The Venona Files: Late 1990s

Re-reading Venona Files

More than a decade has passed since the release by the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) in 1995-1996 of the so-called “Venona documents” – Soviet World War II-period intelligence cables partially decrypted in the course of a code-breaking operation known as Venona. Begun in early 1943 and officially closed down only in 1980, the operation resulted in the partial decryption of about 3,000 cables, which together provided a glimpse into the activities of Soviet intelligence in the United States and also revealed a few hundred code names of agents, assets, contacts and targets of Soviet intelligence. Many of these code names were identified through U.S. counterintelligence efforts; however, many still remain unbroken. Since their release, the translations of Venona decryptions have become a valuable source for writers of the history of Soviet espionage in America, and many books and articles have been written based on their contents.

Despite the importance and authenticity of this historical source, its reading and interpretation is best undertaken with extreme caution. First, with all due respect for the outstanding work of the Venona translators, some of the English translations are not quite accurate to a Russian eye – particularly the re-translations of Russian translations from English. Second, some problems that are obvious to a Russian may have originated at the time a document was written, due to a combination of objective and subjective factors, such as an operative’s erroneous claim or judgment, or an attempt to enhance the perceived importance of his/her assets or achievements. Third, most, if not all, of the cables were decrypted only partially – with the result that, too often, a considerable part of a cable remained un-decrypted and its content hidden. And last but not least, the Soviet intelligence cables decrypted during the course of the Venona operation represented only a tiny portion of the overall World War II-period traffic, which totaled more than one million cables. Hence, there is a possibility that an exculpating cable, an alternative report, or an important clue could be lurking in the un-decrypted 99 percent or so of the overall traffic.

These considerations are exactly what we will be discussing in this section of the website, where we will be crosschecking the contents of some of the cables against other sources. This endeavor has been made possible by recent findings of documentation that fills some of the gaps left by the Venona operation. The process will be an ongoing one – as, with time, more gaps continue to be filled.

Click here to begin crosschecking the hotly debated story of Harry Dexter White, a prominent Keynesian economist and architect of the post-World War II “Bretton Woods” international financial system, who was accused of being a Soviet spy.

Read investigative biographies of the people behind the pseudonyms in the translations of Venona decryptions:

THE AMERICANS

THE RUSSIANS