Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library

Venona: Decoding Soviet Espionage in America

John Earl Haynes
Harvey Klehr
Copyright Date: 1999
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 512
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    Only in 1995 did the United States government officially reveal the existence of the super-secret Venona Project. For nearly fifty years American intelligence agents had been decoding thousands of Soviet messages, uncovering an enormous range of espionage activities carried out against the United States during World War II by its own allies. So sensitive was the project in its early years that even President Truman was not informed of its existence. This extraordinary book is the first to examine the Venona messages-documents of unparalleled importance for our understanding of the history and politics of the Stalin era and the early Cold War years.Hidden away in a former girls' school in the late 1940s, Venona Project cryptanalysts, linguists, and mathematicians attempted to decode more than twenty-five thousand intercepted Soviet intelligence telegrams. When they cracked the unbreakable Soviet code, a breakthrough leading eventually to the decryption of nearly three thousand of the messages, analysts uncovered information of powerful significance: the first indication of Julius Rosenberg's espionage efforts; references to the espionage activities of Alger Hiss; startling proof of Soviet infiltration of the Manhattan Project to build the atomic bomb; evidence that spies had reached the highest levels of the U.S. State and Treasury Departments; indications that more than three hundred Americans had assisted in the Soviet theft of American industrial, scientific, military, and diplomatic secrets; and confirmation that the Communist party of the United States was consciously and willingly involved in Soviet espionage against America. Drawing not only on the Venona papers but also on newly opened Russian and U. S. archives, John Earl Haynes and Harvey Klehr provide in this book the clearest, most rigorously documented analysis ever written on Soviet espionage and the Americans who abetted it in the early Cold War years.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12987-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. A Note about Transcription of the Documents
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Glossary
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-7)

    For more than forty years, nearly three thousand telegraphic cables between Soviet spies in the United States and their superiors in Moscow remained one of the United States government’s most sensitive secrets. Hidden away in guarded archives at Fort Meade in Maryland, these messages, decrypted shortly after World War II in an operation known as Venona, may change the way we think about twentieth-century American history.

    Fort Meade is only a half-hour’s drive from Washington, but our route to the Venona decryptions began with a nine-thousand-mile journey to a forbidding gray stone building that fills one block of Puskinskaia Street...

    (pp. 8-22)

    The Venona Project began because Carter Clarke did not trust Joseph Stalin. Colonel Clarke was chief of the U.S. Army’s Special Branch, part of the War Department’s Military Intelligence Division, and in 1943 its officers heard vague rumors of secret German-Soviet peace negotiations.¹ With the vivid example of the August 1939 Nazi-Soviet Pact in mind, Clarke feared that a separate peace between Moscow and Berlin would allow Nazi Germany to concentrate its formidable war machine against the United States and Great Britain. Clarke thought he had a way to find out whether such negotiations were under way.²

    Clarke’s Special Branch...

    (pp. 23-56)

    Soviet agencies in the United States during World War II used three channels to communicate with Moscow. Most material went by diplomatic pouch and courier. But in wartime the pouch, though secure, was quite slow, often taking many weeks and sometimes months to reach its destination. For time-sensitive material the Soviets had a choice of in-house short-wave radio, commercial radiograms, or international commercial telegraphic cables. None of these, however, was totally secure. Radio messages could be intercepted by anyone with the proper equipment and sufficient listening personnel, while messages sent by telegraphic cable could be copied easily by authorities in...

    (pp. 57-92)

    The size and success of the Soviet espionage offensive in World War II rested on the preparatory work of the CPUSA in the 1930S. The American Communist party was born as the organizational center of a revolutionary movement. The manifesto of the movement’s 1919 founding convention declared that “Communism does not propose to ‘capture’ the bourgeoisie parliamentary state, but to conquer and destroy it.... It is necessary that the proletariat organize its own statefor the coercion and suppression of the bourgeoisie.”¹

    Initially, American communism operated legally. American Communists proclaimed their revolutionary goals at an open convention. Official harassment was...

    (pp. 93-115)

    The American Communist party’s secret apparatus under Josef Peters and Rudy Baker performed a multitude of tasks. It protected the CPUSA from infiltrators, hunted down internal ideological deviators, infiltrated and disrupted left-wing rivals and right-wing enemies, and maintained contact with secret party caucuses of members who were government employees. Not the least of its duties, however, was assisting the Comintern in its international operations and helping Soviet intelligence with its espionage activities.

    After war broke out in 1939, and particularly after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, sections of the CPUSA’s underground shifted from being party networks...

    (pp. 116-163)

    Elizabeth Bentley ran two networks of American Communist party members employed in the federal government. The Perlo group developed Soviet sources on the War Production Board, on a key Senate committee, and in the Treasury Department. The Silvermaster group established contacts not only in Treasury and the Army Air Force but in the White House itself. These were small groups of Communists who had known each other for years, socialized together, met secretly to discuss party policy and pay their party dues, helped each other get jobs and promotions in the government, and dreamed together of the day when America...

    (pp. 164-190)

    Most examinations of Soviet espionage focus on Soviet spies linked to the foreign intelligence arm of the KGB. But the KGB’s predominance was of recent origin, dating from the early years of World War II.¹ In the 1920S and 1930S the intelligence branch of the Soviet army, the GRU (Glavnoe razvedyvatelnoe upravlenie, or chief intelligence directorate of the Soviet general staff), had more extensive foreign intelligence operations than the KGB.² In the late 1920S the GRU had set up the first organized Soviet espionage operation in the United States. Alfred Tilton, a Latvian, and Lydia Stahl, a Russia-born American citizen,...

    (pp. 191-207)

    The Soviet intelligence community enjoyed the cooperation of key persons in high positions in the U.S. government-among them, Harry White (assistant secretary of treasury), Alger Hiss (assistant to the secretary of state), and Lauchlin Currie (administrative assistant to the president). But just as impressive is the number of lower-ranking officials in virtually all major U.S. government agencies, civilian and military, who passed information to Soviet intelligence. This chapter will survey, agency by agency, Soviet penetration of the federal government for purposes of espionage.

    At the start of the war in Europe, American leaders recognized that the United States possessed limited...

    (pp. 208-249)

    The KGB in its coded cables gave Earl Browder, who headed the CPUSA from 1930 to 1945, the cover name Helmsman. It was, of course, a reference to his leadership of the party. But it was also appropriate in that Browder’s own involvement with Soviet intelligence set the example for other Communists.

    Margaret Browder, Earl’s sister, was herself a Soviet intelligence operative. In January 1938 Earl Browder sent a memorandum to Georgi Dimitrov, head of the Comintern:

    For about 7 years my younger sister, Marguerite Browder, has been working for the foreign department of the NKVD [KGB], in various European...

  15. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
    (pp. 250-286)

    In the 1930S and 1940S the Soviet Union carried out a maniacal campaign against Stalin’s arch-rival, Leon Trotsky, and others abroad who posed ideological threats to Soviet communism. The foreign intelligence arm of the KGB spied on, infiltrated, and on occasion assassinated those Soviet dissidents who had been able to go into exile, as well as their foreign comrades and political allies.

    The Venona decryptions, together with newly released FBI files, document the extensive involvement of the CPUSA and its secret apparatus in Trotsky’s 1940 murder, as well as efforts to free his assassin and to spy on Stalin’s ideological...

    (pp. 287-330)

    Theft of scientific and technical information constituted the earliest and perhaps the most widespread form of Soviet espionage in the United States. It ranged from stealing commercially valuable industrial secrets to penetrating America’s most closely guarded military scientific secret, the atomic bomb.

    As in other areas, the Soviets relied heavily on ideological sympathy as a lure for industrial spies. Recruitment was assisted by a shift in the demographic makeup of American Communists. In the 1920S the CPUSA’s membership consisted largely of first-generation immigrants with limited formal education and little access to leading-edge technology. By the 1930S, however, its membership was...

    (pp. 331-338)

    The deciphered cables of the Venona Project reveal that hundreds of Americans had formal ties to Soviet intelligence services in the 1930S and 1940s. Soviet intelligence achieved its greatest espionage success in hastily created wartime agencies that hired large numbers of people under procedures that bypassed normal Civil Service hiring practices. America’s World War II intelligence agency, the Office of Strategic Services, was home to between fifteen and twenty Soviet spies. Four other wartime agencies-the War Production Board, the Board of Economic Warfare, the Office of the Coordinator of Inter-American Affairs, and the Office of War Information-included at least half...

  19. APPENDIX A: Source Venona: Americans and U.S. Residents Who Had Covert Relationships with Soviet Intelligence Agencies
    (pp. 339-370)
  20. APPENDIX B: Americans and U.S. Residents Who Had Covert Relationships with Soviet Intelligence Agencies but Were Not Identified in the Venona Cables
    (pp. 371-382)
  21. APPENDIX C: Foreigners Temporarily in the United States Who Had Covert Relationships with Soviet Intelligence Agencies
    (pp. 383-386)
  22. APPENDIX D: Americans and U.S. Residents Targeted as Potential Sources by Soviet Intelligence Agencies
    (pp. 387-390)
  23. APPENDIX E: Biographical Sketches of Leading KGB Officers Involved in Soviet Espionage in the United States
    (pp. 391-394)
  24. Notes
    (pp. 395-476)
  25. Index
    (pp. 477-487)
  26. Back Matter
    (pp. 488-488)