VENONA Historical Monograph #5: The KGB and GRU in Europe, South America, and Australia
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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:
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
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:
Three other KGB messages will be of particular interest to U.S.readers:
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:
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:
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:
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:
GRU and Naval GRU
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.
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.