A Cryptologic Veteran’s Analysis of Body of Secrets

Reviewed by George McGinnis

When the author James Bamford published his book The Puzzle Palace in 1982. I was not personally enamored with it. For reasons that are not altogether clear, LTGEN Hayden, USAF, DIRNSA, invited Mr. Bamford to spend time at NSA where he obtained some of the material for this book.

He also obtained material from the Eisenhower Presidential Library, from many individuals who are identified in the text, and from numerous other identified and unidentified sources. There are 81 pages of notes identified by book chapter to which they pertain. These notes contain a plethora of information. How and where some of the material was obtained will probably always remain a mystery; however, the notes mentioned above contain some explanations.

I am agreeably impressed with this new book. Mr. Bamford has produced a readable text which is probably as factual as it is possible for a non-cleared person to produce. Former NSA employees will, without question, raise their eyebrows at some of the material in the book. The sub-title of the book is: “Anatomy of the ultra-secret National Security Agency from the cold war through the dawn of the new century.” The book certainly hews to this thesis, and more.

Beginning in World War I with the nascent United States involvement in cryptology, followed by the Yardley Black Chamber, the book rapidly progresses into the beginnings of the Army involvement in cryptology after Secretary of State Stimson closed the Yardley Black Chamber. Mr. William Friedman, who headed the Army’s Signal Intelligence Service since 1929, in 1930 hired three mathematician assistants, Mr. Frank Rowlett, Mr. Solomon Kullback, and Mr. Abraham Sinkov. (According to Mr. Rowlett in his book The Story of Magic, it was called Signal Intelligence Section. The Section was part of the Army Signal Corps, and the immediate boss was actually Major Crawford, USA, who reported directly to the Chief Signal Officer). The four individuals functioned in a small secure space in the third wing of the old Munitions Building on Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C. until the beginning of WW II.

Successful World War II reading of the Enigma German system is covered with mention of Paul Whitaker, Selmer S. Norland, and Arthur Levinson representing the U. S. Army and Howard Campaigne representing the U.S. Navy at the British COMINT organization located at Bletchley Park.

The termination period of World War II contains a very interesting discussion of the efforts of the TICOM teams which included the above mentioned individuals and others. These teams scoured Germany for knowledgeable German cryptologists. This effort produced a gold mine of individuals and equipment, making it possible to read some of the enciphered Russian material. This TICOM discussion is one of the highlights of the book because most of this material has not been openly presented previously.

The formation of AFSA, and later NSA, and their difficulties with the military services is covered. The Korean war caught AFSA unprepared and was one of the reasons for the formation of NSA.

The Cuban Missile Crisis produced an impressive performance by NSA and by its collection facilities. The SIGINT collection ships such as USS OXFORD and USS MULLER are examples. The Soviet build-up in Cuba was followed by a crisis at NSA when two analysts—Martin and Mitchell—defected to Russia. This is given as one of the reasons for the replacement of the Director, VADM Frost, USN, by LTGEN Gordon Blake, USAF.

A number of the field collection stations are mentioned, such as: Vint Hills Farms, Alice Springs, Todendorf, Kami Seya, and Karamursel. There is an error involving Karamursel claiming a CDAA was sited there. There is also an error involving Kami Seya. The text indicates that station was in existence prior to and immediately after the start of the Korean war. The station was not placed in operation until November, 1952. There is a review of intercept facilities world-wide and the mobile platforms such as USS VALDEZ, USS LIBERTY, USS JAMESTOWN, USS GEORGETOWN, USS BELMONT, USS PUEBLO, USS BANNER, and USS PALM BEACH are included.

With a critical eye, I read the portion depicting the Israeli attack on USS LIBERTY. Far more integrated material than has appeared in print previously, including heavy White House involvement, is shown. The Israeli's claimed the ship was not flying the American flag, a point disputed by the Captain and crew. The book, on page 231, presents the startling evidence of an EC-121 SIGINT aircraft that was flying above the incident and which possibly recorded evidence of the American flag being seen by the Israelis. The American and Israeli claims and reparation dollar amounts paid by the country of Israel to individuals and to the U.S. government are indicated. The disgraceful manner in which USS LIBERTY skipper Captain William L. McGonagle, USN, was awarded his Medal of Honor is portrayed. I consider that the book gives a sympathetic recitation of the USS LIBERTY incident and expect that USS LIBERTY survivors will welcome the words.

The Walker affair is mentioned including some conclusions about the overall severity of his actions.

The beginnings of the Vietnam war with the attack on USS MADDOX have suggestions of White House and JCS duplicity. The sophisticated airborne equipments used in that war are highlighted. COMSEC also gets involved in that war in a positive way. There is also a discussion about a loss, at the end of the Vietnam war, of 700 pieces of ADONIS and NESTOR encryption machine parts but without a conclusion of what happened as a result.

Approximately the last half of the book is devoted to various aspects of the National Security Agency. On the collection side, the progression from completely manual operations, to CDAA collection, to satellite collection are well covered. Also mentioned are the agency's abilities in the wire tap area. It is evident that the cryptologic community has progressed rapidly in the collection area. On the downside, Congress and others have accused NSA of losing the cutting edge in the computer field and in solving foreign cryptographic systems.

There is a review of each of the NSA directors and their personalities and accomplishments. Admiral Bobby Inman, USN, who was the first director to woo Congress, gets special attention because of rumors of his possible homosexuality. Inman hotly denied this allegation and pointed out that he had passed a polygraph test. Clinton later nominated him for SECDEF, but withdrew the nomination when the same rumors resurfaced. Inman again denied those rumors. The NSA deputies are given coverage as well, with Dr. Tordella and Ann Caracristi given special mention.

The NSA SIGINT allies of Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand are given attention but with the suggestion that the allies are all considerably behind the power curve as far as capabilities are concerned. On the other hand, the British counterpart, GCHQ, is commended for its role in assisting NSA during a computer crash on January 24, 2000. For a period GCHQ took over a number of tasks until the NSA computers were again on line.

The Nixon era is given special treatment. It was during this period that NSA was chastised for targeting American citizens. Congress got into the act and the Church Committee investigations learned that indeed some citizens were targeted. As a result several rules were produced defining how to handle various situations whenever an American citizen's name appeared in a decrypted message. During this period possibly the FBI assisted NSA by obtaining cryptographic related material from foreign embassies. Nixon is quoted about break-ins of the Pakistan and Indian embassies with the implication of NSA being able to read their messages.

There are several chapters about every day happenings within NSA. For example, DEFSMAC, which handles foreign missile and space activity, is identified. The National Cryptologic School gets good coverage with its ability to grant an MA degree. Minutia such as NSA’s Arundal Yacht Club as well as its gay organization called GLOBE are mentioned.

I indicated in the beginning that many individuals were interviewed for information for the book. Here is a partial list of names that are mentioned. Sometimes the individual’s contribution is indicated, sometimes it is not. Nate Gerson, Frank Raven, Howard Campaigne, Harry Rakfeldt, Owen Englander, John Arnold, Aubrey Brown, Max Buscher, Hal Parish, Keith Taylor, Pete Azzole, George Morton, Joseph Burns, Stan White, Mike Stockmeier, Karl Beeman, Jack Wood, Philip Yasson, Steven Forsberg, George Cassidy, and Robert Cassell.

The audience is given a tour of several of the NSA spaces as well as a close look at the Executive suites.

There is an intriguing cryptogram at the beginning of each chapter. I am sure at least one of my readers will solve them. Please note that PHOENICIAN will publish any solutions, and will send an e-mail message to all those listed in the registry as soon as a solution is found. Should you have a solution, contact Phoenician editor Harry Rosenbluh.

There is one serious omission in the book. The now defunct but once famous nearby Henkel’s Restaurant (Through the Garden), without which many NSA personnel surely would have often gone hungry, is not mentioned.

The book covers a wide range of cryptologic material much of which is new, or has a new slant. Read it, you will enjoy it I am sure, and you may find your name included.

Publishing Information

Body of Secrets, by James Bamford, Doubleday, New York, 2001, ISBN 0-385-49907-8, 731 pages, $29.95.