Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Compromise of OWI - Office of War Information communications

In 1942 the US government created a new organization called the Office of War Information, headed by Elmer Davis. This organization absorbed the functions of several other government departments such as the Office of Facts and Figures (OWI's direct predecessor), the Office of Government Reports, the Division of Information of the Office for Emergency Management and the Foreign Information Service.

The OWI had representative in countries abroad and participated not only in news gathering activities but also Anti-Axis propaganda and even espionage. Especially in Bern, Switzerland the local station, headed by Gerald M Mayer, cooperated closely with the OSS - Office of Strategic Services station of Allen Dulles.

The book ‘Hitler, the Allies, and the Jews’, p265 says about Mayer:
Gerald Mayer was officially OWI’s man in Bern but in fact he was Allen Dulles’s cover and right hand man

The same book mentions an OWI message from Mayer to Elmer Davis, dated 25 May 1944, decoded by the German codebreakers on June 6. The telegram ‘described the holocaust in Carpatho-Russia and the Mamaros areas of Hungary on the basis of ‘’reliable sources and even on the basis of Hungarian newspapers’’. From the contents of the decode it is clear that it was OWI telegram Bern-Washington No 3.346:

The Finnish codebreakers also read these messages, as can be seen from decodes found in the Finnish national archives (the originals can be found at NARA, collection RG 59):

Bern-Washington -16/1/1943 - No 377

Bern-Washington -28/1/1944 - No 564


Bern-Washington 9.3.1944 No.1438 (to Elmer Davis OWI from Mayer)

It’s not clear if these messages were enciphered with an OWI cryptosystem or with the State Department ones. However special research history SRH-366 'History of Army Strip Cipher devices’ says in page 111 that the OWI was given the M-138 strip cipher system.

Another report found in SRH-145 ‘Collection of memoranda on operations of SIS intercept activities and dissemination 1942-45’, dated 16 October 1943 says that the OWI was using cipher teleprinters with one time pad tape, Hagelin cipher machine (presumably the M-209) and double transposition. 

Additional information: An evaluation of OWI ciphers by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff is available:

Joint Chiefs of Staff evaluation of Office of War Information ciphers

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