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VENONA Historical Monograph #5: The KGB and GRU in Europe, South America, and Australia

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"Remembrances of VENONA"
by Mr. William P. Crowell

National Cryptologic Museum

NSA Home Page

The release of VENONA translations involved careful consideration of the privacy interests of individuals mentioned, referenced, or identified in the translations. Some names have not been released when to do so would constitute an invasion of privacy.


In February 1943 the U.S. Army's signal intelligence organi- zation, often called "Arlington Hall" after the location of its headquarters in Virginia, began a secret program to examine encrypted Soviet diplomatic telegrams between Moscow and Soviet missions abroad. Not until 1946, however, after difficult analytic work, did Arlington Hall begin to recognize that these so-called diplomatic communications contained thousands of messages of the KGB (the Soviet espionage agency), GRU (the Red Army's general staff intelligence directorate), and the Naval GRU. This project was eventually named "VENONA."

This monograph accompanies the fifth set of VENONA translations being released to the public. The previous four releases covered these topics:

  1. Soviet atomic bomb espionage
  2. New York KGB messages of 1942 and 1943
  3. New York and Washington KGB messages of 1944-45
  4. San Francisco and Mexico City KGB messages; GRU New York and Washington messages; Washington Naval GRU

The current release contains translations of KGB, GRU, and Naval GRU messages to and from locations in Europe, Latin America, and Australia, as well as some messages of nonintelligence organizations: the Soviet Foreign Ministry and the Trade Ministry. The great majority of messages in this release involve the Soviet intelligence services. This is the final, and largest, release of VENONA translations - well over 1,000 messages.

Insight Into Foreign Ministry and Trade Matters

Trade and Foreign Ministry messages were rarely translated. The VENONA breakthrough was not, generally, achieved until years after the messages had been sent. Trade and Foreign Ministry messages were not of intelligence value once they had been broken. The voluminous Trade messages involved mostly Lend-Lease matters; the Foreign Ministry messages most often dealt with routine consular affairs. Nevertheless, these messages were important for two reasons: they helped in the cryptanalysis of KGB and GRU messages (this was absolutely critical in the case of the Trade material), and they provided occasional information concerning Soviet security, counterintelligence, and cryptographic policy. For example, a June 1945 message from the deputy foreign minister to all posts abroad warned that a "foreign intelligence service" (not further identified) was showing an interest in the movement of Soviet diplomatic mail and would attempt to "extract documents" from these courier shipments.1 Another security warning message of May 1947 ordered ambassadors, consuls, and their subordinates to immediately discharge from their personal service any foreigners they might have hired as "cooks, nursemaids, washerwomen, maids, etc."2

Among the few Trade messages translated are discussions of "two cases of safe cracking" at the Lend-Lease office annex in Washington in December 1942.3 A Moscow to Washington Trade Ministry message of December 1942 mentions "those confidential and secret reports" obtained by "Comrade SHUMOVSKIJ" during 1938-42 and gives instructions for his continued work. This is especially interesting because Shumovskij was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB seen as covername BLERIOT in the KGB VENONA messages.4

KGB Messages to the London Residency

Only a small set of London KGB messages were available for exploitation - mostly incoming messages from Moscow Center sent in, September 1945. This small opening, taken together with the exploitation of certain messages of KGB New York and Washington (translations previously released), assisted in the identification of important KGB agents Donald Maclean, Kim Philby, and Guy Burgess.5 These agents are seen in VENONA under the following covernames:

  • STANLEY: Kim Philby
  • HICKS: Guy Burgess
  • GOMER (HOMER): Donald Maclean (who is found in the New York and Washington traffic, previously released)

Three other KGB messages will be of particular interest to U.S.readers:

  • No. 6 from Moscow, 15 September 1945, discusses a U.S.- connected agent covernamed DAN, who, when contacted by the KGB in London, was to be greeted at the meeting place by the password scenario, "Didn't I meet you at VICK's restaurant on Connecticut Avenue?"

  • No. 13, also from Moscow, 16 September 1945, concerns espionage against the atomic bomb by the unidentified agent TINA, whose information on that target had been for the KGB "of great interest and represents a valuable contribution to the development of the work in the field."

  • No. 36, from Moscow, 17 September 1945, says that the unidentified covername EDUARD had served in Washington from 1939 until February 1945 and that the politicians "mentioned in your letter with whom EDUARD comes in contact are of great interest to us."

GRU Messages Between London and Moscow

The translations of messages between the GRU's London Residency and headquarters in Moscow are a particularly interesting and perhaps unexpected addition to the public's knowledge of Soviet espionage. The exploitable messages, about 260 overall, date from 1940-41 and then from 1945-47, and they cover a wide range of topics, techniques, and espionage personalities. Here is dramatic, professional intelligence reporting about the Battle of Britain, the Blitz, the expected German invasion, the preparations of the British forces, and the emergency procedures of the GRU, including their establishment of at least three clandestine radio stations. The espionage reporting is substantial. Referred to are a GRU spy group called the "X Network," the unidentified agent BARON, who apparently reported information obtained from U.K. decryption of German Enigma messages, clandestine radio operators STANLEY, MUSE, and the famous SONIA (Ursula Buerton).

In a London GRU message of 10 August 1941 is a reference to the GRU's reestablishing contact in the U.K. with Klaus Fuchs and from him learning about early efforts to develop the atomic bomb. Fuchs later went under KGB control in the U.S. as the covername REST and CHARL'Z of KGB New York VENONA messages. The GRU Resident (chief) in London was probably Simon Kremer, who had the cover assignment of private secretary to the military attache. Note that several messages deal with cipher matters - in 1940-41, the London GRU used a so-called Emergency System, a variation of the basic VENONA cryptosystems. London GRU messages merit very close attention. Examples of GRU messages:

  • Air Raids, Invasion Preparations in U.K.: London No. 800, 23 July 1940; 922, 22 August 1940; 1009, 13 September 1940 (all London to Moscow)

  • GRU agents in DeGaulle's government: London No. 776, 17 July 1940

  • GRU clandestine radios: London No. 798, 22 July 1940

  • Moscow's Instructions for agent networks in U.K.: Moscow No. 450,7 September 1940

  • First mention of SONIA (Ursula Buerton): London No. 2043, 31 July 1941

  • Agent BARON reports on U.K. Enigma decrypts: London No. 649, 3 April 1941

  • Klaus Fuchs and the GRU/the A-Bomb: London 2227, 10 August 1941

  • The X Group espionage net in U.K. forces: London to Moscow, No. 1188,18 October 1940

The ARTHUR Case: The KGB in Latin America

The VENONA translations show the establishment of regular KGB Residencies (offices) in Bogota and Montevideo during World War II. Taken together with previously released Mexico City messages, we see attention to subversion and the establishment of agent networks - as always drawing upon the Communist Party for clandestine assets. Covername ARTHUR, seen in New York, Montevideo, and other KGB communications, has never been identified. He, and his associate who used the covername ALEKSANDR, was a very busy if judging from VENONA) somewhat unfocused operative. According to one message, he had begun his South American operations in Argentina in 1940, after which he operated in Chile and moved on. ALEKSANDR was probably a Chilean national; ARTHUR may have been a KGB officer working as an Illegal (using a "Legend" - false identity and background) or an agent recruited from the European Communist Party milieu. There are about 150 Montevideo and Bogota KGB translations in this release.

Some examples of KGB messages:

  • Moscow's Numbers 61 and 154-55 to Montevideo, 23 June 1944 and 8 September 1944, contain information on ARTHUR's background and instructions for him.

  • Moscow No. 164, 23 May 1945, to Montevideo discusses the use of covername JAN and that the Center would especially "like him to help us in getting our bearings in the situation in the Latin American countries."

An interesting exchange between Bogota KGB and the Center involves the recruitment of the head of the Venezuelan Communist Party. The Center approves but notes, in a typical agent assessment and recruiting formula, that before recruiting him "you should thoroughly check his sincere devotion to the Soviet Union."6

The KGB in Australia

Unlike any other group of VENONA messages, some KGB messages on the Canberra-Moscow communications link were decrypted in near real-time, that is, close to the date of transmission. Further, the Canberra material, though of modest volume, is readable (if intermittently) for the longest period of time, 1943- 1948. More than 200 messages were decrypted and translated, these representing a fraction of the messages sent and received by the Canberra KGB Residency. In this body of translations, we see typical KGB coverage: their agents inside government departments and interesting places in the private sector; those agents were drawn from the Communist Party. Some examples of what is contained in the Canberra KGB material:

  • Communist Party member/KGB agent in the Australian government: Canberra No. 130, 25 April 1945

  • Payment to a KGB agent inside the Australian government: Canberra No. 141, 5 May 1945

  • KGB agent reports about the Australian Security Service: Canberra No. 324-25, 1 September 1945

  • A Communist Party member who is a KGB agent well placed in the Australian Department of External Affairs: Canberra No. 3 61-62, 29 September 1945

  • Instructions for handling important agents: Moscow No.7- 8, 9 January 1947

  • Instructions for developing agent networks: Moscow No. 34, 8 March 1948

The Stockholm Messages

The translations of messages of Soviet intelligence in Stockholm are particularly rich for their variety and volume: more than 450 messages of the three Soviet services, KGB, GRU, and Naval GRU. Sweden, neutral during World War 11, gave the Soviets a valuable listening post concerning German military activities in Norway, Denmark, Finland, and the Baltic. Note the great attention to transborder operations: debriefing refugees from Norway and sending Norwegians back into Norway.

An interesting Naval GRU message, No. 682, 13 April 1942, Stockholm to Moscow, describes a German peace initiative to the banker Jakob Wallenberg, uncle of Raoul Wallenberg, the Swedish diplomat and humanitarian. No translation in the VENONA material, however, is known to concern the case of Raoul Wallenberg, who was arrested by SMERSH (Military Counter- intelligence) in Budapest in 1945 and was reportedly murdered by the KGB in Moscow. Examples of other Stockholm messages:


  • A detailed report of German naval construction, disposition of ships, movement of men and equipment in and out of occupied Norway. Stockholm No. 3090, 21 November 1943)

  • Discussion of important KGB agent and Swedish Communist, covername KLARA, "who is completely devoted to us."

GRU and Naval GRU

  • Much GRU discussion about clandestine radio and the construction and use of agent cipher systems (for example, Moscow Number 797, 6 September 1941, and Numbers 938 and 939, both dated 13 October 1941)

  • A GRU source reports on Swedish signal intelligence work against Soviet naval communications, No. 1564,12 December 1941

  • Finnish Army order of battle reported by GRU in No. 151, 22 January 1942

  • GRU to dispatch agents to Norway, No.656, 8 April 1942

  • In a message of 19 March 1943, No. 901, Stockholm Naval GRU reported the results of their search for Leica cameras and accessories - a worldwide tradecraft matter in the VENONA messages: obtaining cameras and film for secret document photography.

There is a story connecting the first monograph of this series to this closing discussion of Soviet intelligence services in Stockholm. In late 1944, General Carter W. Clarke, the assistant G-2 and Arlington Hall's overlord, called to the Pentagon Lieutenant Paavo Carlson, an Arlington Hall cryptanalyst. Knowing that Carlson spoke Finnish, Clarke told him to prepare to leave within days for Stockholm, where he would act as an interpreter for the U.S. military attache, who would be meeting with representatives of the Finnish SIGINT service, then evacuating into Sweden. The Stockholm OSS chief would participate in the meeting. Carlson later recalled that the Finns handed over a German Enigma machine with the rotors and also described to the Americans their success in working against Soviet military communications (and U.S. diplomatic communications). It was this same Lieutenant Carlson who in mid-December 1942, in Lynchburg, Virginia, recruited Miss Gene Grabeel for employment at Arlington Hall, where six weeks later she opened the attack on Soviet diplomatic communications that became known as the VENONA program.


This completes the series of monographs accompanying the releases of VENONA. A few closing remarks follow, some in response to questions from the public.

VENONA was the final NSA codeword for this very secret program. Earlier codewords had been JADE, BRIDE, and DRUG. All these codewords were selected at random by the U.S./U.K. and are not acronyms or abbreviations.

There was outstanding cooperation between Arlington Hall (later NSA) and its partners and customers. In 1945-46, Cecil Phillips, an Arlington Hall cryptanalyst, briefed the U.K. SIGINT service on the program. In 1947 Meredith Gardner, the principal early analyst and translator of the VENONA messages, explained his progress to his British counterpart. During September 1947 General Carter W. Clarke of G-2 brought the FBI into the problem, and, by the end of that year, the Bureau had begun to open espionage cases based on VENONA. CIA joined the effort in late 1952.

The courage and wisdom of General Carter W. Clarke of G-2 and Robert J. Lamphere contributed mightily to the VENONA success story as did the leadership of Frank B. Rowlett and Oliver Kirby at Arlington Hall. But it all rested on the skills, patience, and determination of the Arlington Hall analysts who made it all possible.

Scholars, the media, and the public now have all the approximately 3,000 VENONA translations.7 These can be viewed on the Internet (http://www.nsa.gov:8080/) and at state archives and university libraries around the country.

by Robert Louis Benson


1. Moscow Foreign Ministry Circular to all posts, 8-13 June 1945.

2. Foreign Ministry, Moscow, to all posts, No. 019,22 May 1947.

3. Trade messages, Washington to Moscow, No. 8166, 29 December 19452 and 8167-68, same date.

4. Stanislau Shumovskij recruited Jones Orin York in approximately 1935 in California, beginning York's long career in espionage for the KGB. York is the covername IGLA (NEEDLE) of VENONA.

5. See, for example, the Moscow to London messages of 17 September 1945 about Kim Philby's report on the Gouzenko defection in Ottawa and 21 September 1945 about the handling of key KGB assets in light of the Gouzenko case.

6. Bogota No. 120,6 July 1944 and Moscow No. 129,13 August 1944.

7. Previous brochures referred to 2,200 messages; however, the original count overlooked certain non-U.S. message traffic.

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