VENONA Historical Monograph #2:

The 1942-43 New York-Moscow KGB Messages<


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.


The U.S. Army's Signal Intelligence Service, usually called "Arlington
Hall" after the location of its headquarters, began a program to
examine what it believed to be Soviet diplomatic and trade
communications on February 1, 1943. Arlington Hall had on hand an
unsorted collection of encrypted Soviet telegrams that had been
collected intermittently since 1939. Starting with this corpus, while
continuing to collect additional message traffic, Arlington Hall
commenced its attacks against the Soviet diplomatic cryptographic
systems used in the traffic. The project to analyze and translate these
messages, which turned out to include Soviet KGB and GRU spy messages
in addition to diplomatic and trade messages, eventually was named
VENONA." The story of this effort was outlined in Introductory History
of VENONA and Guide to the Translations. The first public release of
translated VENONA materials, signals intelligence which had provided an
insight into the alarming and hitherto unappreciated breadth and depth
of Soviet espionage activities within the U.S., was in July, 1995. That
release was a compilation of 49 VENONA translations which related to
Soviet espionage efforts against U.S. atomic bomb research, including
messages about the Rosenbergs and the MANHATTAN Project. This second
release, and subsequent releases of the remaining approximately 1800
VENONA translations, will not be thematic, but, rather, will be
arranged chronologically by communications link. This monograph
provides an overview of the content of the messages between the New
York KGB Residency and Moscow Center, 1942-1943, which are the object
of this second release.


Although KGB and GRU communications between New York and Moscow
1939-1941 were in a cryptographic system that could not be broken, a
comparison of the New York-Moscow KGB and GRU message counts between
1939 and 1941 indicates that, at least in the U.S., the GRU may have
been the more active Soviet intelligence agency up until that time. For
example, in 1940, the NY GRU sent an estimated 992 messages to Moscow
while the KGB only sent an estimated 335 messages. Furthermore, later
releases of the VENONA translations of 1944 and 1945 messages will show
that a number of KGB espionage personalities had previously been GRU
assets (or possibly COMINTERN agents under GRU control). In 1942 there
were nearly 1300 KGB New York-Moscow messages, but only 23 were
successfully decrypted and translated. In 1943, however, there were a
little over 1300 messages with over 200 decrypted and translated.


The COMINTERN (Communist International) was a Soviet-controlled organization that conducted
liaison with the national Communist parties of various countries,
including the United States, in order to further the cause of
revolution. Moscow issued guidance, support, and orders to the parties
through the apparatus of the COMINTERN. Nevertheless, Stalin publicly
disbanded the COMINTERN in 1943. A Moscow KGB message to all stations
on September 12, 1943, message number 142, relating to this event and
included in this release, is one of the most interesting and
historically important messages in the entire corpus of VENONA
translations. This message clearly discloses the KGB's connection to
the COMINTERN and to the national Communist parties. The message
details instructions for handling intelligence sources within the
Communist Party after the disestablishment of the COMINTERN. The
translation being released is of the Moscow-Canberra message which was
the only message of those sent to all the Reside


During the VENONA period, the KGB had U.S. Residencies (offices) in New
York, Washington, and San Francisco--the latter residency was not
established (or perhaps reestablished) until December, 1941. There also
was a geographic Sub-Residency in Los Angeles. The VENONA translations
showed that the KGB New York Residency operated under three official
institutional cover arrangements--the Soviet Consulate, the trade
mission (AMTORG/Soviet Government Purchasing Commission), and TASS, the
Soviet news agency. Other KGB officers worked at various locations
around the U.S. under Purchasing Commission cover, often as factory
inspectors working on Lend-Lease matters. During 1942-1943, General
Vassili M. Zubilin (true name: Zarubin) was the KGB Resident (chief) in
New York.

In 1943 he was transferred to Washington to become Resident there.
Zubilin, known in VENONA by the covername MAXIM, signed many KGB
telegrams. His wife, Elizabeth, was a KGB colonel who had the covername

There are indications that Zubilin/MAXIM was the senior KGB officer in
the U.S. For example, the KGB Residency in Washington did not send
messages until late 1943 after Zubilin arrived there. Before that, the
Washington espionage messages were sent by New York. All KGB
Residencies abroad came under the First Chief Directorate (Foreign
Intelligence) of the Moscow Center. Lieutenant General Pavel Fitin,
covername VIKTOR, ran the First Chief Directorate, and most VENONA
messages from the Residencies are addressed to him. KGB officer Pavel
Klarin, covername LUKA, succeeded Zubilin/MAXIM as Resident in New
York. In 1944 Stepan Apresyan, covername MAJ, became the NY Resident.
MAJ signed hundreds of VENONA messages. All these New York Residents
worked under the cover of Vice-Consul.

Although most or all KGB officers in New York worked for the First
ChiefDirectorate, their day-to-day operations were defined by what the
KGB called a Line. A Line worked against a specific target set or
carried out some specialized function. A number of Lines are mentioned
in the VENONA translations and their specialization either can be
directly identified or easily inferred. Some, not all, of these may be
seen in the 1942-1943 messages:


KhU Line High-tech targets including the Manhattan
Project, jet engines, rocket engines,radar
(Julius Rosenberg's group worked under
this Line)
White Line Probably worked against the White Russians
Fifth Line Security of the Soviet Merchant Fleet
(probably connected to the Second Chief
Directorate--internal counterintelligence--at
Moscow Center)
Second Line Watching nationalist or minority groups of
interest to the Soviet state (e.g., the
Technical Line A" Special work such as document forgery
Fellowcountryman Line Liaison with the American Communist Party
Line of Cover The institutional or personal cover of the KGB

Other organizations referenced in the VENONA materials include the
Eighth Department at Moscow Center, which evaluated political
intelligence; the special cipher office, which encrypted and decrypted
the telegrams; the Center=KGB headquarters; and the HOUSE or BIG HOUSE,
which probably meant the COMINTERN headquarters in Moscow (although it
sometimes appears to be used interchangeably for Moscow Center).
Telegrams sent by the KGB Residency in New York were usually signed by
the Resident (MAXIM, LUKA, or MAJ) and were addressed to VIKTOR, head
of the First Chief Directorate. Sometimes telegrams were signed with
the covername ANTON, head of the KhU Line since Moscow Center gave him
special authority to do so in 1944. In special circumstances, telegrams
were addressed to or received from PETROV, believed to have been L. P.
Beria, head of the Soviet security apparatus; however, PETROV might
also have been V. N. Merkulov, a principal deputy of Beria, who
probably headed KGB operations from the latter part of 1943. At least
in the case of the New York Residency, we see what probably was the KGB
in transition--trying to organize its espionage activities better while
sorting out the impact of the dissolution of the COMINTERN. We also see
considerable KGB interest in European and Latin American Communists
which presented opportunities for subversion, a classic COMINTERN
methodology, rather than espionage. Nonetheless, the New York Residency
had many espionage assets during this period and was aggressive, even
reckless, and imaginative in trying to recruit or place people in
sensitive positions. The activities of a Soviet Illegal MER/ALBERT
(covernames for KGB officer Iskak Akhmerov, who operated as a clothier)
first come to light in the current release. VENONA provides some
insight into Illegals used by Soviet intelligence, although with the
exception of the noteworthyactivities of Akhmerov and a GRU-Naval
operation involving an illegal, there are only a small number of other
cases of Illegals mentioned in the VENONA translations. An Illegal was
usually a Soviet citizen, a KGB or GRU officer, who operated under an
alias with no visible connection to official Soviet establishments.
Illegals had no diplomatic immunity, usually entering the country
illegally--hence the term. More information on Akhmerov and the
GRU-Naval case will appear in a later VENONA release.


These VENONA translations of 1942-1943 messages occasionally are
fragmentary and difficult to understand. The code itself was complex
and difficult to exploit using pure analytic techniques. Moreover, the
broad contextual sweep of the content of these messages vastly
complicated the difficulty of reading these KGB systems. The
cryptographic systems used by the KGB's First Chief Directorate
involved a codebook in which words and phrases were represented by
numbers. These numbers were then further enciphered by the addition of
random number groups, additive, taken from a so-called one-time pad. A
one-time pad comprised pages of random numbers, copies of which were
used by the sender and receiver of a message to add and remove an extra
layer of enciperhment. One-time pads used properly only once are
unbreakable; however, the KGB's cryptographic material manufacturing
center in the Soviet Union apparently reused some of the pages from
one-time pads. This provided Arlington Hall with an opening. Very few
of the 1942 KGB messages were able to be solved because there was very
little duplication of one-time pad pages in those messages. The
situation was more favorable in 1943, even more so in 1944, and the
success rate improved accordingly. In order to break into the system
successfully, Arlington Hall analysts had first to identify and strip
off the layer of additive in order to attack the underlying code. These
two levels of encryption caused immense difficulty in exploiting the
codebook and many code groups were, therefore, never recovered. The KGB
messages from 1942 through 1943 and into 1944 as well as from earlier
years were based on one codebook version. The 1944-1945 messages were
based on a new codebook.


As noted in the first VENONA monograph, Introductory History of VENONA
and Guide to the Translations, and as publicly stated at the time of
the release of the first set of translations, the Arlington Hall
breakthrough on the KGB cryptographic systems was accomplished entirely
through sweat-of-the-brow analysis without the aid of any captured
codebooks. Fundamental cryptanalytic breaks against the extra
encipherment which overlay the various codebooks were made in 1943-1944
by Richard Hallock, Cecil Phillips, and a small team of experts, by
their own cryptanalytic brilliance. The knowledge gained earlier about
the extra encipherment layer allowed Meredith Gardner to break into the
second KGB codebook in late 1946. The majority of KGB messages between
the U.S. and Moscow that have been solved employed this second
KGBcodebook and were broken between 1947 and 1952. These were based on
a KGB codebook which Arlington Hall has never seen. The KGB messages
from 1942 and 1943 employed the earlier and more difficult codebook.
These 1942-1943 messages, some of which are the subject of this current
release, were not attacked successfully until 1953-1954, when a second
major cryptanalytic breakthrough was made through pure analysis by Dr.
Samuel P. Chew at NSA, the successor of Arlington Hall. Only after this
second major breakthrough was made was a partially burned KGB codebook,
which had been found in 1945, able to be identified as the codebook
employed in this system and to be put to use in attacking these
messages. A Military Intelligence team headed by Lieutenant Colonel
Paul Neff, acting under Arlington Hall's direction, had obtained a
photocopy of this partially burned codebook at a Nazi Foreign Office
signal intelligence archive located in a castle in Saxony during the
last days of World War II in Europe.

Neff's team got the material back to U.S. lines only the day before
Soviet occupation forces moved into the area. The Nazis had acquired
this codebook, and others, from the Finns who had taken them from the
Soviet Consulate in Petsamo, Finland, on June 22, 1941. KGB officers in
the consulate had only succeeded in partially burning the codebook
before the facility was overrun. At about the same time, Lieutenant
Oliver Kirby, also connected to Arlington Hall, recovered related
cryptographic material while on a special mission in Schleswig,
(Both Neff and Kirby later became senior civilian officials at
Arlington Hall and later with NSA.)


Several KGB tradecraft terms that appear frequently in the VEONA
translations are defined below: PROBATIONERS: KGB agents
FELLOWCOUNTRYMAN: member of the American Communist Party WORKERS or
CADRE: KGB officers PUT ON ICE or IN COLD STORAGE: deactivate an agent
LEGEND (A): cover story NEIGHBORS: how the KGB referred to GRU and vice
versa The following references identify VENONA translations that give
examples of KGB tradecraft and operations: KGB agents in the OSS: No.
880, 8 June 1943; No. 782, 26 May 1943 NY KGB recruiting proposals: No.
854, 16 June 1942; No. 424, 1 July 1942; Nos. 1132-33, 13 July 1943 An
unidentified KGB agent in the company of President Roosevelt and Prime
Minister Churchill (note that the illegal MER, later known as ALBERT,
signed the message): No. 812, 29 May 43


KGB New York and Washington, D.C., 1944-1945 messages KGB San Francisco
and Mexico City, 1942-1946 messages GRU New York and Washington:
GRU-Naval Washington: 1943 messages KGB and GRU non-U.S., non-Mexico
(e.g., Montevideo): 1940-1946 messages The 1944-1945 New York and
Washington message release will be very large (around 500 translations)
and should be of considerable historical interest.

By Robert Louis Benson