Monday, January 30, 2012

Forster takes the conn

John Forster is the new Chief of CSE effective today.

His official bio is live at the CSE website.

According to that document, Forster is both "Deputy Head and Chief" of CSE.

Deputy Head? What the heck is that supposed to mean? I am not versed in the ways of these bureaucratic folk and their customs are strange to me. However, I do note that John Adams was never described as Deputy Head. He was an Associate Deputy Minister of National Defence. Is Deputy Head supposed to be the equivalent of that position -- or maybe even the equivalent of Deputy Minister -- now that CSE is a stand-alone agency?

And if Forster is Deputy Head, who, as Patrick McGoohan would say, is Number One?

Who is The Head?

The Minister? Is Peter MacKay now the Head of CSE?

I keep asking questions and no one ever answers them for me. It may have something to do with the fact that I chose to write a blog about people who are sworn to secrecy. Yes, that could be it.

But CSE does have a lone, overworked Media Relations Officer. I will ask him about this Deputy Head business and report back.

[Update 1 February 2012:

Adrian Simpson, CSE's Senior Communications Advisor, answered my questions:
With the establishment of CSEC as a stand-alone agency in November 2011, the Chief also became Deputy Head of CSEC. In relation to a stand-alone agency, Deputy Head means its chief executive officer. The Chief is the highest ranking official at CSEC. The Minister of National Defence is the Head of CSEC. The Chief reports directly to the Minister of National Defence, who in turn is accountable to Parliament for all matters relating to CSEC.
So there you have it. Peter MacKay is Number One, but the Chief still runs the place. Me, I'm not a number.

I also asked Mr. Simpson whether the MTAP building is occupied yet and whether it would ever get a real name. His reply:
CSEC's Mid-term Accommodation is fully occupied and has been since November 2011. With respect to a name, it is now essentially Phase 1 of the Long-term Accommodation project and will eventually be incorporated into that structure.
Thanks, Adrian!]

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Bad Canada! No treat!

Former Defence Minister Bill Graham repeats the story that Canada suffered a loss of U.S.-supplied intelligence following our failure to join the U.S. in its own great failure of intelligence (both institutional and presidential) in Iraq (Steven Chase, Colin Freeze & Oliver Moore,"Inside Trinity, the secretive Halifax facility where an alleged spy last worked," Globe and Mail, 27 January 2012):
Mr. Graham, who served in the role [of defence minister] from 2004 to 2006, explained that the time-honoured intelligence-sharing relationship among [the Five Eyes] was jeopardized once before – when Canada refused to join last decade’s U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

“We definitely paid a price. We definitely were shut out for about a year,” he said.
If the various extant accounts are accurate, the Iraq War was not the only time punishments have been meted out to Canada for insufficient ready-aye-readiness. In 2010, British intelligence historian Richard Aldrich revealed two previous incidents involving Canada. And UNDE... Well, we're not really sure what UNDE was on about, but it may have been referring to another two cut-offs.

But, really, this is all getting rather tiresome. Sure, Canada probably lost some access to Iraq-related intelligence as a result of not having any forces operating there. But – and I'm sure Bill Graham must have been well aware of this since he was the defence minister – we didn't have any forces operating there. So big deal.

The U.S. and the other members of the UKUSA community share intelligence because it is in their interests to do so. Canada benefits from that sharing, but so do the U.S. and the other members. That's why they do it.

Policy disputes arise among the members from time to time. The U.S. was extremely annoyed with the U.K. in 1956 (as was the U.K. with the U.S.). But the intelligence relationship went on, because both countries believed that it was in their interest to continue it.

The U.S. was highly incensed with New Zealand in the 1980s. But, as Nicky Hager has documented, even in the case of that very unequal intelligence-sharing relationship, only very minor cuts were made to the intelligence supply: the fundamental SIGINT relationship went on.

The U.S. from time to time threatens (and evidently to some limited extent occasionally engages in) intelligence cut-offs not because it has decided that its overall intelligence-sharing relationships no longer serve its interests but because it understands that credulous political leaders may fall for such threats and thus modify their policies to make them more to the U.S.'s liking.

We owe it to ourselves not to be too credulous in this respect.

And we also need to remember that, in the final analysis, we seek intelligence in order to advance our foreign, defence, and domestic security policies; our foreign, defence, and domestic security policies do not exist to advance our intelligence-sharing arrangements. If the cost of maintaining access to certain Iraq-related intelligence was sending Canadian troops to Iraq, then the government made the right decision when it chose not to pay that cost.

The ironic thing in this particular example, of course, is that the Chretien government was quite willing to go to Iraq. It had provided contingency funds in the Estimates to pay for the operation. The "compromise" it promoted at the UN Security Council amounted to nothing more than a slight delay in the timeline of the war – giving Saddam more time to prove a negative was never going to make the impossible possible. In the end, the government's insistence on a second UN resolution saved it from going to war in Iraq, but it might just as easily have trapped it into taking that foolish step.

And – another irony of intelligence-sharing among countries that occasionally differ on matters of policy – at the same time as Canada was promoting its "compromise" at the Security Council, the NSA was mounting a surge in UN coverage aimed ultimately at influencing the Security Council to vote in favour of the U.S. position. The UKUSA allies had been asked to help the NSA effort, and it's hard to imagine that they didn't. Was CSE involved? If so, exactly which country's policies was it advancing?

This is the kind of conundrum that is going to keep on coming up. If you're going to participate in intelligence-sharing, you're going to end up sometimes advancing policies you don't agree with. The standard calculation that Ottawa makes is that despite such disagreements, on the whole the intelligence-sharing serves Canada's interests.

Which is the same calculation that Washington makes with respect to U.S. interests.

Which is why even though we sometimes differ on policy, and although symbolic cut-offs may occur from time to time, the broad intelligence-sharing relationship continues.

If either government ever decided that the two countries' interests and policies had diverged so greatly as to call into question their status as allies and partners, then we could expect intelligence-sharing to end. But that possibility remains inconceivable in either capital.

Until then, apocalyptic claims of imminent intelligence cut-offs resulting from the spy scandal or policy disagreement du jour should be met with a collective roll of all five eyes.

Friday, January 27, 2012


As the Gouzenko revelations, the allegations in the headlines of today, and innumerable incidents in between demonstrate, the Russians love to spy. But does that love of the excitement, intrigue, and duplicity of traditional spycraft blind them to the value of open source intelligence? And did it blind them in the past?

Few Canadians had heard of the Communications Branch of the National Research Council in the late 1940s and 1950s, and even fewer knew anything about it. But the Soviet intelligence services knew of it, maybe through Canadian sources and certainly through their agents in the U.S. and the U.K.

And with nothing more than knowledge of its name, the Soviets could have learned a great deal about CBNRC through open sources – assuming they were smart enough to check them out.

Let’s see what we (and they) could have learned using just the information available to someone in the public library in 1955.

NRC Review

The first place we’ll check is the NRC’s annual public report, the 1955 edition of the National Research Council Review. Ah, this is promising: there’s a list (pp. 247-267) of the top 550 or so NRC employees by name, NRC division or section, and job class.

Sadly, however, the Communications Branch doesn’t appear anywhere in the annual report. It’s treated as if it doesn’t exist at all.

So we move on.

Public Accounts of Canada

Next we check the 1954-55 Public Accounts of Canada, the annual official record of federal government spending.

Now, this is interesting: there’s a list (pp. P-10 to P-13) of the 380 or so NRC employees who earn $5000 or more a year.

Maybe the NRC Review will come in handy after all. Let’s compare the lists.

It takes quite a while to cross all of the names in the NRC Review off the list in the Public Accounts (believe me, I’ve done it), but, hmmm, the results are quite interesting: roughly 35 of NRC’s top-earning employees don’t appear anywhere in the NRC annual report.

Some of this discrepancy can be put down to new arrivals who don’t make it onto the annual report list, some to departures during the year, and some perhaps to clerical errors. But a check of earlier reports shows that most of the names, some 25 of them, never appear in the annual reports.

So who are these people? Let’s have a look at their names:
Browness G A
Carson W S
Chramtchenko M
Colls T G S
Denning C E
Diditch S J
Dornan J E
Drake E M
Ensell G
Featonby J
Handforth R E
Hellyer C N
Hepburn S K
Johnston P A E
Jury J M H
MacAskill R
MacKiddie C G
Maillet R J
McLaren R S
Odin J P
Oliver M S R
O'Neill N K
Thomson G S
Trowbridge W J
Wilkins T J
The Public Accounts list provides the annual salaries of these people. Salary is normally a pretty good indication of rank, so let’s sort the names by income:
Drake E M [$10.5 k]
O'Neill N K [$8.2 k]
MacAskill R [$7 k]
Diditch S J [$6.56 k]
Colls T G S [$6.4 k]
Hellyer C N [$6.36 k]
Trowbridge W J [$6.32 k]
Denning C E [$6.08 k]
Dornan J E [$6.08 k]
McLaren R S [$5.97 k]
Oliver M S R [$5.97 k]
Ensell G [$5.75 k]
Browness G A [$5.72 k]
Featonby J [$5.55 k]
MacKiddie C G [$5.55 k]
Maillet R J [$5.35 k]
Thomson G S [$5.35 k]
Wilkins T J [$5.35 k]
Hepburn S K [$5.33 k]
Chramtchenko M [$5.23 k]
Odin J P [$5.23 k]
Carson W S [$5.15 k]
Handforth R E [$5.15 k]
Johnston P A E [$5.15 k]
Jury J M H [$5.11 k]
By this point my more loyal readers (assuming I have any) will probably have recognized some of these names. There may be one or two mistaken identifications, but aside from those few cases they are all CBNRC employees. Here is the first part of the second list again, with a few annotations added:
Drake E M [$10.5 k] = Ed Drake, CBNRC Director
O'Neill N K [$8.2 k] = Kevin O’Neill, Co-ordinator Production
MacAskill R [$7 k] = Rod MacAskill, Co-ordinator Administration
Diditch S J [$6.56 k] = Steve Diditch, Head Reporting
Colls T G S [$6.4 k] = Tom Colls, Head O Group
Hellyer C N [$6.36 k] = Chuck Hellyer, Head IBM Group
Trowbridge W J [$6.32 k] = Bill Trowbridge, Head T&D Group
Denning C E [$6.08 k] = Cecil Ernest Denning, Head R&D Group
Dornan J E [$6.08 k] = Jack Dornan, Head P Group
McLaren R S [$5.97 k] = Robert McLaren, Head ? Group, former liaison officer to AFSA/NSA
Oliver M S R [$5.97 k] = Mary Oliver, Head Administrative Services
By subtracting one list from the other we have managed to recover the entire top echelon of the CBNRC! (The additional information about their specific jobs, of course, is not revealed.)

We have also identified roughly 6% of CBNRC’s entire staff at that time (albeit with a few possible mistakes), and by examining the distribution of salaries we can even develop a crude sense of the agency’s upper rank structure. Repeating the process using earlier editions of the NRC Review and the Public Accounts going back as far as 1946, we can increase the list of known staff members to more than 50, accounting for more than half of the agency’s staff during its earliest years (and, of course, all of its more senior staff).

Peter Dwyer

One of the names appearing on the earlier lists is P. Dwyer. Although unknown to the average Canadian at the time, this is a name very well known to Moscow: Peter Dwyer was the MI6 liaison officer in Washington prior to Kim Philby’s appointment to the job in late 1949. Philby knew Dwyer well, and he knew that when Dwyer left Washington it was to take a job with the Canadian government in Ottawa. He may even have known that Dwyer’s new job was to be Head of Reporting at CBNRC. Dwyer stayed at CBNRC for only two years, moving from there to the Privy Council Office and eventually to the Canada Council. But for those two years his name appears on our OSINT lists.

Thus, if the Soviets are doing OSINT at this time, Dwyer's name (and possibly others they might recognize through intelligence sources) confirms for them that they are indeed looking at a list of considerable interest.

The Estimates

A look at the government's spending estimates also reveals some interesting information. The 1955-56 Estimates show that NRC had 2198 "Full Time Positions" as of 31 March 1955, whereas the 1954-55 Estimates had shown 2618 "Full Time Positions" as of the same date. What happened to 420 NRC employees? Comparison of the numbers shows that the missing employees have been retroactively transferred (for accounting purposes) to a catch-all category called “Casuals and Others”.

The figures provided in the Estimates enable us to further break down the 420 positions by job category:
Scientific & Executive
1 Director
2 Senior Research Officers
6 Associate Research Officers
80 Assistant Research Officers
38 Junior Research Officers
[Sub-total: 127]

Service Staff
2 Principal Clerks
3 Clerks, Grade 4
26 Clerks, Grade 3
51 Clerks, Grade 2B
40 Clerks, Grade 2A
[Sub-total: 122]

Technical Staff
1 Technical Officer, Grade 3
9 Technical Officers, Grade 2
43 Technical Officers, Grade 1
82 Senior Laboratory Assistants
36 Laboratory Assistants
[Sub-total: 171]

TOTAL: 420
It is immediately obvious that this is no random group of summer interns or other casual employees; it is clearly a coherent organization with its own internal structure. It is CBNRC. The entire organization.

We can speculate as to why the accounting change was made. CBNRC was undergoing substantial growth during the 1950s, and this had the effect of making NRC’s overall staff numbers grow in a way that almost certainly became increasingly difficult for NRC officials to explain and justify to members of parliament and the public. The change was probably intended to obscure the extent of this growth and thus deflect embarrassing questions.

That it also reveals a detailed snapshot of the CBNRC’s staffing and organization as of 31 March 1955 is presumably an unintended side effect.

Liaison officers

That's not all we can find. The same documents that record employee salaries also record the amounts of travel and representation allowances paid to employees. By comparing this data to the public lists of Canadian diplomats posted abroad, it is possible to determine that CBNRC began sending representatives to London and Washington earlier in the 1950s. In the mid-1950s, CBNRC’s representative at GCHQ is J.A. [Joe] Gibson and its representative at NSA is H.M. [Howie] Harris.

Department of Public Works annual report

There is also some information available about the location of the CBNRC’s offices. In an extremely rare public mention of the agency’s name, the 1950 annual report of the Department of Public Works reports that "extensive alterations and improvements" have been done to the Rideau Military Hospital "to provide accommodation for the Communications Branch and Radio-Electrical Engineering Division" of NRC. A quick check with the Radio Electrical Engineering Division, which makes no secret about its location, confirms that it remains at the NRC’s Montreal Road campus, but CBNRC is another matter. No one is willing to comment on that. However, a simple drive past the compound would confirm that the former military hospital (and former convent before that) is now a high-security site, with a guardhouse to control entry at the gate and a fence topped with barbed wire surrounding the grounds. Our OSINT analyst would also be able to see that the size of the building is about right for an organization of some 400-500 people.

OSINT overview

To sum up, during the 1950s, an OSINT analyst starting with nothing more than the name of the CBNRC and a general sense of what to look for could have determined the size of CBNRC’s staff in 1955, the location of its office building, and the names and salaries of more than 50 of its employees, including its entire top echelon. The analyst could also have developed a crude picture of the organization’s structure and determined both the fact that CBNRC had liaison officers in the U.S. and the U.K. and the names of those liaison officers.

In addition, by watching the progression of individual salaries over time it would have been possible to identify whose careers were on the fast track, whose careers were stagnating, and who had just left the agency for some reason.

Such information would have been of tremendous use to the Soviets at the time, both in assessing CBNRC’s capabilities and in identifying CBNRC employees to target for surveillance or potential recruitment. Occasional surveillance of the building would have enabled them to keep track of the size of CBNRC’s staff and also to identify many of its lower-paid employees, who would not have appeared in the Public Accounts lists.

OSINT concerns

The Canadian government was concerned about the dangers of open-source information during the 1950s.

According to Mark Kristmanson,
In October 1952, the Globe and Mail disclosed that for five dollars any foreign intelligence agency could obtain the Canada Air Pilot and discover the location of every Canadian airfield, including the secret ones in the North.... [Peter] Dwyer [who was by then with the Privy Council] soon received a report from the Department of Mines and Technical Surveys that a suspicious-looking man with a Russian accent had attempted to purchase the said publication. The man was Mr. Ogorodnikov, the Ottawa representative of Tass, the official Soviet news agency. Half a century later the incident seems comical, but it prompted serious discussions about restricting public access to open-source information. Air Intelligence Chief Edwards thought it ‘one of those problems peculiar to our democratic way of life’. George Glazebrook advocated a principle of step-to-step reciprocation with the Soviets. RCMP counter-intelligence officer Terry Guernsey allowed that other Russian attempts to purchase the Air Pilot had been monitored and he suggested the whole question of open sources be put up to the Security Panel. Reading these responses, Dwyer... recommended better measures to enhance feedback when Soviet agents attempted to acquire public documents. (Mark Kristmanson, Plateaus of Freedom: Nationality, Culture and State Security in Canada, 1940-1960, University of Toronto Press, 2003, p. 119)
Public documents such as the Public Accounts, the Estimates, and departmental annual reports could not be withheld from the public, however. They could be found in any major public library. The only protection against the loss of information through documents such as those would have been to prevent it from appearing in them in the first place.

It is not clear whether the government ever realized the extent of the information that it was leaking about CBNRC. Some of the information provided was deliberately obscure. Some information, such as most budget data, was successfully hidden. But there is no sign that the government ever made a serious attempt to prevent the kind of information described in this post from appearing. The Public Accounts continued to list public servant salaries until 1964, when, ironically, privacy concerns rather than security concerns finally brought an end to the practice. (It is perhaps worth remembering that lower privacy doesn't always mean greater security.)

Another question remains: Did the Soviets ever conduct OSINT collection on CBNRC? Did they ever take advantage of this excellent source of information? Perhaps they had such good clandestine sources of information about the organization that they had no need to waste time compiling open-source information. There is no public information that suggests they ever had a spy within CBNRC, however. Perhaps they were so in thrall to the supposed romance of espionage that they never bothered to pursue the open sources available.

Or maybe they collected it all, and more. We just don't know.

Unfortunately, this question is one that open sources can't answer.

Thursday, January 26, 2012


Murray Brewster reports that the UKUSA community is concerned about the alleged Russian spy who worked in the TRINITY Joint Ocean Surveillance and Intelligence Centre ("Expert: Spy case worries military," Canadian Press, 26 January 2012):
...a defence source said "consternation and choice words" have been directed at Russia through the back channels of nations involved in signals intelligence co-operation under the United Kingdom — United States of America Agreement, a 65-year-old pact that counts Britain, the U.S., Canada, Australia, and New Zealand among its members.
I picture the dialogue going something like this:

"We're shocked -- shocked! -- to find spying going on in this relationship!"

"Your intercepts, sir."

"Thank you."

Some might argue that those who live in glass houses shouldn't throw fake rocks. But that would be churlish.

For the reoord, I do not approve in any way of Canadians, in uniform or otherwise, who provide our secrets to foreign powers.

Brewster goes on to say the following about CSE:
The focus on computers raises the spectre that the highly secret Canadian [sic] Security Establishment could be at risk. That agency, which operates at arms-length from the military and the country’s spy service, provides electronic eavesdropping and communications intercepts to the federal government and allies under the UKUSA agreement.
It's not clear to me what Brewster means when he writes that CSE "could be at risk". SIGINT product may have been provided to the Russians? Sources and methods may have been put at risk? The effort to rebrand the Communications Security Establishment as the Communications Security Establishment Canada has been an epic fail?

As usual, we await answers.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Williams is DG Military SIGINT

Old news, but for the sake of keeping the record straight: Brigadier-General (AWSE) Robert S. Williams replaced Brigadier-General (AWSE) John L. Turnbull as Director General Military SIGINT last July. Williams was previously Director of Geospatial Intelligence (DGEOINT) and Intelligence Branch Advisor. His full bio can be found here.

BGen Turnbull and his predecessors were described as DG Military SIGINT at CSE, implying a formal position in the agency's hierarchy; Williams is described as DG Military SIGINT at NDHQ. Does this mean a change in the nature of the position? I don't know.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

John Forster to be next Chief

Prime Minister Harper announced today that the next Chief of CSE will be John Forster, currently the Associate Deputy Minister of Infrastructure. (Official bio here.)

Forster will become Chief on January 30th, replacing John L. Adams, who has held the job for six and a half years. Adams, who is 70 this year, "becomes Senior Advisor to the Privy Council Office and is named as Skelton-Clark Fellow to the Queen’s University School of Policy Studies, effective January 30, 2012."

Forster will be the 8th Chief of CSE/Director of CBNRC, and the 4th in the still relatively new tradition of appointing Chiefs from outside the agency:
  • Edward M. Drake (1946 - 1971)
  • N. Kevin O'Neill (1971 - 1980)
  • Peter R. Hunt (1980 - 1989)
  • A. Stewart Woolner (1989 - 1999)
  • D. Ian Glen (1999 - 2001)
  • Keith Coulter (2001 - 2005)
  • John L. Adams (2005 - 2012)
  • John Forster (2012 - )

[Update 13 January 2012:

Media coverage of the appointment:

Robert Sibley, "Longtime bureaucrat takes helm of top-secret intelligence unit," Ottawa Citizen, 13 January 2012

I don't know where Sibley got the idea that CSE has only 500 employees. The number hasn't been that low for over half a century, since ca. 1959 to be precise. Also, as noted above, bringing in a Chief from outside the agency is hardly a brand new idea. I'm sure it has its pros and its cons, but on the whole I suspect it's a good approach.]

December 2011 CSE staff size


(If you click through on the link and get a different figure, it's probably because the Canada Public Service Agency has updated its website; they update the numbers once a month.)

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Gouzenko and the Soviet target

The defection of Igor Gouzenko on September 5th, 1945 was one of the key events in the outbreak of the Cold War. Gouzenko, who was a GRU (Soviet military intelligence) cipher clerk at the Soviet embassy in Ottawa, brought with him evidence of massive Soviet spying in Canada, including penetration into the Manhattan Project, the U.S. effort to build the atomic bomb. (More on Gouzenko here.)

Gouzenko’s revelations, which were quickly shared with the U.S. and British governments, sent shock waves through all three capitals.

But not because any of these governments found the idea of allies spying on allies inconceivable. The U.S. had been intercepting Soviet communications traffic and attempting to break into Soviet diplomatic codes since 1943. And the United States and Britain had agreed on August 15th, 1945, three weeks before Gouzenko’s defection, to extend their highly successful wartime SIGINT partnership into the post-war era, with the target of their cooperation being Soviet communications.

Thus, when Gouzenko defected, his knowledge of Soviet cryptographic procedures and techniques was also of great interest to the Western allies.

The extent to which that knowledge was of assistance to Western SIGINT efforts, including the now-famous VENONA code break into KGB, GRU, and Soviet diplomatic communications, remains largely hidden, but there has been some discussion of Gouzenko’s contribution in declassified documents.

The VENONA effort began in the U.S. in 1943, but it took a number of years before texts could be even partially read, and even in 1980, when the project was closed down, many gaps still remained.

An unclassified official history of the VENONA project (Robert L. Benson, The VENONA Story, National Security Agency: Center for Cryptologic History, 2001) reports that Gouzenko made no direct contribution to the project:
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. (p. 44.)
However, NSA’s top-secret history of Cold War cryptology, released to the public in redacted form, is a little less unequivocal (Thomas R. Johnson, American Cryptology during the Cold War, 1945-1989: Book I: The Struggle for Centralization, 1945-1960, National Security Agency: Center for Cryptologic History, 1995, Top Secret Umbra, released in redacted form):
...after World War II several outside factors speeded the tortuously slow process of additive key diagnosis and recovery and bookbreaking. The first was the defection of a Soviet GRU cipher clerk, Igor Gouzenko, from the Soviet Embassy in Ottawa, in September 1945.... Because Gouzenko worked with communications, Frank Rowlett of ASA was invited to interrogate him. During his sessions Rowlett learned much about the way the KGB codebooks were put together and how the additives were used. This information cut time off ASA’s cryptanalysis effort. (p. 161)
Robert Louis Benson and Cecil J. Phillips’ History of Venona (National Security Agency: Center for Cryptologic History, 1995, Top Secret Umbra, released in redacted form) seems to have been Johnson’s primary source on Gouzenko. The History of Venona provides considerable detail about the information provided by Gouzenko and is worth citing at length:
Lieutenant Colonel Frank B. Rowlett departed Washington, in civilian clothes, on 25 September 1945, to question Lt. Igor Gouzenko, the GRU code clerk who had defected....

Frank Rowlett spent several days questioning Gouzenko, codenamed “Corby”, and the following paragraphs are based on his “Special Report on Bourbon Cryptography: Report on Interrogation of Corby”, dated 15 October 1945. [Bourbon was the codeword for the U.S.-British effort against Soviet communications at that time.]


Rowlett drove to an isolated, lakeside summer cabin some 90 miles from Ottawa where Gouzenko was under guard. The Rowlett party included Professor Gilbert Robinson, a wartime Canadian Sigint officer, Inspector Leopold of the RCMP and a driver. (Robinson had conducted the preliminary questioning of Gouzenko on cryptologic matters – Gouzenko had given names of spies and supporting papers to the Secret Service [sic; U.K. Security Service?], RCMP and FBI.)

Rowlett learned that Russian cryptography, in the external affairs area, could be divided into two types:
  • Systems used by Russian establishments abroad in communication with Moscow. These systems were entirely by encipherment of a code by a one-time additive.

  • Emergency or illicit systems which used a substitution alphabet based on one and two-digit equivalents for the Cyrillic alphabet, which would then be enciphered by one-time key generated from a book or other publication readily accessible to both Moscow and the communicant in the field, i.e., both Moscow and the field had to have the same book, same edition.
Gouzenko explained Russian crypto-security doctrine and procedures, and the day to day work of a GRU code clerk. All code clerks were approved and trained by the KGB. Every Russian official authorized to sign messages—the GRU Resident/Military or Naval Attache, the Trade Representative, the Ambassador or Consul—had a code clerk assigned to him who would prepare the messages. These clerks were responsible to the KGB for security and procedures—the officials who drafted the messages could not keep file copies of the original texts of the messages they were releasing. In the case of the GRU Resident in Ottawa, he would bring his notes into the office of the code clerk, and in the presence of the code clerk write out a message. The code clerk, after the drafter had left the office, would encode the message and then take it to the mission’s communications officer who would give it an external serial number and take it to the commercial cable company for transmission to Moscow (the Russian establishment in Ottawa did not at that time have its own communications facilities).

The Russian text of a GRU message would be encoded by a four-digit, one-part code, that is, the codebook was arranged in strict alphabetic order. When an item had to be put in the message for which no equivalent appeared in the code book, it was spelled out by means of a Cyrillic or Roman substitution alphabet which was issued as a supplementary chart to the code. When this chart was to be used the four-digit group 7810 would be entered, meaning “begin spell” and the end of the spelling would use a special two-digit group, 91, to mean end of the spelling.

The GRU code text would then be enciphered by a one-time pad. All pads, for every agency of the Soviet government, were manufactured by the KGB. The pads had either 35 or 50 pages each and each page would contain ten lines of five 5-digit groups, for a total of 50 groups or 250 digits per page of pad. Each page or sheet of the pad had a two digit number in the upper left hand corner ranging from 01 to 35 or 50 depending on the number of pages in the pad. These pads were carefully packaged and controlled. When the message reached Moscow, a senior officer would determine the addressee and pass it to the appropriate code clerk. Gouzenko reported, curiously, that copies of these GRU messages would go directly to the KGB for analysis (perhaps he meant, also to the KGB). Gouzenko described for Rowlett, at some length, the emergency or illicit systems.

Gouzenko believed that the KGB, in producing all one time pads for the government, mechanically generated them using an apparatus, “which selects numbers purportedly at random by a device using small balls in some fashion. This apparatus was credited to the British originally, but certain improvements were made by the (KGB) cryptographers when it was adopted by them. No further information regarding pad generation is available.”


A small team in Bill Smith’s Russian unit consisting of Mrs. Genevieve Feinstein, Miss Mary Jo Dunning and Mr. Burton Phillips immediately began a study of the Rowlett report in context of the traffic on hand. It is maddening for the non-cryptanalyst to try to understand, but then to realize, that even with such a source as Gouzenko, who brought out plaintext of some of the GRU encrypted messages and explained the system in great and accurate detail, the traffic remained unbreakable. Gouzenko’s background information on the Russian systems was certainly very important and helpful—but with it Arlington Hall could not read any traffic and could at best only add some words to book breaking vocabulary of the GRU code book. But the code book would not do anything unless the cipher additive, from the one time pads, could be identified and stripped off to reveal the underlying code groups. Gouzenko had no pads, and if he had it would only have given an opening into the message(s) enciphered by that particular pad. Gouzenko’s most enduring contribution to Venona was to put the cryptanalyst into the office of a Russian code clerk, giving us an understanding of how he worked, and what his systems looked like and how they were used. (pp. 61-64)
It is likely that Gouzenko’s information on Soviet cryptologic techniques and doctrine was useful to more than just the VENONA effort. His information on emergency/illicit communications procedures, for example, was probably of great use in counter-intelligence investigations and may have contributed to the decipherment of some messages.

Based on these reports, it does not appear that his information made much direct contribution to the VENONA project. His contribution to the book-breaking element of the project was, as noted in the official histories, probably of some value, however. Gouzenko did not bring a GRU code book with him when he defected, but he would certainly have known the code groups for many of the most commonly used words in the book. This information, and the information that the GRU book was a one-part (alphabetical) code, would probably have been of considerable help to the book-breakers when they began the job of recovering the meanings of the code groups in the GRU code book.

It seems possible (at least to me) that Gouzenko’s information on the Soviet spell/endspell procedure was also helpful. Meredith Gardner’s exploitation of spell/endspell sequences led in December 1946 to one of the key early breaks in the VENONA project when he uncovered the names of Manhattan Project scientists in a KGB message. Presumably most, if not all, such codes have some sort of spell/endspell capability, so Gardner would almost certainly have made the break regardless. But it may be that Gouzenko’s information eased the process somewhat.

[Update 1 February 2012:

According to John Bryden's book Best-Kept Secret: Canadian Secret Intelligence in the Second World War (Lester Publishing, 1993, p. 277) "Mackenzie King did report in his diary that Gouzenko was believed to have taken a code book." If the NSA histories are correct, however, Gouzenko did not bring a code book with him.]