Thursday, January 30, 2014

General Onodera’s intelligence bazaar

In the course of WWII all the participants tried to gather secret intelligence using spies.

For example the Brits had their Secret Intelligence Service and the Special Operations Executive plus they worked together with the Polish, French and Czech intelligence services. The Germans had their Abwehr and Sicherheitsdienst. The Americans created the Office of Strategic Services etc etc
Spying was a hard business. Recruiting trustworthy individuals, training them, providing them with false identities, necessary paperwork and foreign currency was not easy. Inserting them into an enemy country was difficult with the majority being caught in a relatively short time. Even those that survived could usually only gather information of limited value.

The Germans built up large spy networks in neutral countries like Spain, Turkey, Sweden and Switzerland but they did not have similar successes in the US and the UK.
Prior to WWII they had compromised the USAAF’s most advanced bombsight but during the war their attempts to insert agents all (?) failed.

In the UK their attempts were so clumsy that the Brits not only captured the spies but in many cases convinced them to change sides and send false information to the Germans.
Does that mean that the Germans failed to get any useful information from these countries during the war? Not quite. Although the Germans didn’t have spy networks in the US and UK they were able to acquire some accurate information on Allied war production (and possibly other areas).

How could they have done so? Although they didn’t have spy nets that doesn’t mean that there weren’t other countries that did. Diplomats and businessmen of neutral countries learned a great deal by talking to Allied officials and some of this information was leaked or sold to the Germans. At the same time there was an exchange of information between Germans, Italians, Japanese and Hungarians.
For example in Sweden Karl-Heinz Kraemer, secretary of the German legation in Stockholm, was able to gather valuable information on US and UK war production mainly through his contacts in business and government circles. In 1944 the Allies considered Kraemer to be one of the most dangerous German agents and they were worried that he might compromise the security of operation ‘Overlord’.

One of Kraemer’s best sources was the Japanese military attaché in Sweden, general Makoto Onodera. In 1944-45 they regularly met and exchanged information.
General Onodera

In Europe one of the top officials of the Japanese intelligence service was the military attaché in Sweden, general Makoto Onodera.

Saturday, January 25, 2014


I made the following changes:

1). Added pics from Foreign Military Studies B-644 in The RAF Cypher 

2). Added the following paragraph in Polish Stencil codes and secret agent ‘’Knopf’’
The person who was responsible for this success at OKW/Chi was the mathematician Ernst Witt. According to TICOM report DF-176 ‘Answers written by professor doctor Wolfgang Franz to questions of ASA Europe’, p11

The most successful work along with that on the Am10 was that of professor Witt, who very skillfully solved a cipher of the Polish Government in Exile in London. This was a large complicated grille which was laid over a large number sheet. Several such grilles were constructed and messages were read currently. Photographic aids were used in the process.

3). Added the following paragraph in Soviet naval codes and the Arctic convoys
The compromise of the routes of PQ17 and PQ18 from reading Soviet naval aviation codes is confirmed from another source. The Swedish codebreakers were able to decode German messages travelling through their telephone network, even if they were enciphered with the Siemens T-52 cipher teleprinter. Some of these reports mentioned the decoded Soviet messages dealing with the northern convoys. The Swedish codebreaker Sven Wasstrom, who examined these messages, became distraught at this drama.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Mishaps at the front

During WWII visits to the front by important officials needed to be planned in advance so there would be no mishaps. However things didn’t always work out as planned…

Close to the front it was difficult to find food, so one would expect important officials to bring their own rations. Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler forgot this rule, with hilarious consequences.
From ‘Walter Schellenberg: The Memoirs of Hitler's Spymaster, p75-76

On these tours we usually started out for the front at nine or ten in the morning, and would return to the train towards nightfall. We had to supply our own provisions—sandwiches, thermos flasks of hot tea, and cognac to fortify us against the increasingly cold weather. As the SS adjutants were already overburdened with other duties, it was my job to secure these provisions. One day we returned so early that a lot of our food and drink had hardly been touched. The next day we were called out early and the thermos flasks were not ready. I only had time to take what was left over from the previous day—a bottle of cognac, half-full, and two packets of sandwiches, which I had placed near a window, hoping they would remain fresh overnight. After driving for about two hours in the open car, Himmler asked for something to eat, so Gruppenfuehrer Wolff took a packet of sandwiches from me and they both began to eat. They had already got through the first packet when they happened to look at the second. The rest of the sandwiches were all covered with green mould. Himmler's face grew even greener as he tried desperately not to be sick. I quickly offered him some cognac—usually he did not drink; at the most two or three glasses of table wine—but he took a deep gulp and then, as he recovered, fixed me with a steely glance. I was prepared for the worst. 'I notice you ate none of the sandwiches yourself.' I hastened to explain, but there was a terrible look in his eyes as he thanked me for restoring his life with the cognac after having tried to poison him.
Another rule should be to visit the bathroom before going on a long trip. Even the mighty Stalin forgot this rule and paid the price!

Stalin cut off the briefing, contenting himself with giving some orders, then dismissed the generals who had to slog back to the real fray. Stalin asked if he could go further towards the fighting but Beria forbade him. He visited the hospital at Yukono, according to his bodyguards, and was depressed by so many amputees. Afterwards, he felt ill and his arthritis played up. Stalin returned by road in his armoured Packard and a convoy of security cars. Suddenly the cars stopped. 'He needed to defecate,' wrote Mikoyan, who heard the story from someone who was there. Stalin got out of the car and asked 'whether the bushes along the roadside were mined. Of course no one could give such a guarantee ... Then the Supreme Commander-in-Chief pulled down his trousers in everyone's presence.' In a metaphorical commentary on his treatment of the Soviet people, and his performance as military commander, he 'shamed himself in front of his generals and officers ... and did his business right there on the road.'

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Decoded US diplomatic messages from 1944

In the US National Archives, in collection RG 457 ‘Records of the National Security Agency’ - Entry 9032 - boxes 205-213 ‘German decrypts of US diplomatic messages 1944’ one can find many decoded messages from US embassies and consulates around the world.

These were messages decoded in WWII by the Germans. Specifically the codebreaking department of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces – OKW/Chi (Oberkommando der Wehrmacht/Chiffrier Abteilung).
The codebreakers of OKW/Chi could solve most State Department cryptosystems, not only the low level ‘Gray’, ‘Brown’ but also the high level ‘A1’, ‘C1’ and the M-138-A strip cipher.

Unfortunately we don’t know the full story of their success with State Department systems.
Their main targets were the US embassies in European countries like Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Switzerland and the Soviet Union. However it seems they did not neglect to intercept and decode messages from around the globe.

Here are some interesting samples.
Mrs Morgenthau’s trip to Moscow



Monday, January 13, 2014

Acknowledging failures of crypto security – British, Soviet and American historiography

In the course of WWII the Anglo-Americans were able to gain information of great value from reading their enemies secret communications. In Britain the codebreakers of Bletchley Park solved several enemy systems with the most important ones being the German Enigma and Tunny cipher machines and the Italian C-38m. Codebreaking played a role in the Battle of the Atlantic, the North Africa Campaign and the Normandy invasion.

In the USA the Army and Navy codebreakers solved many Japanese cryptosystems and used this advantage in battle. The great victory at Midway would probably not have been possible if the Americans had not solved the Japanese Navy’s code.
These events have gained great publicity and countless books have been published about them. People like Friedman and Turing are widely known to readers of WWII history.

While there are countless books on Bletchley Park and the American codebreakers, there are only a handful dealing with the operations of the Axis codebreakers. This would be natural if there wasn’t much to write about. Yet the exact opposite is true. German, Italian, Japanese, Finnish and Hungarian codebreakers were able to exploit many important enemy codes and their successes directly affected important campaigns and battles of the war.
For example:

Without the B-Dienst the U-boats would not have been able to locate Allied convoys in the Atlantic.

Rommel’s successes in N.Africa owed a great deal to the information he received daily from his signals intelligence unit NFAK 621 and the decoded messages of colonel Fellers.
In the Eastern Front the Germans were able to exploit a large part of the enemy codes, including the systems of the NKVD and  the high level military ones in 1941-42.

The radio-telephone conversations between Churchill and Roosevelt were decoded and sent to Hitler during the period 1941-44.
The State Departments high level strip cipher was solved during the period 1942-44.

The solution of various Allied codes may have compromised operation Overlord.
British, Polish, Czech and Soviet intelligence communications were decoded by Referat Vauck.

Italian, Japanese, Finnish and Hungarian codebreakers also had their own successes during the war.
Why haven’t the Axis codebreakers received the attention they deserve?

There are probably several reasons. Winners get to write history, so it makes sense that the Allies would not want to publicize their failures. Especially in Britain the successes of Bletchley Park are a source of national pride.
At the same time there is the issue of reliable sources. Historians need documents and official sources to put in their books. This creates a problem since many of the relevant documents were either destroyed/lost at the end of WWII or they were seized by the Allies and kept under lock and key till recently.

For example many of the German signal intelligence archives were captured by the Anglo-American at the end of WWII but large parts were destroyed by the Germans. In Japan they mostly destroyed their material before surrendering. The Finnish archives were moved to Sweden in 1944 and sold off to Japanese, Swedish, German and American officials. The Hungarian archives were moved at the end of the war to Eggenfeld, Germany where they were recovered by a TICOM team.
After the war the surviving participants were understandably weary of talking about their wartime exploits versus Allied codes.

Different archives, from different organizations, in different languages and with parts missing meant that the information they contained was fragmented. If this was not enough the material seized by the Anglo-Americans has only recently been released to the UK and US national archives.
All these problems mean that the exploits of the Axis codebreakers have not been fully recognized by historians.

Still a lot of information has reached mainstream books. It’s interesting to see how different countries have dealt with the failures of their crypto security during WWII.
Soviet Union/Russia

As I understand it during Soviet times WWII histories did not mention codebreaking. There were references to ‘radio-electronic combat’ but these dealt only with D/F, traffic analysis and jamming.
The situation seems to have remained basically the same in Russia. There are some new books that have come out and have more information on Soviet codebreaking operations but the relevant archives are still closed to researchers.

From what I’ve seen the official line is that Soviet codes were unbreakable.
United States

The situation in the US is the exact opposite of Russia. Instead of pretending that their codes were impenetrable they were the first to admit to the most important cases of compromise. The cases of the Bell Labs A-3 speech scrambler, the Fellers messages and the M-209 cipher machine have received attention from historians.
The cases that haven’t received much attention concern the military strip ciphers M-94 and M-138 and the State Department version.

However two important cases are virtually unknown to historians. These are the OSS Berne compromise and the IBM Radiotype case.

Somewhere between Soviet denials and US openness lies the ‘official’ British stance.
On the one hand the official histories ‘British Intelligence in the Second World War’ are careful not to exaggerate the importance of signals intelligence during the war. Regarding Allied cipher security they accurately describe the most important compromises, especially in N.Africa and in the Atlantic.

Volume 2 appendix 1 ‘British cypher security during the war’ has a summary of the main British cryptosystems and their exploitation by the Germans. For some reason this information doesn’t seem to be widely known as it is not mentioned in popular history books.
One of the reasons is probably that there isn’t much analysis of how these British cryptosystems were used during the war,  how secure they were and how much information the Germans got from them.

Important cases that have received no attention are the compromise of SOE codes, low level codes prior to operation Overlord , the code of Prime Minister Chamberlain, the German research on Typex and its possible compromise.
In upcoming essays i will look into the cryptographic failures of each of these countries in more detail.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Abwehr agent Marina Lee and the Norway campaign

The main event that shocked the world in 1940 was the defeat of the Franco-British Alliance in May ’40. However the Battle of France was not the only military campaign of the year.

Norway had become a battle ground between German and Allied troops in April ’40, as both sides raced to occupy the country.
For the Germans securing Norway was important because they wanted to protect their northern flank and ensure that trade with Sweden would not be interrupted. This was very important for their war economy as exports of Swedish iron ore had to travel through Norwegian waters.

For the Allies landing troops meant that they would open another front close to Germany, sever her ties with Sweden and ultimately push that country towards joining the Franco-British Alliance.
The Germans were aware of the Allied plans and once they decided to take the initiative they managed to surprise the defending forces by landing their troops in various Norwegian ports. Practically the whole German surface fleet took part in this action.

The Allies were also planning a military operation and the German landings caught them by surprise. The British fleet attacked the German surface units and landed troops in Norway.
Hard fighting ensued (especially around Narvik) but in the end the Germans prevailed and they occupied the whole country till the end of the war.

Did the Germans take advantage of secret intelligence in the Norwegian Campaign? Was that one of the reasons of their success?
The German Navy’s B-Dienst certainly read the main British naval crypto systems and by the spring of 1940 their work had progressed so far that they were able to read virtually everything of importance in connection with the Norway operation

However there is another intelligence operation that is not well known. According to file KV 2/3281 in the British national archives, an Abwehr agent named Marina Lee might have played an important role during the fighting in Norway.
The file says that Marina Lee was born in St Petersburg, worked as a ballet instructor and had acquired Norwegian citizenship through marriage.

During the fighting in Norway Lee may have managed to infiltrate the Allied headquarters of General Auchinleck and discovered the details of the Allied plans. Using this information the German commander Dietl was able to counter the Allied attack.

For the rest of the war it seems she worked for the German intelligence station in Madrid.

What happened to Marina Lee at the end of the war? Unfortunately it seems that it is a mystery. The British believed that she may have offered her services to the Soviet side.
The case of Marina Lee shows how easily an attractive woman can acquire classified information.

However it should be noted that the information on her success cannot be verified from other sources. Maybe she played a role in the Norwegian Campaign or maybe the German agent (Finckenstein) who volunteered this information was exaggerating. It’s up to historians to find out more.

Monday, January 6, 2014

The end of privacy?

In his televised address Edward Snowden said: ‘A child born today will grow up with no conception of privacy at all. It will never know what it means to have a private moment to itself, an unrecorded, unanalysed thought

Now Snowden is a controversial figure. Some consider him to be a patriot, others a traitor. However what he said is true.
Thanks to the global expansion of computers, internet and mobile phones we are all generating a torrent of communications data that are easy for a third party to intercept and exploit.

It wasn’t always like this. In the good old days (prior to the late 1990’s) homes usually had one landline and that was it. There were no mobile phones available or if they were only a handful of people used them.
Same thing with computers. Some had them at home but the word internet had no meaning.

Government agencies could still spy on people but that was expensive in terms of manpower and resources. Technicians would need to physically ‘tap’ the landline and a person would have to monitor the conversations.

With computers the problem was similar. Since there was no internet someone had to actually go to the computer and copy the data. Very inefficient and time consuming!

These simple facts limited the extent of government spying. Scarce resources had to be assigned to important targets, which meant people known to be working for foreign intelligence agencies or terrorist groups.
All this changed in the 1990’s since we had two important events taking place.

On the one hand the Cold war ended when the Soviet Union and its Eastern European allies collapsed. Overnight Western intelligence agencies lost their no1 target and the justification for all their power and resources.

In the field of technology computers, mobile phones and the internet became available to a growing part of the population of developed countries. These systems made life easier for everyone but they were insecure and easy to intercept and exploit in mass.

Moving on to the 2000’s we see that thanks to globalization more and more people around the world were able to use mobile phones and the internet. Obviously large organizations like the NSA have taken advantage of the global use of these products by intercepting most of this traffic, analyzing it and decoding it.

The advantage is that this can be done automatically by the push of a button. Records of a person’s telephone calls, financial transactions, tax statements, health records etc etc can be found online. In theory they are encrypted with systems that guarantee security. In practice the NSA (and similar organizations) can take advantage of poor implementation and/or various ‘backdoors’.
The result is that we no longer have any privacy left. Yet is the NSA the only problem? Let’s say that the US government decides to go back to the days when ‘Gentlemen do not read each other's mail’.

What would change in the world? Probably nothing.
First of all the NSA and its ally GCHQ are not the only players in town. The Russians, Chinese and Israelis have first rate signal intelligence organizations. Other countries also have similar organizations and they would continue their operations as before.

If they consider you a target is there something they can’t find out about you? We all have mobile phones. From these they can learn not only who you talk to but also track your daily movements. If they compromise your bank account data and your tax reports they will learn how much money you have. From medical records they can find out if you’re healthy or not. From your computer they can get your email messages and your internet viewing habits etc  etc
So with the click of a button they can find out everything about you.

They don’t even have to try hard since you all upload your files and pictures online. Just from Facebook they can get your personal details and your social circle.
How can you protect yourself? There are technological solutions like TOR and Bitcoin but they have their limitations and if the NSA wants to it can compromise them in various ways.

Maybe you decide to throw away your cellphone and your computer and never use them again. Good luck with that. I’m sure your employer will give you his blessing.
Could there be a solution at the state level? An international agreement to respect people’s privacy rights? This is a nice idea but it’s too tempting for one country to break the rules and continue spying/cyberwarfare activities.

So things will probably continue to get worse in the privacy front.
In the end perhaps the solution would be to embrace the global panopticon in exchange for the benefits of total surveillance.

What would those be? In theory if government agencies can track everyone’s movements and communications they can probably solve most crimes.
I know it’s an extreme idea but at least we’ll get some benefits from government spying.