Venona Program: The U.S. Counterintelligence Efforts during the Cold War

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With the rumor of a non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union circling the globe, the United States created a strict intelligence campaign known as the Venona Program to monitor Soviet diplomatic actions. Decryption of what was thought to be Soviet diplomatic messages revealed an extensive Soviet espionage network that was functioning within the United States. These cables linked this espionage to the Soviet “secret police” the Komityet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (KGB). This caused a transformation of the Venona Program into a counter-intelligence network aimed at warding off this highly effective Soviet espionage attack. Unfortunately, the success of the Venona Program was undermined by the United States lack of internal security, as Soviet agents rose into the high ranks of both the United States government and global military research divisions unchecked. With origins dating back to the creation of the Army Signal Intelligence Service (SIS), the effectiveness of the United States intelligence program has been relatively successful in its duties. The establishment of the SIS in 1929 set the stage for cryptanalysis that would ultimately lead to allied victory during World War II, as the Pacific theatre was opened up by the “cracking” of Japanese “Purple” code. However, the true success of the United States intelligence program is only seen through close scrutiny of its counter-intelligence program. As the events of World War II became increasingly volatile, a fear was growing in the United States State as well as War Department that an alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviets would allow the Axis (Germany, Italy, and Japan) to focus its attacks solely on the U.S.. This paranoia spurred the creation of a United States counter-intelligence program that would ultimately transform this paranoia within the government into widespread panic. The counter-intelligence program was started in 1943 by Colonel Carter Clark of Army Intelligence (G2), with its authority placed under the control of the SIS. It was formed to provide intelligence on Soviet military and diplomatic actions. Its highly trained team of linguists, code specialists, and school teachers were charged with decrypting Soviet encrypted cables. However, the task was one that was virtually impossible. Soviet encryption was an ingenious process that involved use of a one-time pad known as a Petsamo Codebook. Its two step cipher required the cipher clerk to transfer his message into a set of four digit numbers assigned to specific letter groups. The groups were then combined into five letter groups by taking one number from the group following it. Using a one-time pad an additional number was added that could later be taken out by the receiver of the message who also used an identical one-time pad. The clerk then placed the numbers from the codebook beneath the numbers of the text and found their sum. In the final step, the clerk converted the five number groups into five letter groups by substituting Latin letters. When done correctly this process is unbreakable. However, with the lack of computers to generate a series of numbers on the one-time pads in coupling with the high demand for the pads caused by a Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union (USSR), pages were often duplicated. After eight months of work Lieutenant Richard Hallock, a peacetime archeologist, discovered these lapses in the Soviet cryptographic system. The reuse of these one-time pads began the slow and tedious process of decrypting soviet cables. This discovery opened what would later be called “the Pandora’s Box of Troubles.” The program continued, and as hundreds of Soviet messages were painstakingly decrypted, a vital discovery was made. The messages that had been thought to be Soviet diplomatic cables were not diplomatic at all. The cables were found to be messages between KGB residences in the United States addressed to the Communist Directorate in Moscow....
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