements of the agents with the corresponding activities described in the intercepts, the FBI and the code-breakers were able to match the aliases with the actual spies.[24] Nearly every American military and diplomatic agency of any importance was compromised to some extent[25]

"Mr. Hoover"

One of the more bizarre incidents in the Venona investigation occurred a few years before work was ever begun on deciphering encryptions. A Soviet assistant to the KGB Washington station chief became displeased with his superior and other case officers he was working with. Lt. Col. Vassili Mironov, who's cover name was Markov, wrote an anonymous letter to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover in August 1943 in Russian on a Cyrilic typewritter. There is no "H" in the Cyrilic alphabet, so in Russian the letter is addressed to "Mr. Guver."

In the letter, Mironov names several high level KGB operatives,[26] many involved in the ongoing atomic espionage, and suggest surveilling them would lead to incrimination. Cited in the letter is Mironov's boss, Vasili Zarubin, the North American KGB Rezident; Zarubin's wife Elizabeth Zarubina who was accreditted in 1992 as playing a significant role in recruiting J. Robert Oppenheimer and infiltrating Klaus Fuchs into the Manhattan Project; Semyon Semenov said to be "robbing the whole of the war industry in America;" Grigory Kheifets, KGB San Fransisco Rezident who first contacted Oppenheimer at Berkley and managed other contacts; and Leon Tarasov, KGB Mexico City Rezident to whom the targeting of the Los Alamos, New Mexico facility and operations connected with it were transfered in order to gain better operational security.

Mironov made an assertion that the information his boss, Zurabin, was obtaining from all these sources was being sent to Japan, and not the Soviet Union. Mironov and several others were all recalled to Moscow and an investigation found this to be untrue. Mironov was diagnosed schizophrenic, hospitalized, and later shot.

Soviet Files

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, documents from the KGB and Comintern Archives in Moscow became available to researchers and the public for the first time, corroborating the facts of McCarthy's underlying premise. In the United States, the Moynihan Secrecy Commission was empowered by statute to investigate and secure documents from the National Security Agency and the FBI which had remained classified for more than 40 years. The Secrecy Commission's Final Report found that,

But for every accusation there was a denial. ... For all who could agree there were Communists in government, there were as many who saw the Government as contriving fantastic accusations against innocent persons. A balanced history of this period is now beginning to appear; the VENONA messages will surely supply a great cache of facts to bring the matter to some closure....

The first fact is that a significant Communist conspiracy was in place in Washington, New York, and Los Angeles, but in the main those involved systematically denied their involvement. [27]

Hayden Peake, curator of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Historical Intelligence Collection has stated, "No modern government was more thoroughly penetrated." [28]


See also

Further reading

  • "Venona Source 19 and the Trident Conference of 1943" by Eduard Mark in IQ and National Security vol 13 (1998).

References

  1. Haynes, John Earl & Klehr, Harvey Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America, Yale University Press, (2000), p. 18. ISBN 0300084625.
  2. Preface, Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, eds., Venona: Soviet Espionage and The American Response, 1939-1957 (National Security Agency/Central Intelligence Agency, 1996)
  3. Thomas Powers, Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda (New York Review of Books, 2004) ISBN 1590170989, p. 15
  4. Preface, Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, eds., Venona: Soviet Espionage and The American Response, 1939-1957 (National Security Agency/Central Intelligence Agency, 1996)
  5. G. Edward White, Alger Hiss's Looking-glass Wars: The Covert Life of a Soviet Spy (Oxford University Press, 2004) ISBN 0195182553, p. 49; Cf. John Ehrman, "Alger Hiss’s Looking-Glass Wars", Studies in Intelligence, Vol. 48, No. 4 (2004); Ted Morgan, Reds: McCarthyism in Twentieth-Century America (Random House, Inc., 2004) ISBN 081297302X, p. 267
  6. Thomas Powers, Intelligence Wars: American Secret History from Hitler to Al-Qaeda (New York Review of Books, 2004) ISBN 1590170989, pp. 15-16
  7. Robert Louis Benson, Venona Historical Monograph #1: Introductory History of VENONA and Guide to the Translations (Fort George G. Meade, MD: Center for Cryptologic History, 1995
  8. Robert Louis Benson and Cecil Phillips, History of Venona (Fort George G. Meade, MD: Center for Cryptologic History, 1995), p. 38
  9. John Earl Haynes, Venona Codebooks, H-DIPLO Discussion Logs, May 19, 2003
  10. Thomas R. Johnson, American Cryptology during the Cold War: 1945-1989. Book I: The Struggle for Centralization 1945-1960, (Fort George G. Meade, MD: Center for Cryptologic History, 1995), p. 159 (PDF 172) This report goes on to say that it was later discovered that the White House staff had been infiltrated by a Communist or "fellow traveler."
  11. Jerrold and Leona Schecter, Sacred Secrets: How Soviet Intelligence Operations Changed American History(Dulles, Va.: Potomac Books Inc., 2002) ISBN 1574883275, pp. 147, 110. Truman's appointment calendar confirms the meeting with Clarke.
  12. Robert D. Novak, "The Origins of McCarthyism: What did Harry Truman know, and when did he know it?," The Weekly Standard, Vol. 8, Issue 41 (June 30, 2003)
  13. William A. Rusher, "A Closer Look Under The Bed," Claremont Review of Books, Vol. IV, No. 4 (Fall 2004)
  14. Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy, Appendix A 6. The Experience of The Bomb
  15. Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy, Appendix A 7. The Cold War
  16. Peake, Hayden B., The Venona Progeny, Naval War College Review, Summer 2000, Vol. LIII, No. 3. "Venona makes absolutely clear that they had active agents in the U.S. State Department, Treasury Department, Justice Department, Senate committee staffs, the military services, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the Manhattan Project, and the White House, as well as wartime agencies."
  17. PBS, Secrets, Lies, and Atomic Spies, transcript, NOVA special, Airdate February 5, 2002
  18. Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, Secrecy : The American Experience, Yale University Press, (1998), pg. 54, ISBN 0-300-08079-4. "these intercepts provided...descriptions of the activities of precisely the same Soviet spies who were named by defecting Soviet agents Alexander Orlov, Walter Krivitsky, Whittaker Chambers, and Elizabeth Bentley."
  19. A Brief Account of the American Experience. Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. VI; Appendix A. U.S. Government Printing Office. pg. A-27. "Thanks to successful espionage, the Russians tested their first atom bomb in August 1949, just four years after the first American test. As will be discussed, we had learned of the Los Alamos spies in December 1946—December 20, to be precise. The U.S. Army Security Agency, in the person of Meredith Knox Gardner, a genius in his own right, had broken one of what it termed the Venona messages—the transmissions that Soviet agents in the United States sent to and received from Moscow."
  20. A Brief Account of the American Experience. Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. Report of the Commission on Protecting and Reducing Government Secrecy. VI; Appendix A. U.S. Government Printing Office. pg. A-7. "KGB cables indicated that the Office of Strategic Services (OSS) in World War II had been thoroughly infiltrated with Soviet agents."
  21. Benson, Robert L. The Venona Story, National Security Agency
  22. Eavesdropping on Hell, National Security Agency. "Currie, known as PAZh (Page) and White, whose cover names were YuRIST (Jurist) and changed later to LAJER (Lawyer), had been Soviet agents since the 1930s. They had been identified as Soviet agents in Venona translations and by other agents turned witnesses or informants for the FBI and Justice Department. From the Venona translations, both were known to pass intelligence to their handlers, notably the Silvermaster network."
  23. Warner, Michael, 2000. The Office of Strategic Services: America's First Intelligence Agency; Chapter: X-2. Central Intelligence Agency Publications. "Duncan C. Lee, Research & Analysis labor economist Donald Wheeler, Morale Operations Indonesia expert Jane Foster Zlatowski, and Research & Analysis Latin America specialist Maurice Halperin, nevertheless passed information to Moscow." For title page to book, see here
  24. Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, 1998, Secrecy : The American Experience, Yale University Press, pg. 54, ISBN 0-300-08079-4.
  25. Peake, The Venona Progeny.
  26. Document No. 10 in Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, eds., Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response, 1939-1957 (Washington, DC: National Security Agency/Central Intelligence Agency, 1996).[1][2][3][4]
  27. Moynihan Commission on Government Secrecy, Appendix The Experience of the Bomb, pg. A-33.
  28. Hayden B. Peake,The Venona Progeny, Naval War College Review, Summer 2000, Vol. LIII, No. 3.

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