Memos confirm secret NSA deal with leading cryptography vendor

William FriedmanIn 2007 I wrote in my “National Security Agency: The Historiography of Concealment” that America’s leading signals intelligence agency had made a secret deal with Crypto AG, a Swiss-based manufacturer of cryptographical equipment. The agreement, which lasted for much of the Cold War, allowed the NSA to read the classified messages of dozens of nations that purchased encoding equipment from Crypto AG. As I expected, the claim drew criticism from individuals connected with Crypto AG, including company scientists, who argued that the Swiss manufacturer would never have agreed to a deal that undermined its professional reputation as a trusted and neutral vendor of cryptological devices. Now, however, the BBC has revealed two recently declassified NSA memos that provide concrete proof of the deal.

My 2007 claim was based on a string of well documented allegations that surfaced in the early 1980s. While conducting research for his seminal book The Puzzle Palace, historian James Bamford came across references to Project BORIS, which involved a pact between the NSA and the Swiss company. To be precise, the deal appeared to have been struck between the Swiss inventor and Crypto AG founder Boris Hagelin and William F. Friedman, an American cryptologist who led the Armed Forces Security Agency, a forerunner of the NSA. The two men were united by a deep personal friendship, which was forged during World War II by their mutual hatred of Nazism.

Bamford’s claim was echoed in 1996 by Scott Shane and Tom Bowman, reporters for The Baltimore Sun. In a six-part investigative series about the NSA, the two journalists wrote that Friedman visited Hagelin during a trip to Switzerland in 1955 and asked for his help so that American could dominate its Cold War rivals. According to Shane and Bowman, Hagelin agreed and built a type of cryptological backdoor in Crypto AG’s devices, which allowed the NSA to read millions of messages for many decades. The company, of course, reacted furiously, saying that claims of a secret deal were “pure invention”.

On Thursday, however, BBC security correspondent Gordon Corera confirmed that a BBC investigation of 55,000 pages of documents, which were declassified by the NSA in April, found proof of the secret agreement. The declassified material, said Corera, contains two versions of the same NSA memorandum, as well as an earlier draft, which refer to a “gentleman’s agreement” between Friedman and Hagelin. Under the agreement, Crypto AG would inform the NSA about periodical changes to the technical specifications of its encoding machines. The company would also provide the American spy agency with detailed lists showing the precise models purchased by various national governments around the world. Furthermore, Crypto AG agreed not to sell the more advanced, customizable models of its equipment to countries viewed by Washington as directly adversarial. This, says the BBC, amounted to Crypto AG deceiving some of its customers, by offering them “watered-down versions” of its encoding devices.

Corera notes that there is no evidence in the memos that Crypto AG built any kind of back door in its devices for use by the NSA. Instead, by providing the American agency with detailed operational knowledge of the devices, it enabled American codebreakers to reduce the time and effort needed to break encoded messages intercepted by the NSA.

There are a couple of minor errors in Corera’s article. For instance, the “father of American code-breaking” is not Friedman, as he claims, but Herbert Yardley, who led the so-called Black Chamber (also known as the Cipher Bureau) in 1919, long before Friedman was in the picture. Additionally, he fails to mention Bowman’s contribution to Shane’s Baltimore Sun article, which was published in 1996, not 1995, as he writes. These minor errors aside, however, the BBC discovery is absolutely crucial for our understanding of cryptological history in the Cold War.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 31 July 2015 | Permalink

Key testimony from Rosenberg spy case released after 64 years

Julius and Ethel RosenbergThe final piece of sealed testimony in one of the most important espionage cases of the Cold War has been released, 64 years after it was given. The case led to the execution in 1953 of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, an American couple who were convicted of spying for the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs were arrested in 1950 for being members of a larger Soviet-handled spy ring, which included Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass. Greenglass agreed to testify for the US government in order to save his life, as well as the life of his wife, Ruth, who was also involved in the spy ring. He subsequently fingered Julius Rosenberg as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets, and Ethel as the person who retyped the content of classified documents before they were surrendered to their handlers. That piece of testimony from Greenglass the primary evidence used to convict and execute the Rosenbergs.

However, although historians are confident that Julius Rosenberg was indeed an active member of the Soviet spy ring, there are doubts about Ethel. Many suggest that her involvement with her husband’s espionage activities was fragmentary at best, and that she refused to cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an ill-judged attempt to protect her husband. The argument goes that Ethel was put to death as a warning to Moscow, as well as to intimidate other American spies, rather than on the basis of actual evidence of her involvement in espionage. Many years after the Rosenbergs’ execution, Greenglass claimed he had lied about Ethel’s role in the spy affair in order to protect his wife, who was the actual typist of the espionage ring.

The debate over Ethel Rosenberg’s fate was rekindled by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s decision in May of this year to unseal Greenglass’ testimony. The documents could not be made public while Greenglass was alive, because he objected to their release. But he died last year in a nursing home in New York, so Judge Hellerstein said his testimony could now legally be made available to the public as a “critical piece of an important moment in our nation’s history”.

Greenglass’ grand jury testimony, made under oath in 1950, six months before he implicated his sister in nuclear espionage for the Soviets, was posted online on Wednesday by George Washington University’s National Security Archive. Speaking at a press conference about the release, several experts said the new information directly contradicts Greenglass’ later testimony in which he accused his sister of being a spy. In the press conference of his grand jury testimony, Greenglass emphatically denies that Ethel had a role in the atom spy ring. When asked whether she was involved in espionage, Greenglass responds: “my sister has never spoken to me about this subject”. Later on he recounts how Julius tried to convince him to prolong his US Army service in order to continue to have access to classified information. When asked whether Ethel also tried to convince him to continue to spy for the Soviets, he responds: “I said before, and say it again, honestly, this is a fact: I never spoke to my sister about this at all”.

National Security Archive Director Tom Blanton said at the press conference that the evidence made it clear that Julius Rosenberg led an active spy ring; but Ethel was not an active spy, he said, even though witting.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 17 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/17/01-1737/

KGB spy shares details of his escape to Britain in 1985

Oleg GordievskyA Soviet double spy, who secretly defected to Britain 30 years ago this month, has revealed for the first time the details of his exfiltration by British intelligence in 1985. Oleg Gordievsky was one of the highest Soviet intelligence defectors to the West in the closing stages of the Cold War. He joined the Soviet KGB in 1963, eventually reaching the rank of colonel. But in the 1960s, while serving in the Soviet embassy in Copenhagen, Denmark, Gordievsky began feeling disillusioned about the Soviet system. His doubts were reinforced by the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. It was soon afterwards that he made the decision to contact British intelligence.

Cautiously, Britain’s Secret Intelligence Service (known as MI6) communicated with Gordievsky, and in 1974 he secretly became an agent-in-place for the United Kingdom. Eight years later, in 1982, Gordievsky was promoted to KGB rezident (chief of station) in London. While there, he frequently made contact with his MI6 handlers, giving them highly coveted information on Soviet nuclear strategy, among other things. He is credited with informing London of Mikhail Gorbachev’s imminent ascendency to the premiership of the Soviet Union, long before he was seen by Western intelligence as a viable candidate to lead the country.

But in May of 1985, Gordievsky was suddenly recalled to Moscow, where he was detained by the KGB. He was promptly taken to a KGB safe house in the outskirts of Moscow and interrogated for five hours, before being temporarily released pending further questioning. Remarkably, however, Gordievsky managed to escape his KGB surveillance and reappear in Britain less than a week later. How did this happen? On Sunday, the former double spy gave a rare rare interview to The Times, in which he revealed for the first time the details of his escape to London. He told The Times’ Ben Macintyre that he was smuggled out of the USSR by MI6 as part of Operation PIMLICO. PIMLICO was an emergency exfiltration operation that had been put in place by MI6 long before Gordievsky requested its activation in May of 1985.

Every Tuesday, shortly after 7:00, a British MI6 officer would take a morning stroll at the Kutuzovsky Prospekt in Moscow. He would pass outside a designated bakery at exactly 7:24 a.m. local time. If he saw Gordievsky standing outside the bakery holding a grocery bag, it meant that the double agent was requesting to be exfiltrated as a matter of urgency. Gordievsky would then have to wait outside the bakery until a second MI6 officer appeared, carrying a bag from the Harrods luxury department store in London. The man would also be carrying a Mars bar (a popular British candy bar) and would bite into it while passing right in front of Gordievsky. That would be a message to him that his request to be exfiltrated had been received.

Four days later, Gordievsky used his skills in evading surveillance and shook off (or dry-cleaned, in espionage tradecraft lingo) the KGB officers trailing him. He was then picked up by MI6 officers and smuggled out of the country in the trunk of a British diplomatic car that drove to the Finnish border. Gordievsky told The Times that Soviet customs officers stopped the car at the Finnish border and surrounded it with sniffer dogs. At that moment, a British diplomat’s wife, who was aware that Gordievsky was hiding in the car, came out of the vehicle and proceeded to change her baby’s diaper on the trunk, thus safeguarding Gordievsky’s hiding place and masking his scent with her baby’s used diaper. If it hadn’t been for the diplomat’s wife, Gordievsky told The Times that he might have been caught.

After crossing the Soviet-Finnish border, Gordievsky traveled to Norway and from there he boarded a plane for England. Soviet authorities promptly sentenced him to death, but allowed his wife and children to join him in Britain six years later, after British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher personally lobbied the Soviet government. Gordievsky’s death penalty still stands in Russia. In 2007, the Queen made Gordievsky a Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of St. Michael and St. George for services rendered to the security of the British state.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 6 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/06/01-1729/

Cold War files show secret war between CIA and KGB in Canada

Natalie (Natalka) BundzaA set of declassified intelligence documents from the 1950s and 1960s offer a glimpse into the secret war fought in Canada between American and Soviet spy agencies at the height of the Cold War. The documents were authored by the United States Central Intelligence Agency and declassified following a Freedom of Information Act request filed on behalf of the Canadian newspaper The Toronto Star. According to the paper, they show that Toronto was a major hub of a prolonged espionage conflict fought between the CIA and the Soviet KGB.

Much of the espionage activity by the two spy agencies concentrated on Toronto’s sizable Eastern European expatriate community, especially on immigrants with Ukrainian and Polish roots. In one document dating from 1959, a CIA officer details the profiles of 18 Canadian citizens, most of them Toronto residents, who were suspected by Langley to be working for the KGB. Most of them were believed to be non-official-cover operatives, or NOCs, as they are known in the US Intelligence Community. The term typically refers to high-level principal agents or officers of an intelligence agency, who operate without official connection to the diplomatic authorities of the country that employs them. The declassified document explains that the suspected NOCs had secretly traveled to the USSR after being recruited by the KGB. They were then trained as spies before returning to Canada years later under new identities.

Others, like a naturalized Canadian identified in the documents as Ivan Kolaska, were believed by the CIA to have immigrated to Toronto as part of a broader KGB effort to infiltrate the ranks of the anti-communist Eastern European expatriate community in Canada. Some of these infiltrators were able to settle in Canada, marry locals, get jobs and have families, while living a double life. The Star spoke to one Ukrainian immigrant to Canada whose name features in the declassified CIA files. Natalie Bundza, now 78, worked as a travel agent in 1950s’ Toronto and regularly led tourist groups to communist countries. She was a Ukrainian nationalist and anticommunist, but the CIA believed she was pretending to have these beliefs in order to infiltrate the Ukrainian expatriate community in Toronto. The American agency kept tabs on her and was able to compile a sizable file with information about Bundza’s friends and associates, her travel itineraries, and even the contents of her suitcases she took with her on international trips.

Author: Ian Allen | Date: 3 July 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/07/03/01-1728/

Panel to present findings on mysterious death of UN secretary general

Dag HammarskjöldA panel of experts commissioned by the United Nations is about to unveil fresh evidence on the mysterious death in 1961 of UN secretary general Dag Hammarskjöld, who some claim was murdered for supporting African decolonization. The evidence could spark a new official probe into the incident, which has been called “one of the enduring mysteries of the 20th century”.

On September 17, 1961, a Douglas DC-6 transport aircraft carrying United Nations Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld crashed in the British-administered territory of Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia). The crash killed everyone onboard. Three successive investigations into the crash, conducted by the Rhodesian Board of Investigation, the Rhodesian Commission of Inquiry, and the United Nations Commission of Investigation, viewed “pilot error” as the most likely cause of the tragedy. However, the latter probe, which was closed in 1962, opined that deliberate sabotage could not be ruled out as a likely cause of the tragedy.

Since that time, numerous scholars and independent investigators, such as Swedish development expert Göran Björkdahl and British academic Susan Williams, have raised the possibility that the plane carrying Secretary General Hammarskjöld may have been “shot down by an unidentified second plane”. Several commentators have also pointed to what seemed like eagerness by British colonial administrators in Northern Rhodesia to obscure the details of the incident. One argument is that Hammarskjöld, described as the most independent-minded secretary general in the history of the UN, had angered many world powers due to this fierce support for anti-colonial movements that were sweeping the African continent. Indeed, at the time of his death, Hammarskjöld was flying to the Congo’s mineral-rich Katanga region to meet European-supported chieftains who in 1960 had seceded from the Marxist government of Congolese Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba. Ironically, Lumumba had been assassinated in a Western-backed coup exactly eight months before Hammarskjöld’s own death.

In 2012, the independently funded Hammarskjöld Inquiry Trust appointed an international team of jurists to study all available evidence on the plane crash. The team, called the Hammarskjöld Commission, was composed of a diplomat and three judges from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, South Africa, and Sweden. The Commission reported in 2013 that “significant new evidence” had emerged, which suggested that American intelligence agencies, notably the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, held “crucial evidence” that could help clarify the causes of the crash.

The report by the Hammarskjöld Commission prompted the UN’s current Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, to appoint a UN-sponsored panel of experts to examine the new evidence and present it before the UN General Assembly. The three-member panel traveled to several countries, including Zambia, the US, Britain and Belgium, to access government, as well as private archives. Its report is expected to be delivered to the UN General Assembly this week. It is said to include written testimony by a Belgian pilot who says he shot down the plane carrying Hammarskjöld by error, while trying to divert it on orders by a government entity. Another witness, a former intelligence officer with the US National Security Agency, is believed to have told the UN experts that he listened to a recording of a pilot who said he shot down the UN Secretary General’s plane.

Once this new evidence is presented, the UN General Assembly will have to vote on whether the UN should hold an official probe into the plane crash. It would mark the first such inquiry since 1962.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 22 June 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/06/21/01-1719/

Judge orders release of key testimony from Rosenberg spy case

Julius and Ethel RosenbergA United States district judge has ordered the release of the last major piece of sealed evidence in one of the most important espionage cases of the Cold War. The case led to the execution in 1953 of an American couple, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of conspiring to spy for the Soviet Union. The Rosenbergs were arrested in 1950 for being members of a larger Soviet-handled spy ring, which included Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass. Greenglass later told a US court that he firmly believed the USSR should have access to nuclear technology and actively tried to give Moscow information on the Manhattan Project. Greenglass agreed to testify for the US government in order to save his life, as well as the life of his wife, Ruth, who was also involved in the spy ring. He subsequently fingered Julius Rosenberg as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets, and Ethel as the person who retyped the content of classified documents before they were surrendered to their handlers. This piece of testimony from Greenglass was used as the primary evidence to convict and execute the Rosenbergs.

However, although historians are confident that Julius Rosenberg was indeed an active member of the Soviet spy ring, there are doubts about Ethel. Many suggest that her involvement with her husband’s espionage activities was fragmentary at best, and that she refused to cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in an ill-judged attempt to protect her husband. The argument goes that Ethel was put to death as a warning to Moscow, as well as to intimidate other American spies, rather than on the basis of actual evidence of her involvement in espionage. Many years after the Rosenbergs’ execution, Greenglass claimed he had lied about Ethel’s role in the spy affair in order to protect his wife, who was the actual typist of the espionage ring.

The debate over Ethel Rosenberg’s fate will undoubtedly by rekindled by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein’s decision last week to unseal Greenglass’ testimony. The documents could not be made public while Greenglass was alive, because he objected to their release. But he died last year in a nursing home in New York, so his testimony can now legally be made available to the public. In making his decision known, Judge Hellerstein said Greenglass’ testimony was a “critical piece of an important moment in our nation’s history”. The United States government is legally permitted to block the release of the documents should it decide to do so. But when a White House spokesperson was asked about the subject by the Associated Press, she decline to comment.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 26 May 2015 | Permalink: http://intelnews.org/2015/05/26/01-1703/

Ex-Soviet spy living in America comes out 25 years after Cold War

Jack Barsky, real name Albrecht DittrichBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
An Eastern Bloc spy, who still lives in the United States after arriving there in 1978 on orders of the Soviet KGB, has spoken out for the first time. The spy assumed a forged American identity and remained operational for a decade before abandoning his post and quietly blending into American suburbia, toward the end of Cold War. He spoke last weekend to CBS’ flagship investigative program 60 Minutes. He told the program that he now lives in the US as Jack Barsky, an identity he assumed soon after arriving in New York with a forged Canadian passport.

But his real name is Albrecht Dittrich, and he was born in communist-era East Germany. He was a PhD student in chemistry when, in 1970, he was approached by the Stasi, the East German secret police, and asked whether he would consider training as an intelligence operative. He accepted and trained for three years under the supervision of the Soviet KGB. In 1973, he was taken to East Berlin and detailed to the KGB for training as an operations officer. He was later transferred to Moscow, where he underwent a full year of phonetics training and was taught to speak English with “no trace of a German accent”, he says.

Soon after arriving in the US, in 1978, he acquired a social security card using a birth certificate issued for Jack Philip Barsky, an American child who had died at the age of 10 in the Washington, DC, area. He told everyone that he was born in Orange, New Jersey. He eventually enrolled in a Manhattan college, where he studied computer systems. His first job out of college was as a computer programmer for Metropolitan Life Insurance, commonly known as MetLife. While there, he stole computer code for the KGB, including “a very prominent piece of industrial software still in use today”, which was “helpful to the Soviet Union”, he says. Barsky traveled back to East Germany often, using a series of false passports. During one of those visits, he married his longtime girlfriend and had a son with her. But he also married in the United States, and had two children with his wife, so as to better blend into American society. The two families knew nothing of each other’s existence.

Then, in 1988, the KGB informed Barsky that he was to return home immediately because of fears that the Federal Bureau of Investigation may be closing in on him. But the spy disobeyed orders; he decided to abandon his post and continue living in the US. He lived a comfortable life in rural Pennsylvania, until 1997, when the FBI began monitoring him. His name had been provided to the US government by Vasili Mitrokhin, a retired archivist for the KGB, who in 1992 defected to Britain, taking with him several suitcases of classified KGB material. The FBI purchased a house next to Barsky’s and eventually bugged his home. The former KGB spy was arrested in May 1997, but struck a deal with the FBI and was spared a jail sentence in return for sharing everything he knew about his training, mission and operations with the Bureau. Today he still lives in the US. He is divorced, but says his life is in America, not in Germany.

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