Part II: Selected Venona Messages

Part II: Selected Venona Messages

A Note on the Translations and List of Messages

The release of Venona translations involved careful consideration of the privacy interests of individuals mentioned, referenced, or identified in these documents. In very few cases, names have not been released because doing so would constitute an invasion of privacy.

In some of the Venona translations, the analytic footnotes indicated that the person referred to by covername had not been identified. Another--usually later--message may have footnoted that same covername with an identification. For example, in some early message translations, the covernames MER and ALBERT were footnoted as unidentified, but analysts subsequently determined (as footnoted in later translations of other messages) that the person in question was Iskhak A. Akhmerov, the KGB's chief illegal officer in the United States. Unfortunately for readers, the KGB occasionally re-used covernames; consequently, a single covername can designate two different persons. Even so, readers often can determine from context or geographic location which person is being referred to.

Finally, the Venona messages are replete with specialized Soviet intelligence terminology. The following are definitions of some of the more common terms and phrases.

The Russian word klichka (sobriquet or nickname) appears in the Venona translations as "covername." There are hundreds of covernames in the translations, including many seen in the messages included in this volume, such as ALBERT, LIBERAL, and ALES. Covernames designated Soviet officers, active or retired assets, valued contacts, and sometimes even prominent figures (such as CAPTAIN for President Roosevelt) and were periodically changed. Assets and contacts, however, rarely knew their covernames, which were to be used primarily in cable traffic. To complicate matters further, a Soviet intelligence officer like illegal rezident Iskhak Akhmerov typically had a covername (MER, and later ALBERT), aliases he used in his cover identity (William Grienke and Michael Green, among others), and "street names" he used in the company of assets and contacts ("Bill").

Fellow countrymen were members of the local Communist Party.

An illegal was a KGB or GRU officer, often a Soviet citizen, working abroad under alias with neither diplomatic cover nor visible connections to legal Soviet establishments. An individual illegal's cover story was his or her legend. Iskhak Akhmerov was the KGB's principal illegal in the United States before 1946 and thus was regarded as the illegal rezident. He apparently was succeeded in this role by Rudolf Abel. Several KGB and GRU illegals were shown in Venona messages to be operating in the United States, Mexico, and other countries. Although some Soviet illegals later used radios for direct clandestine communication with Moscow, illegals in the United States during World War II generally transmitted and received messages through Soviet diplomatic missions.

A leader (or group leader) was a KGB officer or an experienced local agent who handled and supervised a network or sub-network of assets. Such an officer might have either worked for an official Soviet entity or operated as an illegal. Venona messages showed that such agents as Jacob Golos and Sergei Kurnakov, while not themselves KGB officers, were nonetheless given significant responsibilities for certain networks. In many cases where the KGB gained control of older Comintern or GRU networks, the existing leader was left in charge for months or even years.

A line was a grouping of KGB officers by operational tasks. Some of these entities seen in Venona communications were the Second Line (which focused on ethnic groups of interest to Moscow, such as Ukrainians or Latvians); the Fifth Line (responsible for the security of the Soviet merchant fleet and its personnel); the White Line (concerned with White Russian emigres); and the Economic Line (a scientific and technical sub-residency, headed by Leonid Kvasnikov, in the New York consulate).

The KGB and the GRU referred to one another as the neighbors. In KGB parlance, Near Neighbors meant the GRU-Naval auxiliary, while the GRU proper was referred to as Far Neighbors.

Probationers was the cover term for KGB agents. The term--which apparently fell out of usage after the 1940s--was sometimes applied to KGB officers who were temporarily not attached to a diplomatic mission and hence were being run as agents.

To put on ice (sometimes rendered in cold storage) meant to suspend use of an agent.

The rezidentwas the KGB chief at a particular location; his station was called a residency (rezidentura). The New York residency supported a sub-residency, under Leonid R. Kvasnikov, to collect scientific and technological secrets.

A worker (sometimes referred to as a cadre) was the KGB's usual term for its own officers working in a diplomatic or official Soviet establishment such as the TASS press agency or the Amtorg trading company.


Access to the Venona Translations

All the Venona translations--roughly 2,900 KGB, GRU, and GRU-Naval messages--are being released to the public. Paper copies have been sent to the National Archives and Records Administration at College Park, Maryland, and to various federal repositories (typically at large state universities). The National Cryptologic Museum, adjacent to NSA headquarters at Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland, also has a complete set of the translations. Each release of the Venona translations in 1995 and 1996 was accompanied by an original explanatory monograph authored by Robert Louis Benson, co-editor of this volume. The translations and monographs can also be found on the Internet's World Wide Web, NSA's Homepage, at\. This conference volume can be found on the World Wide Web, CIA's Center for the Study of Intelligence Homepage.


NOTE TO VIEWERS: The following pages were scanned as graphics.

Translations included: (1) (Each graphic is approximately 50KB)



(1) All cables are KGB messages unless otherwise noted.

Historical Document
Posted: Mar 19, 2007 11:31 AM
Last Updated: Jul 07, 2008 02:23 PM