VENONA Historical Monograph #4:

The KGB in San Francisco and Mexico City andthe GRU in New York and Washington

The release of VENONA translations involved careful consideration of
the privacy interests of individuals mentioned, referenced, or
identified in the translations. Some names have not been released when
to do so would constitute an invasion of privacy.


In February 1943, the U.S. Army's signal intelligence organization, often
called "Arlington Hall" after the location of its headquarters in Virginia,
began a secret program to examine encrypted Soviet diplomatic telegrams
between Moscow and Soviet missions abroad. Not until 1946, however, after
very difficult analytic work, did Arlington Hall begin to recognize that
these so-called diplomatic communications contained thousands of messages of
the KGB (the Soviet espionage agency) and GRU (the Soviet Army General Staff
Intelligence Directorate). This project eventually was named "VENONA."

This monograph accompanies the fourth set of VENONA translations being
released to the public. The first release of translations consisted of
Soviet intelligence messages concerning espionage against the U.S. atomic
bomb project. The second and third releases were messages sent from 1942 to
1945 between the KGB Residencies (offices) in New York and Washington and
Moscow Center (KGB headquarters).

The fourth release is the largest - some 850 message translations - and
involves the KGB in San Francisco and Mexico City and the GRU in New York
and Washington. This completes the release of U.S. (and Mexico) Soviet
espionage message translations. However, more KGB and GRU translations
between Moscow and other world capitals will be released during 1996.

Covername Gnome - Trotsky's Murderer

The KGB communications between Mexico City and Moscow during 1943-46 are a
particularly rich historical trove, showing the elaborate plans to free from
prison a man using the covername GNOME, who had murdered Trotsky in Mexico
City in 1940. The murderer, who had been arrested at the scene of his crime,
was known as Frank Jacson; he held Canadian documentation. Mexican
authorities readily saw this documentation as a sham, but it would be many
years before GNOME's true identity was known, for he had many aliases. GNOME
(GNOM in the Russian spelling) was in reality Ramon Mercader, a Spanish
Communist recruited into KGB service by his mother, the Spanish Communist
and KGB agent-officer Caridad Mercader. She appears in these VENONA messages
as covername KLAVA.

The Soviet Union opened an embassy in Mexico City in 1943, which provided a
cover for a KGB Residency (before then the KGB had operated in Mexico
without diplomatic protection). During 1943-45 that KGB Residency sent about
570 messages to Moscow Center, while the Center sent 400 messages to Mexico.
This was a substantial number, though fewer than half could be sufficiently
decrypted to be issued as the translations seen in this release. Many of
these messages concern the GNOME affair and indicate that the KGB had two
plans to facilitate his release: a combat operation, to spring him by force,
or an effort to use influence. In any case, the KGB drew upon American,
Mexican, and Spanish Communists to accomplish this mission, but the
operation failed. The following KGB messages related to the GNOME case. (all
except the last two were from Mexico City to Moscow) are particularly

Some of these messages were addressed to covername PETROV (L. Beria), head
of Soviet state security:

Plans for the Combat Operation:
No. 158, 23 December 1943; Nos. 174-76, 29 December 1943

The work of KGB agent Jacob Epstein:
Nos. 193-94, 14 March 1944

The KGB has suspicions about one of their agents:
Nos. 553-54, 29 June 1944

Influence operations and an agent with access to GNOME in prison:
No. 474, 6 June 1944

GNOME's mother's presence in Mexico is complicating the case:
Moscow Center to Mexico City, Nos. 172-174,9-10 March 1945

A scathing criticism of the work of the KGB Resident(chief) in Mexico:
San Francisco KGB to Moscow, Nos. 321-322, 19 August 1944

Other Mexico City messages discuss or mention a remarkably varied group of
KGB personalities, including General Leonid Eitington (covername TOM), who
had organized the murder of Trotsky; Dolores lbarruri, the Spanish Communist
leader known as "La Pasionara"; the later Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda;
and Communist Party member and KGB agent Kitty Harris (covername ADA),
sometime lover of KGB agent and American Communist Party leader Earl
Browder. In several messages, the KGB discusses Otto Katz (also known as
Andre Simon), a prominent Communist executed with other members of the Czech
Communist Party leadership after World War II in an infamous purge ordered
by Stalin. We also continue the story, simultaneously seen in the previously
released New York City KGB messages, of Nicholas and Maria Fisher, whom the
KGB was trying to get into Mexico via a U.S. transit visa. The Fishers were
clearly important KGB officers, operating under instructions from Beria.
Their goal was to take over the GNOME affair, to support operations in the
U.S., maybe even for atomic bomb espionage.1

The KGB In San Francisco

The KGB established a Residency (office) in San Francisco in December 1941.
The Resident from 1941 to July 1944 was Grigori Kheifits (covername KHARON).
He was replaced by Grigori Kasparov (covername DAR). In 1945 Moscow Center
sent the New York Resident Stepan Apresyian (covername MAJ) to take over the
San Francisco operation in anticipation of the UN conference (attended by
KGB agent Harry Dexter White). Arlington Hall and NSA were unable to decrypt
the approximately 125 messages sent by that Residency in 1941-42 (only 2 or
3 messages were sent in 1941). As often happened (see the previously
released New York, Washington, and A-Bomb translations), the San Francisco
KGB got most of its agents - spies - from the local Communist Party. Isaac
Folkoff (covername DYaDYa - "uncle"), a grand old man of the California
Communist Party, is seen in VENONA as an agent, espionage talent spotter,
and recruiter for the KGB. But there is one surprise: a major KGB agent in
the West Coast defense aviation industry was not a Party member. This was
Jones Orin York, covername IGLA, who later admitted he was in it for the
money, although he received very little.

One other oddity of the San Francisco translations is that, with one
exception,2 there is no obvious reference to atomic bomb espionage (though
non-VENONA sources confirm that such espionage was in progress at least in
1942-43). Perhaps that work had ended locally by the time of the readable
VENONA messages (and we should note that the Los Angeles KGB message
traffic, though of small volume, is entirely unreadable). The San Francisco
messages do contain evidence of espionage against other high-tech targets.

One important KGB officer, Olga Valentinovna Khlopkova (covername JULIA), is
seen in both San Francisco and New York KGB messages. She was on some
missions of interest to Beria, possibly involving internal KGB security

The Hunt For Sailor Deserters

Several dozen San Francisco KGB messages concern the hunt for deserters from
the Soviet merchant fleet and investigations into the suicides or accidental
deaths of other sailors. There is, for example, the tragic story of ship's
officer Elizabeth Kuznetsova, who jumped ship in Portland, Oregon, on 9
February 1944. According to a later VENONA KGB message, she subsequently
married a taxicab driver in San Francisco. The VENONA part of the story
ends, "On 4 November this year the traitor to the fatherland KUZNETSOVA was
shipped to Vladivostok on the tanker 'BELGOROD'. Details to follow in a

Shedding Light On Gru Espionage In The U.S.

As noted in an earlier monograph, up until 1941 the GRU, the intelligence
directorate of the Red Army General Staff, had been the principal foreign
intelligence agency of the Soviet Union. By the time of VENONA readability
(the 1939-41 messages of KGB and GRU in the U.S. could not be decrypted),
Stalin had made the KGB his top espionage organization. Still, the GRU
continued to run espionage operations (though many of its best assets had
been transferred to the KGB), and these are seen in the fifty or so
translations of 1943 messages from the GRU Residency in New York.

Hundreds of GRU New York messages remain unsolved. We especially feel the
loss to history in the record of the GRU in Washington. Of the several
thousand Washington messages from 1941-1945, only about fifty were
decrypted, in spite of the best efforts of the U.S. and U.K. Unlike the New
York GRU messages, where the translations concern espionage, these few
Washington translations deal with routine military attache matters (such as
overt visits to U.S. defense factories). However, a separate Washington GRU
cryptographic system, which was never read, may have carried GRU espionage

But the New York GRU messages show that the organization had good espionage
sources in some government agencies, including the OSS, the predecessor to
CIA. GRU New York also had a radio-equipped Illegal,5 covernamed MOK.6 We
see some of the work of the spy (and Communist Party member) Joseph
Bernstein, covername MARQUIS, and his recruitment of fellow Communist T. A.
Bisson, covername ARTHUR.7 The GRU chief in New York, covername MOLIERE, was
Pavel P. Mikhailov (the alias he used in his cover assignment as vice
consul; true name was probably Menshikov or Meleshnikov). A number of GRU
sources remain unidentified.

Some Notes On Analysis Of Gru Systems

Exploitation of GRU (both Red Army and Naval) messages lagged behind the
cryptanalytic successes and exploitation of KGB messages by many years.
While the 1945 defection in Ottawa of GRU code clerk Igor Gouzenko provided
message texts that revealed a great deal of espionage, Gouzenko did not
produce any cryptographic materials of direct use to Arlington Hall's
cryptanalytic effort. In the long run, success against GRU messages came
from the accumulated knowledge and experience gained exploiting the Soviet
trade, true diplomatic, and KGB systems and the application of early
computers. In particular, the 1949-50 theoretical work of the distinguished
mathematician and former navy cryptanalyst Dr. Richard Leibler opened new
methods of attack against the VENONA related diplomatic systems - including
those of the GRU.

In 1952 cryptanalyst-linguist Charles Condray proposed an attack against
unknown message beginnings which was based on Dr. Leibler's work. The
computer implementation of this attack by mathematician Dr. Hugh Gingrich
led to detection of reused key in GRU messages and, ultimately, to the
solution and translation of GRU messages.

The Naval GRU systems resisted the best efforts of Arlington Hall, NSA and
the U.K. SIGINT service until 1957, when a U.K. analytic attack provided the
first results in detecting reused key.

Translations Of Naval Gru Messages

NSA and the U.K. service decrypted some 300 GRU naval messages that had been
sent in 1943 between Washington and Moscow - including about half (200 of
400) of the messages sent by Washington. However, only a few Naval GRU
messages from any other year could be decrypted and none from any other U.S.

Commodore I. A. Egorichev was Soviet naval attache in Washington at that
time, and he was probably also the Resident (chief) of the secret
intelligence apparatus as well. His superior in Moscow was the Soviet
director of naval intelligence, probably Commodore Mikhail A. Vorontsov.8

The Naval GRU was clearly the junior Soviet intelligence service, at least
in the U.S. The translated messages show the Washington Naval GRU wrestling
with various unrelated missions while trying to establish secret espionage
networks. In fact, the Naval GRU's cryptographic system was used for various
nonintelligence entities, such as the Soviet naval Lend-Lease
representatives, their naval weather service personnel, and Soviet naval
convoy officers. Some of the topics of Washington Naval GRU messages were

Counterintelligence in Tampa, Florida:
Washington to Moscow Nos. 834, 846-848, 18 April 1943

Recruitment and handling of American Communists as espionage agents:
Moscow to Washington, No. 115, 20 January 1943;
No. 704, 1 April 1943; No. 1194, 10 July 1943;
Washington to Moscow, No. 1969, 13 August 1943
(Mentions exceptional possibilities in the high-tech field)

Moscow lays out the rules for "the primary and basic aims" of Naval Intelligence:
No. 1109, 26 June 1943

Regular attache business - exchange of information with U.S. Navy:
Washington to Moscow, No. 1657,17 July 1943

Human interest - a grief-stricken Soviet admiral:
Washington to Moscow, No. 1150,27 May 1943

The Case Of Sally

Naval GRU assigned covernames AUSTRALIAN WOMAN and then SALLY to an Illegal
to be sent by ship from the Soviet Far East to the U.S. West Coast. Fourteen
messages relating to this operation were translated. The first of these,
Washington to Moscow, Nos. 2505-2512, 31 December 1942, is one of the
longest messages in VENONA an extraordinary document showing the Naval GRU's
inexperience in this sort of activity and the need for assistance from the
GRU and/or KGB. The last decrypted message about the case states that SALLY
had been landed in San Francisco from a Soviet freighter (Washington to
Moscow No. 1983, 14 August 1943). The FBI later learned that SALLY had been
known in the U.S. as Edna Patterson, that she had left the U.S. suddenly in
1956, and that she was a Soviet citizen who had been born in Australia.

The reader will recall that several Illegals appear in KGB traffic, most
notably covername MER/ALBERT. Other Soviet Illegals are in the current
release: the GRU Illegal MOK and various Illegals in the Mexico City
messages (these included probably Spanish nationals and a Canadian, who
probably were not Soviet citizens - a variation on the usual origin of

Historical Chronology And Venona Translations

Since the first release Of VENONA translations in July 1995, there have been
many questions about the dates of the translations, their dissemination, and
the means by which the covernames were identified. Some earlier points will
be repeated here and amplified, and new material will be introduced.

* Some VENONA translations will indicate in the analytic footnotes that a
covername is unidentified. Another message may footnote that very same
covername with an identification. Analysts rarely hand-corrected a
footnote identification to reflect later identification (unless a
completely new translation was issued). For example, in some early
message translations that were never reissued, covernames MER/ALBERT
are footnoted as unidentified, when it was afterward determined, as
footnoted in later translations of other messages, that this person was
Iskak Akhmerov, the KGB's chief Illegal in the U.S. Unfortunately for
the reader, the KGB did occasionally reuse covernames: the same
covername for different persons. This can usually be understood by
context or geographic location.

* Meredith Gardner, an Arlington Hall analyst, was able to solve several
KGB messages in 1946. From summer 1947 to mid 1948, Gardner published
translations or summaries of several dozen KGB messages. At first he
noted that the covernames LIBERAL or ANTENNA both referred to the same
person. Later he gave full translations of some of these
LIBERAL/ANTENNA messages, but he did not know at the time that those
covernames were for Julius Rosenberg. Gardner, in 1947, personally
identified the true names of a few covernamed persons, e.g., that the
covername KOMAR was Viktor Kravchenko, who defected in the U.S. in 1944
and was being hunted by the KGB, as shown in VENONA.

* In late August or early September 1947, General Carter W. Clarke,
deputy G-2, cautiously informed S. Wesley Reynolds, the FBI liaison to
G-2 and Arlington Hall, that the Army had begun to break into Soviet
espionage messages. Over the next year, Wes Reynolds received an
unrecorded number of translations. Some of these translations were
probably handwritten.

* In October 1948 Wes Reynolds officially introduced Robert J. Lamphere,
from FBI headquarters, to Meredith Gardner and the Arlington Hall
leadership. From then till he left the FBI in 1955, Lamphere was in
constant touch with Gardner and his associates, receiving VENONA
translations as soon as they were made. He had at least some version of
every 1944-45 New York (and probably Washington) KGB message that was
ever decrypted before the end of 1952. Army G-2's counterintelligence
element, which had been studying the earliest Gardner translations, had
long before dropped out of the picture.

* Most U.S. covername identifications were made by the FBI through file
review/analysis and by intensive investigation. The U.K. made some
identifications, and, starting in 1953, CIA made others. Sometimes the
true name of the agent is given in the message, and that name could, by
analysis or investigation, be placed against a covername seen in later
messages (e.g., the case of Theodore A. Hall, subsequently covernamed


* Some dates of covername identification as shown in NSA VENONA papers,
covernames ROBERT, DORA, and PILOT, were found in VENONA messages as
early as 1947. In November 1948, the FBI told Arlington Hall that those
covernames were for, respectively, Greg Silvermaster, his wife Helen
Witte Silvermaster, and Lud Ullman, who resided with them. In early
1949, the FBI advised that they had identified covername SIMA (first
found in a message in 1947) as Judith Coplon. Covernames CHARLES and
REST were identified as Klaus Fuchs during the summer of 1949, based on
VENONA messages that were decrypted in 1947-49. Covernames LIBERAL and
ANTENNA were first found in 1947, and the FBI made final identification
of the Rosenbergs in 1950.

Future Releases Of Venona Translations In 1996

The next, and final, release will also be very large and will include KGB,
GRU, Naval GRU messages to and from London, Stockholm, Canberra, Latin
America, and elsewhere.

by Robert Louis Benson


1. See, for example, No. 334, Moscow Center to Mexico City, 20 May 1944.
However, for context see especially the previously released message, New
York KGB to Moscow, No. 786, 1 June 1944, that mentions that friends of
David Niles (a White House staffer) "will arrange anything for a bribe,"
i.e., get the transit visas for the Fishers.

2. See the previously released No. 619-620, 27 November 1945.

3. See, for example, San Francisco to Moscow, Nos. 510 and 519, December


4. See San Francisco messages to the Center, from 1944; Numbers 65, 151,
159, 293; and message numbers 166, 295, and 568 of 1945. See also the very
detailed message from Moscow Center that sets up new procedures for the
KGB's Fifth Line in handling the security of the Soviet merchant fleet on
the West Coast No. 379, Moscow to San Francisco, 16 November 1944.

5. An illegal was usually a Soviet citizen, a KGB or GRU officer, who
operated under an alias with visible connection to official Soviet
establishments. Illegals had no diplomatic immunity, usually entering the
country illegally, hence the term.

6. See message New York to Moscow Nos. 895-985, 987, 1295.

7. The will be of interest to students of the so-called Amerasia affair. In
1945 the OSS Security Division and the FBI searched the offices of the
magazine Amerasia, which was suspected of holding classified government
documents. The staff of the publication included Communist spies and agents,
including Joseph Bernstein. In subsequent years, the case resulted in
several prosecutions but no major convictions, and a number of congressional
hearings were held on the case. A recently published book, The Amerasia
Case, by Harvey Klehr and Ronald Radosh, presents more details on the

8. The signatories and addresses of the Naval GRU messages are quite
confusing, as the service dedicated a block of code groups at the back of
their codebook for covernames. As these do not fall in alphabetical order
and are not seen in any othercontext, the actual meaning of these code
groups could not be found. Thus we see the arbitrary numbersing and
lettering systems adopted by the U.S.-U.K. (not by the Soviets) to identify
these covernames, e.g., Name No. 5.