Volume 5, Number
David Kahn, The Reader of Gentlemen’s
Mail: Herbert O. Yardley and the Birth of American Codebreaking, New Haven:
Yale University Press, 2004. 368 pp., ISBN: 0300098464, $32.50
Herbert O. Yardley and David Kahn remarkably
share similar experiences. In 1931 following his publication of The American
Black Chamber, exposing America’s codebreaking organization, Yardley was
called a traitor by some, and ostracized for life by the American intelligence
organization. He had revealed that America was breaking codes!
Kahn, speaking to an audience at the National Security Agency (NSA) on the
occasion of its 50th anniversary on 1 November 2002, noted, "...when
my book The Codebreakers was published in 1967 ... it became the subject
of a ban on the part of the National Security Agency. ... Its author was
anathema at the NSA. He revealed that America was breaking codes!"
Yardley, despite his troubles with the U.S. government, was among the
first eight cryptologists selected for the NSA Hall of Honor, created in 1999.
In 1995 Kahn was named visiting "scholar in residence" by the National Security
Agency and provided support for this book.
Yardley, who established the United States codebreaking organization during
World War I, could have no better biographer that Kahn, the ultimate historian
Kahn meticulously traces the life of Yardley. The timeline includes his boyhood
in Indiana, employment as a telegrapher at the Department of State,
commissioning and transfer to US Army Military Intelligence to head a new
codebreaking unit, MI-8, and dismissal when Henry L. Stimson, the new Secretary
of State, dissolved the unit in 1929.
Kahn provides anecdotes that describe the successes of MI-8 during its
existence. These included events during WWI and its role during the Washington
Disarmament Conference in 1921-22. (This supported the successful U.S.
negotiations leading to Japanese acceptance of a reduced naval ratio of heavy
Kahn develops an intimate composite personality of Stimson, drawing from his
personal diary and comments from friends, which led to his famous statement
"Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail" in 1929. When the Black Chamber was
closed, Yardley refused employment at a lesser salary with the army. William F.
Friedman, often called the father of American cryptology, remained with a small
codebreaking unit in army intelligence.
Following the closure of MI-8, a new life and timeline began for Yardley.
Frustrated in finding employment during the depression, and near destitution, he
published the secrets of MI-8 in the classical American Black Chamber
(commonly referred to as the ABC) in 1931. Kahn details the steps taken
by the publisher to avoid legal action, leading to eventual publication. Kahn’s
discussion of the impact of the book on the code systems of Japan is one of the
key issues in the book.
With the ABC, a new era began for Yardley, who was unable to find
employment in the U.S. government for an action that some considered
treasonable. Kahn develops the frustration that plagued Yardley during these
depression years, detailing various business ventures that all ended in failure,
including writing screenplays and fiction.
In 1933 Yardley attempted to publish another book, ghost written by Marie Stuart
Klooz, Japanese Diplomatic Secrets. The book detailed the work of MI-8
during the Washington Disarmament Conference of 1921-22. It was seized by the
Department of Justice before publication, and remained hidden in the Department
of Justice archives until found based on a request by Kahn to the National
Intimate details of Yardley’s employment in 1938-1940 by the Chinese government
and his life in Chungking is drawn from private letters mailed to his family and
friends in the U.S. It portrays another side of Yardley, his drinking, gambling
and sexual habits, particularly in China.
As Yardley reported directly to the head of Chinese intelligence, Dai Li, who
reported directly to Chiang Kia-Shek, this period was a mixture of both pride
and frustration. Yardley created one of several code breaking units working
under Dai Li, which were eventually combined. Kahn documents several of the
successes of the units against Japanese codes.
Yardley returned to the U.S. in 1940, hoping to gain employment again in the
field of cryptology, but the ABC publication blacklisted him for any
sensitive work in the government. He was, however, recruited by the Canadian
government, and quickly established their cryptologic unit, showing some
immediate successes. When the British cryptologic group learned of his
employment, they insisted he be dismissed with the threat of severing
cooperation. Yardley was fired. Returning to Washington, DC, a frustrated
Yardley again sought cryptologic employment, but was rebuked and ended the war
in the Office of Price Administration.
Yardley died in 1958 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Ironically,
his last book, The Education of a Poker Player, which was written in
1957, had 14 printings and sold over 100,000 copies (and perhaps more as the
book is still in print).
Kahn’s reexamines several key historical issues related to Yardley.
The first is the impact of ABC on codebreaking. Kahn notes that many
researchers, authors and cryptologist (including William F. Friedman, this
reviewer, an NSA discussion of Yardley (http://www.nsa.gov/museum/museu
00004.cfm), and Kahn himself in the Codebreakers) stated that ABC
caused countries to change their codes. Kahn presents two graphs showing that
the number of decrypts by the British and Germans did not decrease for the two
years following this publication. Although the British may have been equal to
the task of unmasking any new systems developed in response to the ABC,
Kahn’s additional research on the total number of Japanese diplomatic messages
received from embassies and legations during the period 1929-1933 shows that the
percentage of solutions seemed to increase with increases in message traffic.
A related key issue is than Kahn asserts ABC actually helped American
codebreaking, citing Frank Rowlett, another pioneer in U.S. cryptology, who
stated the book "…promoted U.S. cryptanalysis." (As did Kahn’s book
The second issue is Kahn’s discussion of Japanese Diplomatic Secrets.
Robin Denniston attributes the work directly to Yardley. Kahn, through details
of Yardley’s writing style, concludes that Marie Stuart Klooz was the author.
However, the book could not have been written without Washington Naval
Conference material Yardley removed from MI-8.
The reason for the seizure was political, not national security. Charles Evans
Hughes, who was Secretary of State during the Washington Disarmament Conference,
was Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1933, when Japanese Diplomatic
Secrets was seized. His activities in 1921-22 could have been seen by some
as illegal (interception of foreign communications). Kahn states the manuscript
had 970 pages, which is true, but it also includes and additional 12 Appendices
of 60 pages.
The Ladislas Farago disclosure that Yardley sold secrets to the Japanese is
another key issue. This claim has been discussed and debated in the literature
since it was first made by Farago in his book The Broken Seal: The Story of
‘Operation Magic’ and the Pearl Harbor Disaster in 1967. Kahn (unfortunately
in a long endnote) discusses the investigation by an American Japanese linguist,
Fred C. Woodrough Jr., for Vice Admiral Rufus L. Taylor, deputy director of the
Central Intelligence Agency, in 1967, which concluded that Yardley did sell
secrets to the Japanese. This was based on a memorandum in Japanese archives
stating Yardley sold solved Japanese messages to the Ambassador in Washington
for $7,000. However, research conducted by Japanese historians in the Foreign
Ministry archives failed to find the cited documents and Kahn concludes the
charges are false.
Kahn expands his argument citing comments by Cryptologia co-editor Louis
Kruh, who stated "...a smoking gun (the cited Japanese document), if one exists,
has not been found." Kruh was commenting on the Denniston article cited above,
which also concluded that Yardley had sold secrets to the Japanese.
This reviewer was a member of a composite military cryptologic reserve unit at
the National Security Agency when the Farago book was published. At the weekly
meeting of the unit, a researcher (name long forgotten) presented his research,
concluding that Farago was wrong and Yardley had not sold secrets, based on his
inability to find the material cited by Farago. Compounding the issue is an
undated 23-page monograph "Pioneers in U.S. Cryptology," published by the
NSA Center for Cryptologic History, which states, "Independent investigations
indicate that although much of Farago’s description of the transaction was
undocumented or wrong (e.g., the date) the basic claim was true." The
questionable Japanese Foreign Ministry memorandum is then cited! It is for the
reader to decide this issue.
The book is much more than the story of Yardley. Periodically, Kahn presents the
various interfaces between Yardley and Friedman, contrasting their
personalities, skills and weaknesses. He also shows the relationships Yardley
had with other early U.S. cryptologist, most now forgotten. It is a must read
for those interested in this history. Extensive endnotes and lists of core and
published sources will be invaluable for those who wish to pursue this interest.
Daniele Ganser. NATO’s Secret Armies:Operation Gladio and Terrorism in
Western Europe. London: Frank Cass, 2005. 315 pp, ISBN 0714685003, £22.99
Ever since the former CIA-director William Colby
published his book "Honorable Men – My Life in the CIA" in 1978, the ‘Stay
Behind’ phenomena has puzzled the research communities and the media world for
years. With the Italian Gladio incident in 1990, Stay Behind came out in public.
The left wing activists have had an easy play misusing the information on the
Stay Behind, mainly because most Western European governments still had Stay
Behind forces under arms and therefore were unable to comment on the subject in
a comprehensive manner. Ganser’s book is part of the new wave of "conspiracy"
literature that has hit the markets after 9/11. Strangely enough, the 9/11
attacks are mentioned in the book and the Stay Behind phenomena are put into
such a conspiracy thinking. There are no doubt more to the Gladio and stay
behind story than meets the eye, but some times one get the feeling that Ganser
have written his book with both eyes closed.
The enormous problem with the book is of course that people - who have no
knowledge of the cold war and the secret activities between intelligence
services – will "buy" Ganser’s accusations, because his work seems convincing.
But with a little knowledge on Stay Behind in different countries, his work
starts to look a bit odd. The book is – said with a Danish term – neither fish
nor bird. It is something else in the middle. If one should try to characterize
the book it is a journalistic book with a big spoonful of conspiracy theories.
The critical and methodical approach used in historical research seems to have
played a minor role in Ganser’s work with the subject and the few primary
sources. If a book on such a controversial subject should be taken seriously as
a piece of scientific research, it should contain a chapter on the used sources,
articles and material, just as the methods used in the research process should
be presented to the reader. When the critical reader is not given the
possibility of studying the methods used by Ganser, the authors sometimes "out
of this world" claims becomes even more fantastic.
The book is a mosaic of descriptions regarding each NATO country and its
relationship with the Stay Behind phenomena. A large portion of Ganser’s main
material is newspaper articles and what I would call political publications. In
order to keep disinformation apart from serious research one would have to have
a very deep look into the political landscape and make wide studies into the
material in each country. Ganser fails to do so – at least regarding some
countries. This will be discussed later on in this review.
The conclusion of the book is that USA, CIA, MI6, NATO and the western countries
were all wounded up in a conspiracy. On page 1 the reader is told that "In each
country, leading members of the executive, including Prime Ministers,
Presidents, Interior Ministers, Defence Ministers, were involved in the
conspiracy". In the conclusion we hear that "on a lower level in the hierarchy
citizens and military officers in numerous countries of Western Europe shared
this assessment (that a secret resistance network should be establish in
peacetime, ed.), joined the conspiracy and secretly trained for the emergency".
Ganser fails to present proof of and an in-depth explanation of the claimed
conspiracy between USA, CIA, NATO and the European countries. The first thing
that comes to one’s mind is of course that there was no conspiracy. The paradox
grows because during the book Ganser quotes several high ranking officers who
admits to have been a part of the NATO Stay Behind system but their stories
leave no reason for Ganser to conclude that there where a big conspiracy behind
it all. On the contrary! The officers paint a picture of a secret organization –
because of the nature of the activities – where the Ganser’s conspirators – US
and British intelligence – had nothing to say. CIA was present at the meetings
in NATO’s Coordination and Planning Committee, but "they had no voting right and
were from the CIA headquarter of the capital in which the meeting took place".
Other American military were present but also without the right to vote. Ganser
tell us that the leading forces in the conspiracy – the American CIA – had no
voting right within on of NATO’s Stay Behind organization. Sadly enough Ganser
gives no explanation on how that can be, and therefore his conclusion about the
big conspiracy falls flat.
One of the important documents that Ganser bases his claim of the big conspiracy
on is an American field manual. The story of this field manual should have been
presented to the reader. In Denmark this field manual popped up on several
occasions together with different KGB forgeries. It was first presented in the
late 1960’s during the situation in Greece and also several times during the
1970’s. Every time the goal seems to have been to discredit the USA and NATO.
According to an analysis made by the Danish Defense Intelligence Service (DDIS)
in 1976, this field manual was part of a KGB disinformation campaign and was
spread all over Europe in the late 1960’s and 1970’s with different KGB
forgeries. The original American document was handed over to the Soviets in 1962
by an American sergeant, Robert Lee Johnson who in 1965 was arrested for working
for the KGB. The DDIS analyzed the material and it showed a different contend
than the one portrayed in the KGB disinformation campaign. The original document
had indeed contained ideas and thoughts about resistance groups in Europe during
a Warsaw Pact invasion but not in the disfigured form presented by the KGB.
Although big efforts were made to the disclose the KGB operation the field
manual surfaced again in 1979 together with several KGB forgeries – this time as
part of the Soviet campaign against the renewal of the NATO nuclear forces in
Europe. During the Gladio affair, the field manual was once more being presented
to the public but not all were convinced. Even the Danish leftwing organization
DEMOS questioned if the field manual was real. Such information about key
documents must of course be presented to the reader.
One of Ganser’s other big lacks are explaining how NATO for example was able to
organize the Norwegian Stay Behind network, which was started in 1948? Olav
Riste’s portrait of the Norwegian military intelligence organization and its
Stay Behind network comes up with different conclusions than Ganser – this
despite Ganser uses Riste’s important work as his key source to describe Stay
behind in Norway. In Sweden, the same precautions started in 1949 – apparently
on a strict Swedish basis. In Denmark the first steps for a Danish ‘sleeping’
resistance movement were taken years before the signing of the Atlantic treaty
in April 1949. In fact, a leader of the Danish resistance got a visit from an
American diplomat who wanted to now how the Danish resistance would react to a
Soviet invasion. Would the Danes be ready to fight the Russians? The answer was
clear: They would! The visit took place in 1946. Another story tells about
secret private meetings between foreign intelligence officers and Danish
resistance leaders, influential citizens and politicians – four of the
attendants would later on become Danish Prime Ministers. One of the subjects
discussed at these meeting were the Stay Behind problems. In 1948 Danish
military leaders cooperated with their Swedish colleagues in order to arm the
Danish Stay Behind forces – the sleeping resistance. These facts are not
mentioned in Gansers book. Instead he holds on to one of many, many stories that
surfaced in Danish newspapers October-December 1990. Many of these stories were
well researched while other stories were written under time pressure. According
to one Danish newspaper the organization Absalon were the Danish "wing" of
Gladio. Absalon came out publicly and took part of the political debate in the
1970’s – a fact that in it self must exclude the organization as a valid Stay
Behind organization, since secrecy is the core necessity for such an
organization in order for it to survive during a enemy occupation. There are
much more to the Absalon story than Ganser presents to the reader of his book. I
can say that with some certainty because I have interviewed the articles only
source "Q" as well as the officer he attacked. A wrong analysis on a very narrow
material and attempts to compare incomparable sizes leads Ganser to his wrong
The case is of course that the Western European countries took their precautions
because of the Soviet threat building up in East. The coup in Prague February
1948, the Soviet pressure on Finland and rumors of Soviet invasion plans in
Scandinavia became the final blow. Not only a deep look into the experiences
made by the Americans and the British during WW2 but also a thorough analysis of
the east-west conflict and its impact on the western European countries is
needed in order to understand why the countries in Europe reacted like they did
– with or with American or/and British help.
Daniele Ganser’s book should be read with very critical eyes and seen as an
example on how things could be blown out of proportions if one is not aware of
the character of the used material. When one looks at the articles from 1990 put
out by the Danish communist newspaper Land og Folk (Country and People) and the
Ganser rhetoric, one discovers a similar stigmatizing and branding of the Stay
Behind forces as terrorists. Ganser is branding everyone who was ready to stay
behind in the occupied countries and help their government in exile as
terrorists! In some countries crimes were committed – no doubt about that. But
as mentioned in the beginning Stay Behind contains more than meet the eye. And
committed crimes shouldn’t be blamed on the Stay Behind forces but on the state
of the democracy in the different countries.
If one should follow Gansers logic, every Muslim would be considered as a
terrorist and part of a conspiracy because of Al Qaeda. That of course does not
make any sense!
Peer Henrik Hansen
Katherine A. S. Sibley. Red Spies In America: Stolen Secrets and the Dawn
of the Cold War. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2004. 370 pp.,
ISBN 070061351X, $39.95.
Katherine Sibley’s fascinating book overturns
much of the common perceptions of the beginnings of the Cold War. Many
historians date the origin of the conflict to the years just after World War II
when the U.S. became alarmed with Soviet expansion in Eastern Europe. However,
she shows that it truly had its start with the uncovering of Soviet espionage in
the United States during the war.
With the publication of Richard Hirsch’s The Soviet Spies: The Story
of Russian Espionage in North America (1947) the notion that has held sway
was that little effective counterintelligence occurred in the United States
during the war and that a more robust system came about after it. His view was
upheld by the more recent scholarship of David Caute’s The Great Fear: The
Anti-Communist Purge under Truman and Eisenhower (1978) and Leonard Leshuk’s
U.S. Intelligence Perceptions of Soviet Power, 1921-1946 (2003). But
Sibley argues that "what was not known [to the public] is the work of a small
but active coterie of American officials ... who recognized the infiltration of
Soviet spies before the Cold War and… pioneered efforts to stop them (1)."
The book, in the words of the author, makes three main arguments: first, it
suggests that the Soviet espionage was recognized, even if only in its dimmest
outlines, by American officials well before the Cold War; second, it argues that
this understanding significantly influenced the mindset and actions of
counterintelligence agents in World War II and left a legacy for U.S.-Russian
relations that shaped the early Cold War and continues to reverberate down to
the present day; and, third, the book more closely examines Soviet
military-industrial espionage and its targets during and after the war, a topic
that has not received focused treatment in previous scholarship (5).
The scholarly tendency to downplay the events of World War II in shaping postwar
U.S. military and political institutions is especially fascinating. Walter
Kimball, in his article "The Incredible Shrinking War: The Second World War, Not
(Just) the Origins of the Cold War" Diplomatic History 25 (Summer 2001),
argues that scholars need to reexamine the war to discover how actions during
that time forged the consensus that eventually became U.S. policy during the
Cold War. Sibley’s book helps to confirm Kimball’s lucid contentions.
After detailing Soviet espionage in the United States in the 1930s, Sibley gets
to the heart of her argument by documenting effective U.S. counterintelligence
during the war. In her chapter "Penetration of Wartime Military-Industrial
Targets," she argues that while U.S. authorities missed some of the industrial
espionage transpiring, by 1943 the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
impeded many Soviet agents such as Semyon Semyonov, Leonid Kvasnikov, and
Alexandr Fomin. They each complained repeatedly to their superiors in Moscow of
the constant shadowing they endured. In fact, J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI head,
wanted to put more resources into the Soviet espionage threat and if not for the
priority given to German counterespionage, would have done so. One can only
conclude how much more effective the FBI’s work would have been if Hoover had
been given more money and agents to throw at the effort.
U.S. officials wariness of Soviet intentions were solidified in its monitoring
of Soviet attempts to gain information on the U.S. Atomic Program. As Sibley
writes, "[Soviet] atomic espionage had a galvanizing effect of American
officials’ approach to the Soviet Union and its agents and greatly increased
their suspicions of that country and its potential dangers well before the Cold
War (133)." The breakthrough for the U.S. came in 1943 when it was uncovered
that Soviet-directed spying was taking place at the University of
California-Berkeley’s Atomic Radiation Laboratory. Sibley recounts the story of
Lieutenant Colonel John Lansdale, a military intelligence officer who went
undercover as a student and overheard professors talking about their "top
secret" atomic research to colleagues who had no ties to the program. This
caused officials to tighten security, which hampered Soviet efforts but did not
stop them. By 1944, General Leslie Groves, the head of the Manhattan Project,
came to the conclusion that the Soviets were the greatest threat to the program.
In 1946, with the cracking of the Soviet Diplomatic Code "Venona" and human
sources such as Elizabeth Bentley, Harry Gold, and Igor Gouzenko, a even more
vast Soviet wartime intelligence network was uncovered. This helped, in Sibley’s
words, to stiffen "the American intelligence community’s already hostile stance
toward the Soviet Union and quickly heightened suspicions in other government
agencies as well (175)." This in turn led to the convictions of Americans
working as Soviet spies including Steve Nelson, Judith Coplon, and Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg. Sibley’s unstated implication is that the actions of U.S.
officials might not have been as swift or severe if not for the work these same
officials had done during the war in stopping Soviet espionage.
Sibley concludes her book with a brief examination of the more recent spy cases
of John Walker Jr., Aldrich Ames, and Robert Hanssen to demonstrate how Russian
efforts to obtain U.S. secrets continues.
Sibley’s scholarship is impressive, drawing upon multi-archival research in the
United States and Russia. Her research at the Russian State Archive of the
Economy and the Archive of Social and Political History (both in Moscow) is
especially enlightening given her criticism of previous works that relied on
United States and Allied archives only to form the basis for judging the
effectiveness of wartime counterespionage. She also conducted exhaustive
research in the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Files (among others) to
bolster her case.
Her work is balanced and perceptive and is a compelling and authoritative
treatment of Soviet spying and the actions the United States took to counter it.
Robert O. Kirkland