--- begin forwarded text

 Delivered-To: [EMAIL PROTECTED]
 Date: Sun, 17 Jul 2005 22:44:19 -0400
 To: Philodox Clips List <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
 From: "R.A. Hettinga" <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>
 Subject: [Clips] Venona Ten Years Later: Lessons for Today


 History News Network

 July 17, 2005

 7-18-05: News at Home

 Venona Ten Years Later: Lessons for Today
 By Steven T. Usdin
  Mr. Usdin, senior editor, BioCentury Publications, is the author of
 forthcoming book Engineering Communism: How Two Americans Spied For Stalin
 and Founded The Soviet Silicon Valley, Yale University Press).

 Ten years ago, on July 11, 1995, the U.S. intelligence community held an
 extraordinary press conference at CIA headquarters to break the seal on one
 of the most closely held secrets of the Cold War. The world learned that
 starting in 1946 American cryptologists had cracked Soviet codes and read
 portions of thousands of messages Soviet intelligence operatives sent each
 other during World War II. Most of the cables decrypted in a program that
 came to be known as Venona, one of numerous codenames used to cloak its
 existence, were sent or received by the Soviet head of foreign intelligence.

 Just as the ability to read Stalin's spymaster's correspondence
 dramatically altered the course of the Cold War, public release of the
 cables a half-century later altered our understanding of the dynamics of
 the conflict between the USSR and the West. Coupled with revelations from
 Soviet bloc archives, release of data gathered in the Venona program led to
 dramatic reassessments of decades of history. The revelations reverberated
 worldwide as members of the British, Australian and, above all, American
 communist parties who had protested their innocence were exposed as spies
 and liars. Two generations of Americans for whom the innocence of Julius
 Rosenberg and Alger Hiss was an article of faith were compelled to
 reconsider their mockery of those who had warned about widespread Communist

 Venona not only produced lessons about the past -- it also illuminated
 issues that governments and the public are grappling with today, including
 the risks and benefits of the disclosure of intelligence, the dangers of
 bureaucratic tunnel vision, and the ease with which ordinary people will
 commit crimes to advance Utopian ideologies.

 Venona was made possible because in 1942--during the darkest days of the
 war in Russia, when everything, including skilled manpower, was in short
 supply--Soviet code clerks produced and distributed to agents around the
 globe thousands of duplicate copies of "one-time" pads used to encrypt
 communications. As is clear from the name, the code tables were supposed to
 be used only once, and if this simple precaution had been heeded, the
 encryption system would have been impenetrable. But with Germans at the
 gates of Stalingrad, punctilious adherence to apparently arcane security
 rules must have seemed an unaffordable luxury. The chances of the shortcut
 being detected must have seemed vanishingly small.

 The Venona secrets were disclosed at the July 1995 press conference largely
 as a result of prodding from the late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who
 learned of the program when he headed the Commission on Protecting and
 Reducing Government Secrecy. The story of how a combination of
 extraordinary luck and tremendous talent led a small team working at a
 former girls' boarding school outside Washington, D.C. to detect and
 exploit the opportunity presented by the replicated one-time pads has been
 described in several books, notably Harvey Klehr and John Earl Haynes's
 Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America (Yale University Press, 2000).

 That first batch of Venona decrypts released a decade ago included cables
 between Pavel Fitin, the Soviet head of foreign intelligence, and his
 officers in New York describing the espionage activities of an American
 engineer codenamed "Liberal" who worked for the U.S. Army Signal Corps.
 These cables were among the first that the Army Security Agency (ASA),
 which was later folded into the National Security Agency, partially
 decrypted and shared with the FBI. It took the FBI a couple of years to
 discover that Rosenberg was Liberal, and another four decades for the
 National Security Agency to share with the American public the documents
 that removed all doubt that he was a spy.

 A 1956 internal memo to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover revealed three major
 reasons why the Bureau didn't reveal its smoking-gun evidence during the
 Rosenbergs' 1951 trial. There was a fear that disclosing the existence of
 the Venona program could help the Russians minimize the damage to its U.S.
 spy networks. Although Hoover didn't know it at the time, this concern was
 largely unwarranted because Fitin and his colleagues already knew a great
 deal about the Venona program. A Soviet spy was standing over the shoulder
 of an ASA code breaker when he decrypted the first cable suggesting that
 the Kremlin's agents had targeted the Manhattan project, and Kim Philby, a
 Soviet agent who penetrated the top ranks of Britain's foreign intelligence
 agency, had been briefed on Venona.

 The second reason for withholding the decrypted messages from prosecutors
 resonates today. There is a world of difference between actionable
 intelligence and information that meets judicial standards of evidence. The
 FBI was certain Venona would, even if admissible, be useless in court. It
 was unlikely, the Bureau felt, that partially decrypted messages of
 unproved origin, peppered with codenames and euphemisms, would be
 considered dispositive. If the prosecution were permitted to show decrypted
 cables to a jury, the defense could reasonably argue that messages the
 government had failed to decipher could exonerate their clients.

 There were also political reasons to keep Venona under wraps, especially in
 the 1950s. Republicans were attacking Democrats for coddling Communists and
 playing down the Red threat, while the Truman White House accused the GOP
 of red baiting. Publicizing documentation of widespread Communist espionage
 would have plunged the FBI into the middle of a superheated partisan debate.

 While the intelligence value of keeping Venona secret is debatable - there
 was some value to keeping the USSR in the dark about precisely which cables
 had been decrypted -- the benefits that could have accrued from publicizing
 it are undeniable. Keeping the cables under lock and key prevented
 Americans from examining the evidence and forming their own opinions about
 the role domestic Communists played in bolstering Stalin's power.

 In a commentary published ten days after Venona was made public, Moynihan
 suggested that releasing the documents in 1950 would have convinced the
 Left of the reality of communist espionage, thereby heading off both the
 excesses of McCarthyism as well as the anti-anticommunism that distorted
 American politics for four decades.

 Looking at Venona another decade later, it is also clear that secrecy
 obscured some realities that could have led to a much-needed assessment of
 the FBI's competence to detect threats to national security. Although
 Venona was one of America's greatest counterintelligence triumphs, the
 project was important precisely because it illuminated an equally immense
 failure. It revealed that a handful of Russians developed hundreds of
 sources who spied on President Roosevelt; provided real-time reports on the
 Manhattan Project, probably shaving years from the USSR's effort to
 eliminate America's monopoly on nuclear weapons; and gave the Red Army
 blueprints for everything from America's first jet fighter to its most
 sophisticated radar.

 Virtually all of the spies had been members of or were closely associated
 with the Communist Party. Many, including Rosenberg, were able to continue
 spying for years after they first came to the FBI's attention as security
 threats. Spies who were fired from government jobs as security threats
 easily found work in the private sector that afforded access to even more
 valuable information. No one connected the dots. Russia's spies thrived in
 the U.S. during World War II largely because the FBI and Army failed to
 grasp the nature of the threat. Hoover and his subordinates thought of
 domestic communists primarily as sources of subversion, not as espionage

 Perhaps the longest-lasting impact of the release of the Venona documents
 has been to transform the debate over Communist espionage in the 1940s into
 one that is all too relevant today. The pertinent question is no longer
 whether Americans spied, but rather how highly educated, intelligent men
 and women failed to comprehend the true nature of Stalinist communism, and
 why they were willing to risk their lives and imperil the security of their
 families, neighbors and friends to commit crimes on behalf of a foreign
 power opposed to the basic tenets of modern society. Answers to similar
 questions, regarding educated Muslims with experience of life in Europe and
 the U.S. like those who led the 9-11 and Madrid attacks, are essential to
 constructing a defense against 21st century terrorism.

 R. A. Hettinga <mailto: [EMAIL PROTECTED]>
 The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
 44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
 "... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
 [predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
 experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'
 Clips mailing list

--- end forwarded text

R. A. Hettinga <mailto: [EMAIL PROTECTED]>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
[predicting the end of the world] has not been found agreeable to
experience." -- Edward Gibbon, 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire'

The Cryptography Mailing List
Unsubscribe by sending "unsubscribe cryptography" to [EMAIL PROTECTED]

Reply via email to