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VENONA Historical Monograph #6: New Releases, Special Reports, and Project Shutdown

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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 organization, 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), the GRU (the Red Army's general staff intelligence directorate), and the Naval GRU. This project was eventually named "VENONA."

Five public releases of VENONA translations and related documents have already been made. These releases covered the following topics:

  1. Soviet atomic bomb espionage

  2. New York KGB messages of 1942 and 1943

  3. New York and Washington KGB messages of 1944 and 1945

  4. San Francisco and Mexico City KGB messages; GRU New York and Washington messages; Washington Naval GRU messages

  5. KGB and GRU messages from Europe, South America, and Australia

This monograph accompanies the sixth release of VENONA translations and related documents to the public and includes the translations of KGB messages inadvertently left out of the previous five. It also updates some translations by restoring names that had been protected for privacy reasons in the original releases. Other VENONA documents of historical interest are also being released.

This material can be reviewed at the National Cryptologic Museum library and will be publicly available on the World Wide Web (http:Hwww.nsa.gov); additional paper copies of this material will be given to various archives (e.g., Library of Congress, state universities).


Twenty-four new KGB message translations, discovered in reconciling the historic collection, are included in this release. Of particular note are messages describing the activities of Jack and Dr. Robert Soble, veteran KGB agents operating in the U.S. and elsewhere.1 These include arrangements for a cover business for Jack Soble; movement of money between Canada and the U.S.; and the reactivation by the KGB of the correspondent and Hollywood producer Stephen Laird. 2 There are reports from and about the well- placed KGB agents PLUMB, RAIDER, and FRENK (previously identified as Charles Kramer, Victor Perlo, and Laurence Duggan, respectively). Also of interest is a long and complicated message about affairs in Hungary, which is based on a secret report that had been lost in a taxicab in New York City and obtained by the KGB.3

Several dozen other translations, previously released, are now being made available in more complete form (see, for example, the Stockholm GRU and Naval GRU translations). This material, concerning Soviet espionage in the U.S., is grouped in the same order as in the previous releases. More complete versions of the first release may shed additional light on KGB espionage in Chicago against the atomic bomb project (e.g., that covername FLOX was Rose Olson) and on other KGB operations in New York, Washington, and San Francisco.

KGB Organization During World War II

Almost all of the VENONA KGB messages are between Lieutenant General Fitin, the head of the KGB's First Chief Directorate (FCD) and his "Rezidents" (Station Chiefs) abroad. FCD was the foreign intelligence arm of the KGB responsible for espionage and counterintelligence outside the Soviet Union. However, in terms of personnel, it was a very small part of the KGB then and later. Far larger were the KGB's Second Chief Directorate, which handled internal counterintelligence and security (this and related departments were the true secret police of the Soviet Union), and SMERSH ("Death to Spies"), which was responsible for military counterintelligence. The KGB had large formations of police troops, prison camp guards, and a small army protecting Stalin and the Soviet leadership. During 1943-45, Arlington Hall and the U.S. Navy's signal intelligence organization also collected a small amount of police and SMERSH radio traffic.

Meredith Gardner's Special Reports

The Army Security Agency (ASA) recruited dozens of language teachers and professors from across the United States after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. One of them was Meredith Gardner, a language instructor at the University of Akron who spoke numerous languages. At ASA his work on the Japanese and German "problems" during World War II met with great acclaim. As the war ended, Gardner joined the VENONA effort and spent the next twenty-seven years on the project. As the principal translator and analyst on the VENONA program, he wrote a series of eleven Special Reports during 1947-48, The first of these was released at the VENONA Conference in October 1996 and is included in this set. The remaining reports are now being released and should help date some of the earliest work on important VENONA cases such as covername LIBERAL/ANTENNA (eventually identified as Julius Rosenberg) and LIBERAL's wife Ethel.

Mr. Gardner wrote these Special Reports to record what he was finding in the VENONA messages and to alert his chain of command and G-2's counterintelligence group. When Robert Lamphere of FBI headquarters became involved in VENONA full time, Mr. Gardner began to issue individual message translations, and the Special Report series was discontinued.

Following is a list of these Special Reports. Some are not dated, but all were issued between 30 August 1947 and 12 August 1948.

  1. Gardner's initial overview of the covernames he was finding in the VENONA messages.

  2. Mention of covernames GOMER/ HOMER and YUN, later identified as Donald Maclean and Stephen Laird.

  3. KGB Canberra

  4. ENORMOZ (atomic bomb) espionage including the work of covername LIBERAL

  5. Confirmation that the VENONA messages were KGB

  6. LIBERAL's network

  7. The KOMAR affair. (KOMAR was Kravchenko, who defected from the Soviet trade mission in Washington and was being hunted by the KGB.)

  8. Messages changing covernames

  9. Covername KARAS (Ivan Subasic, KGB agent involved in Serbo-Croatian matters in the U.S. and abroad)

  10. Covername CHETA (later identified as KGB officers Nicholas and Maria Fisher)

  11. ANTENNA-LIBERAL's wife Ethel

An interesting example of the type of material found in the reports would be in Special Report #6, 28 April 1948, which summarizes or gives the text of a significant number of LIBERAUANTENNA translations. See, for example, message number 1053, 26 July 1944, New York KGB to Moscow Center (paragraph 6) that concerns ANTENNA's proposal to recruit his friend Max Elitcher, who was a Communist, as were all members of the Rosenberg espionage ring. The translation of New York to Moscow No. 628, 5 May 1944 (paragraph 4), is important to the story of the development of the Rosenberg case. As of April 1948, the Arlington Hall VENONA unit had not been able to decrypt the first twenty-four groups of that message. Lacking this critical context, Mr. Gardner translated the message as giving a description of ANTENNA. When those missing twenty-four groups were decrypted - see the reissue of the translation 27 June 1950 (also included in this release) - it was shown that the message was in fact about Rosenberg's description of his friend Al Sarant, whom he recruited for the KGB.

One of the Special Reports issued in July 1948 (1948 was a presidential election year) gives the earliest translation found of the KGB message concerning bribery of persons around David Niles, an important advisor to Presidents Roosevelt and Truman (New York to Moscow message 786, 1 June 1944).

Other Documents

Related to the Gardner Special Reports is the covername book used by Arlington Hall and later by NSA analysts, to record the KGB message covernames, every appearance of them by message number and date, and the identities of the covernamed persons where known. This covername book contains terms used in KGB New York, Washington, and San Francisco communications and messages to those stations from Moscow Center. The dates of entries made in the covername book are unclear, but it was developed and used from early 1949 until the VENONA program ended in 1980.

Two additional Meredith Gardner documents complete this release. One is his short account of the development of the GOMEWHOMER case (Donald Maclean) from the Arlington Hall point of view. This account must not be taken as a full representation of the counterintelligence investigation chronology, however. In the second document, short but undated, Mr. Gardner recorded some dates concerning who had access to VENONA information in the early days. This is also a valuable part of the historical record.

The Shutdown of the VENONA Program

NSA is often asked why the VENONA program ran so long (1943-1980), given the fixed set of material that was being worked. The answer is that NSA's customers - FBI, CIA, and the appropriate U.K. and Allied services - asked that the program be continued as investigative leads were still being run and there was the hope that unidentified covernames could be identified. In 1977, William P. Crowell, then the acting chief of the NSA division that housed the remaining VENONA group,4 decided that the program should end in about two years. The group working on VENONA surveyed customers and evaluated the likelihood of finding further "matches" in the traffic (see earlier monographs for discussion of the cryptanalytic process). In 1978 NSA decided to end the program by 1 October 1980.

In September 1978 David Blee, head of the CIA Counterintelligence Staff, invited NSA, FBI, and Allied representatives to form a committee to evaluate the potential for the VENONA effort during the next two years. Howard W. (Bill) Kulp and Mildred Hayes, heads of the VENONA unit in the later years, represented NSA.

During the last phase of VENONA (1978-80), NSA issued thirty-nine first-time translations of KGB and GRU messages and reissued eight other translations. Some of these first-time translations were quite significant, though mainly for counterintelligence research purposes. In January 1980, Bill Kulp prepared a final technical and counterintelligence evaluation of the VENONA program and its prospects. The report concluded that the program should end as scheduled because of the age of the material being worked, the difficulty in conducting investigations and locating collateral material, and the fact that the most important material had been exhaustively analyzed. Nonetheless, NSA analysts Mildred Hayes, Angela Nanni, and Janice Cram continued their cryptanalytic work right up to the end of the project.


The British Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), NSA's counterpart, has just released to the Public Record Office the MASK message traffic - thousands of secret COMINTERN messages between various capital cities and Moscow during the period 1934-37 which give a wealth of detail about Moscow's control of the various national Communist parties (including the American Communist Party). The National Cryptologic Museum library holds a complete set of the MASK messages.

Prepared by Robert Louis Benson
September 1997


  1. New York to Moscow, 24 June 1943,6 July 1943, 5 May 1944,26 October 1944

  2. 12 and 23 August 1944

  3. Message # 1669ff, New York-Moscow, 29-30 November 1944

  4. William Crowell was deputy director of NSA from February 1994 to September 1997.

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