289
15
S
OV IE T
C
OMINT IN
THE COLD WAR*
Part I
e great intelligence lesson of World War II is that the best
information comes from codebreaking. Not from spies, who more
often than not err or lie. Not from aerial reconnaissance, which merely
photographs forces in place or on the way. And not from prisoner-of-
war interrogations, which yield mainly tactical data. More than any
other source, codebreaking furnishes trustworthy, high-level, fast,
unmediated, voluminous, continuous, cheap information.
It helped to win the battle of the Atlantic and turn the tide of war at
Midway, led to the midair shootdown of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto,
disclosed defensive details of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall, made possible doz-
ens of tactical victories during the Allied invasion of Europe, enabled
American pigboats to strangle Japan by sinking her convoys.
1
Near the
war’s end, American solutions of French and Latin American codes
helped the United States shape the United Nations the way it wanted.
2
e Cold War revalidated the lesson. Communications intelli-
gence – comint – again furnished the bulk of and the best American
secret information. Officials newly cleared for material supplied by the
National Security Agency often exclaim “ey’re getting all that!?” in
astonishment at its quantity and quality. While satellite photogra-
phy of missile silos showed what the Soviet Union had and where,
it could not say what it would do with the weapons. Reading other
countries’ messages revealed foreigners’ plans and helped the United
States during disarmament talks, the Gulf War, and negotiations on
auto imports with Japanese ministers.
But in all these episodes about how codebreaking helped shorten
World War II and stabilize the international system afterward by
* From Cryptologia, 22 (January 1998), 1–24.
290
WO RLD WA R II' S G RE ATES T SP Y
reducing surprises, one great dimension was missing: Soviet comint.
How good was it? Had the Soviet Union enjoyed successes during the
Cold War? If so, what were they, and what effect did they have on
such events as the Cuban missile crisis?
ese key lacunae, which had troubled historians, embarrassed me.
When I lectured on codes and their history, audience members fre-
quently asked how good the Soviets were in codebreaking. I had to
confess that I didn’t know. But, I said, trying to recover, its widely
believed that, to the extent that ability in cryptanalysis can be fore-
cast, it parallels excellence in chess, mathematics, and music. And
who, I would ask rhetorically, was good in all three fields?
But this was hypothesis. I wanted facts. Hoping that some Soviet
codebreakers might have defected and boasted of their triumphs,
I questioned Dr. Louis Tordella, then retired as the longest serving
deputy director of the U. S. National Security Agency about it. He
told me – and, from our relationship and the then more open attitude
of the NSA, I dont believe he was concealing anything that, to
his knowledge, no such defection had ever occurred. Tordella knew
nothing about Soviet cryptanalytic successes.
3
Likewise, a formerly
top secret Allied study of “Russian Cryptology during World War II,
recently declassified, included no specifics of such successes.
4
But then things began to open up. One day I received a call from a
former member, then in Britain, of the Soviet communications intel-
ligence agency, a branch of the KGB. He gave his name as Victor
Makarov and said he had served in the agency for five years, trans-
lating intercepted Greek telegrams (Figure 15.1).
5
He wanted to
write a book with my help. I interviewed him for two days in his flat
and in Room 222 of the Hotel Highcliin Bournemouth.
6
He was
a slender, fresh-faced young man, with a fairly good command of
English and a detailed, worm’s-eye view of Soviet cryptologic activi-
ties. Overflowing with his information and eager to please, he spoke
rapidly, his ideas pushing his words out so fast they tumbled over
one another. He had clear and specific memories of his work and
the agency that did it, and he admitted ignorance when he had no
rst-hand knowledge. ough Greece was obviously no great power,
it did deal with those powers, gaining more insights than its appar-
ent insignificance suggested. Makarovs information was new and
detailed and lled with fascinating incidents. But, for a number of

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