Interesting

Meredith Gardner

Meredith Gardner

Meredith Gardner was born in Okolona, Mississippi, on 20th October, 1912. He graduated from the University of Texas and earned a master's degree in languages from the University of Wisconsin.

A shy and reclusive figure he taught languages after leaving university. It has been pointed out that he "an astounding armoury of language skills - from German and Spanish to Lithuanian, Sanskrit, old and middle high German, and old church Slavonic." (1) As Robert J. Lamphere pointed out: "Meredith Gardner... was unusual and brilliant, not only as a cryptanalyst but also as a linguist. He spoke six or seven languages and was one of the few Western scholars who read Sanskrit." (2)

On the outbreak of the Second World War Gardner was professor of German at the University of Akron. In 1942 the United States Army's Signals Intelligence Service recruited him to work on breaking German codes. During this period he also taught himself Japanese so that he could also work on their codes as well. He spent the rest of the war studying messages between Germany and Japan. "He worked initially on German ciphers and then on Japanese super-enciphered codes, in which messages were first encoded in five-figure groups taken from a code book and then enciphered by adding a series of randomly produced figures, known as an additive, which was taken from a second book." (3)

After the war he was assigned to help decode a backlog of communications between Moscow and its foreign missions. By 1945, over 200,000 messages had been transcribed and now a team of cryptanalysts attempted to decrypt them. The project, named Venona (a word which appropriately, has no meaning), was based at Arlington Hall, Virginia. (4) Soviet messages were produced in exactly the same way as Japanese super-enciphered codes. However, "where the Japanese gave the codebreakers a way in by repeatedly using the same sequences of additive, the Russian system did not. As its name suggests, the additive appeared on separate sheets of a pad. Once a stream of additive had been used, that sheet was torn off and destroyed, making the message impossible to break." (5)

According to Peter Wright, the author of Spymaster (1987): "Meredith Gardner... began work on the charred remains of a Russian codebook found on a battlefield in Finland. Although it was incomplete, the codebook did have the groups for some of the most common instructions in radio messages - those for 'Spell' and 'Endspell.' These are common because any codebook has only a finite vocabulary, and where an addresser lacks the relevant group in the codebook - always the case, for instance, with names - he has to spell the word out letter by letter, prefixing with the word 'Spell,' and ending with the word 'Endspell' to alert his addressee. Using these common groups Gardner checked back on previous Russian radio traffic, and realized that there were duplications across some channels, indicating that the same one-time pads had been used. Slowly he 'matched' the traffic which had been enciphered using the same pads, and began to try to break it." (6)

As David C. Martin pointed out it was slow work: "When the cryptanalysts discovered that the same series of additives had been used more than once, they had all the leverage they needed to break the Soviet cipher system. Having used guesswork to deduce the additives for a Soviet message intercepted in one part of the world, they could test those same additives against the massive backlog of messages intercepted in other parts of the world. Sooner or later the same additives would appear and another message could be deciphered. It was an excruciatingly tedious task with less than perfect results. Since only a portion of the code book had been salvaged, many of the 999 five-digit groups used by the Soviets were missing. Knowing the additive might yield the proper five-digit group, but if that group could not be found in the code book, the word remained indecipherable. Whole passages were blanks, and the meaning of other phrases could be only vaguely grasped." (7)

It was not until 1949 that Meredith Gardner made his big breakthrough. He was able to decipher enough of a Soviet message to identify it as the text of a 1945 telegram from Winston Churchill to Harry S. Truman. Checking the message against a complete copy of the telegram provided by the British Embassy, the cryptanalysts confirmed beyond doubt that during the war the Soviets had a spy who had access to secret communication between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain.

The Armed Forces Security Agency requested copies of all transmissions handled by the British Embassy and began matching them against the encoded messages in the New York-to-Moscow channel, working backward through the code book and arriving at the additive. Gradually they were able to transcribe these messages. It now became clear that there had been a massive hemorrhaging of secrets from both the British Embassy in Washington and the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos, New Mexico.

Robert J. Lamphere was the leading expert in the FBI on Soviet espionage. He therefore worked closely with Meredith Gardner and together they were able to catch several Soviet spies. "The ASA offices were at Arlington Hall, across the Potomac from the District of Columbia, in Virginia, at what used to be a girls' school. Gardner met me in one of the brick-and-wood-frame buildings, and as we sat down to talk I soon realized that Rowlett's description of him was accurate. Gardner was tall, gangling, reserved, obviously intelligent, and extremely reluctant to discuss much about his work or whether it would progress any distance beyond the first fragments that the FBI had already received. I asked him how I could be of assistance to him; he seemed not to know. I told him I was intensely interested in what he was doing and would be willing to mount any sort of research effort to provide him with more information; he simply nodded. I offered to write up a memo about one of the message fragments because I thought the FBI might have a glimmer of understanding of the subject matter being discussed by the KGB; he was noncommittal."

Lamphere recorded in his autobiography, The FBI-KGB War (1986): "From that day on, every two or three weeks I would make the pilgrimage out to Arlington Hall. Meredith Gardner was indeed not easy to know, and was extremely modest about his work, but eventually we did become friends. Neither the friendship nor the solution to the messages was achieved overnight, but steady progress was made. Little by little he chipped away at the messages, and I helped him with memoranda that described what the KGB might be referring to in some of them. The ASA's work was further aided by one of the early, rudimentary computers." (8)

One message revealed that one of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project who was spying for the Soviets had a sister at an American university. This scientist had not been born in the United States. When the FBI carried out a full investigation into the scientists working on the project they found that Klaus Fuchs had a sister, Kristel, who had briefly attended Swarthmore College during the war.

After the war Fuchs returned to England where he became head of the physics department of the British Nuclear Research Centre at Harwell. The FBI told MI5 about their suspicions and Fuchs was brought in for questioning. Fuchs denied any involvement in espionage and the intelligence services did not have enough evidence to have him arrested and charged with spying. However, after repeated interviews with Jim Skardon he eventually confessed on 23rd January 1950 to passing information to the Soviet Union. A few days later J. Edgar Hoover informed President Harry S. Truman that "we have just gotten word from England that we have gotten a full confession from one of the top scientists, who worked over here, that he gave the complete know-how of the atom bomb to the Russians." (9)

Fuchs was found guilty on 1st March 1950 of four counts of breaking the Official Secrets Act by "communicating information to a potential enemy". After a trial lasting less than 90 minutes, Lord Rayner Goddard sentenced him to fourteen years' imprisonment, the maximum for espionage, because the Soviet Union was classed as an ally at the time. (10) Hoover reported that "Fuchs said he would estimate that the information furnished by him speeded up by several years the production of an atom bomb by Russia." (11)

Following further information provided by Meredith Gardner and Klaus Fuchs, the FBI arrested Harry Gold and David Greenglass in July, 1950, Greenglass was arrested by the FBI and accused of spying for the Soviet Union. Under questioning, he admitted acting as a spy and named Julius Rosenberg as one of his contacts. He denied that his sister, Ethel Rosenberg, had been involved but confessed that his wife, Ruth Greenglass, had been used as a courier. (12)

Gardner was also provide information to the FBI to trace another Soviet spy in the Manhattan Project. He was an American scientist, Theodore Hall, who was now teaching at the University of Chicago. He was interviewed by Alan H. Belmont in March 1951. "Although FBI agents put pressure on him to confess he gave nothing away, and they could find no other evidence against him beyond the Venona documents. Since Venona was still yielding fresh secrets at that time and promised to be a counter-intelligence gold mine for many years to come, the US security authorities believed they could not afford to let Moscow know they were cracking the code... So it was that, in the expectation that they might catch other fish in future, the FBI let Theodore Hall swim free." (13) In fact, the Soviets already knew about the breakthrough because of information provided by William Weisband, who worked with Gardner at the Armed Forces Security Agency.

Peter Wright met Meredith Gardner in London after the arrests of the atom spies: "He was a quiet, scholarly man, entirely unaware of the awe in which he was held by other cryptanalysts. He used to tell me how he worked on the matches in his office, and of how a young pipe-smoking Englishman named Philby used to regularly visit him and peer over his shoulder and admire the progress he was making. Gardner was rather a sad figure by the late 1960s. He felt very keenly that the cryptanalytical break he had made possible was a thing of mathematical beauty, and he was depressed at the use to which it had been put." Wright revealed that he was upset that his research had resulted in McCarthyism and the executions of Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg. Wright quotes Gardner as saying: "I never wanted it to get anyone into trouble." Wright added that Gardner "was appalled at the fact that his discovery had led, almost inevitably, to the electric chair, and felt (as I did) that the Rosenbergs, while guilty, ought to have been given clemency. In Gardner's mind, VENONA was almost an art form, and he did not want it sullied by crude McCarthyism." (14)

Meredith Gardner and his team were able to work out that more than 200 American citizens become Soviet agents between 1930 and 1945. (15) They had spies in the State Department and most leading government agencies, the Manhattan Project and the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). However, they were at first unable to discover the identity of a spy with the codename Homer. His name was found on a number of messages from the KGB station at the Soviet consulate-general in New York to Moscow Centre. The cryptanalysts discovered that the spy had been in Washington since 1944. The FBI concluded that it could be one of 6,000 people. At first they concentrated their efforts on non-diplomatic employees of the embassy.

In April 1951, the Venona decoders found the vital clue in one of the messages. Homer had had regular contacts with his Soviet control in New York, using his pregnant wife as an excuse. This information enabled them to identify the spy as Donald Maclean, the first secretary at the Washington embassy. Unknown to the FBI, the man MI6 had sent them to help with identifying British spies named in the Venona project, Kim Philby, was also a Soviet agent. Meredith Gardner later recalled that Philby was a regular visitor to Arlington Hall. He observed the strange intensity with which Philby had observed the decryption teams at work: "Philby was looking on with no doubt rapt attention but he never said a word, never a word." (16) As Ben Macintyre, the author of A Spy Among Friends (2014) pointed out: "Philby immediately relayed the bad news to Valeri Makayev (Philby's Russian contact in America), and demanded that Maclean be extracted from the UK before he was interrogated and compromised the entire British spy network - and more importantly Philby himself." (17) As a result of Philby's warning, Maclean and fellow spy, Guy Burgess, were able to escape to Moscow.

Meredith Gardner retired from the National Security Agency in 1972 and spent his retirement solving crossword puzzles and tracing his Scottish ancestry. (18) One newspaper claimed that Gardner "always expressed regret that the Rosenbergs had been executed; there was little evidence that Ethel Rosenberg had done anything and he felt that they had at least believed in what they did." (19)

Meredith Gardner died of complications from Alzheimer's disease on 9th August, 2002, at a hospice in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Amid the confusion of war, Moscow had sent out duplicate sets of additives to various Soviet installations around the world. When the cryptanalysts discovered that the same series of additives had been used more than once, they had all the leverage they needed to break the Soviet cipher system. Whole passages were blanks, and the meaning of other phrases could be only vaguely grasped.

Because of the laborious nature of the task, years would elapse between the actual transmission of a Soviet message and its decoding by the Armed Forces Security Agency. The first big break did not come until 1949, when the cryptanalysts found a duplicate additive in the New York-to-Moscow channel and were able to decipher enough of a Soviet message to identify it as the text of a 1945 telegram from Churchill to Truman. Checking the message against a complete copy of the telegram provided by the British Embassy, the cryptanalysts confirmed beyond doubt that a Soviet spy had somehow been able to obtain the verbatim text - cable number and all - of a private communication between two heads of state.

Shortly after the end of the war a brilliant American cryptanalyst named Meredith Gardner, from the U.S. Armed Forces Security Agency (the forerunner of the NSA), began work on the charred remains of a Russian codebook found on a battlefield in Finland. Although it was incomplete, the codebook did have the groups for some of the most common instructions in radio messages - those for "Spell" and "Endspell." These are common because any codebook has only a finite vocabulary, and where an addresser lacks the relevant group in the codebook-always the case, for instance, with names-he has to spell the word out letter by letter, prefixing with the word "Spell," and ending with the word "Endspell" to alert his addressee.

Using these common groups Gardner checked back on previous Russian radio traffic, and realized that there were duplications across some channels, indicating that the same one-time pads had been used. Slowly he "matched" the traffic which had been enciphered using the same pads, and began to try to break it. At first no one would believe him when he claimed to have broken into the Russian ciphers, and he was taken seriously only when he got a major breakthrough in the Washington-to-Moscow Ambassadorial channel. He decrypted the English phrase "Defense does not win wars!" which was a "SpelllEndspell" sequence. Gardner recognized it as a book on defense strategy published in the USA just before the date the message was sent. At this point, the Armed Forces Security Agency shared the secret with the British, who at that time were the world leaders in cryptanalysis, and together they began a joint effort to break the traffic, which lasted forty years.

Operation BRIDE (as it was first known) but later DRUG and VENONA, as it was known in Britain, made painfully slow progress. Finding matches among the mass of traffic available took time enough. But even then there was no certainty the messages on each side of the match could be broken. The codebook was incomplete, so the codebreakers used "collateral" intelligence. If, for instance, they found a match between the Washington-to-Moscow KGB channel and the New York-to-Moscow trade channel, it was possible to attack the trade channel by using "collateral," information gathered from shipping manifests, cargo records, departure and arrival times, tide tables, and so forth, for the date of the message. This information enabled the codebreakers to make estimates of what might be in the trade traffic. Once breaks were made in one side of a match, it provided more groups for the codebook, and helped make inroads on the other side.

The British and Americans developed a key device for expanding the VENONA breaks. It was called a "window index." Every time a word or phrase was broken out, it was indexed to everywhere else it appeared in the matched traffic. The British began to index these decrypts in a more advanced way. They placed two unsolved groups on each side of the decrypted word or phrase and after a period of time these window indexes led to repetitions, where different words which had been broken out were followed by the same unsolved group. The repetition often gave enough collateral to begin a successful attack on the group, thus widening the window indexes. Another technique was "dragging." Where a"SpelUEndspell" sequence or name came up, and the cryptanalysts did not know what the missing letters of the spelled sequence were, the groups were dragged, using a computer, across the rest of the channels, and out would come a list of all the repeats. Then the cryptanalysts would set to work on the reverse side of the repeat matches, and hope to attack the "Spell/Endspell" sequence that way.

It was an imperfect art, often moving forward only a word or two a month, and then suddenly spilling forward, like the time the Americans found the complete text of a recorded speech in the Washington Ambassadorial channel. Often terrible new difficulties were encountered: one-time pads were used in unorthodox ways, up and down, or folded, which made the process of finding matches infinitely more problematic. There were difficulties, too, with the codebooks. Sometimes they changed, and whereas the Ambassadorial, GRU, and trade channels used a straightforward alphabetically listed codebook, rather like a dictionary, so that the codebreakers could guess from the group where in the codebook it appeared, the KGB used a special multivolume random codebook which made decrypting matched KGB channels a mindbending task. The effort involved in VENONA was enormous. For years both GCHQ and NSA and MIS employed teams of researchers scouring the world searching for "collateral"; but despite the effort less than 1 percent of the 200,000 messages we held were ever broken into, and many of those were broken only to the extent of a few words....

Years later, I arranged for Meredith Gardner to visit Britain to help us on the British VENONA. He was a quiet, scholarly man, entirely unaware of the awe in which he was held by other cryptanalysts. He felt very keenly that the cryptanalytical break he had made possible was a thing of mathematical beauty, and he was depressed at the use to which it had been put.

"I never wanted it to get anyone into trouble," he used to say. He was appalled at the fact that his discovery had led, almost inevitably, to the electric chair, and felt (as I did) that the Rosenbergs, while guilty, ought to have been given clemency. In Gardner's mind, VENONA was almost an art form, and he did not want it sullied by crude McCarthyism. But the codebreak had a fundamental effect on Cold War attitudes among those few indoctrinated officers inside the British and American intelligence services. It became the wellspring for the new emphasis on counterespionage investigation which increasingly permeated Western intelligence in the decades after the first break was made. More directly, it showed the worldwide scale of the Soviet espionage attack, at a time when the Western political leadership was apparently pursuing a policy of alliance and extending the hand of friendship. In the British traffic, for instance, most of the KGB channel during that September week was taken up with messages from Moscow detailing arrangements for the return of Allied prisoners to the Soviet authorities, groups like the Cossacks and others who had fought against the Soviet Union. Many of the messages were just long lists of names and instructions that they should be apprehended as soon as possible. By the time I read the messages they were all long since dead, but at the time many intelligence officers must have been struck by the sense that peace had not come in 1945; a German concentration camp had merely been exchanged for a Soviet Gulag.

Frank Rowlett then described to me the cryptanalyst who was working to decipher the KGB code, Meredith Gardner. Gardner, said Rowlett, was unusual and brilliant, not only as a cryptanalyst but also as a linguist. He spoke six or seven languages and was one of the few Western scholars who read Sanskrit. Until the outbreak of World War II he had taught languages at a university in the Southwest. On joining the ASA, Gardner taught himself Japanese in three months, to the amazement of his colleagues. Throughout the war he had worked on breaking the Japanese codes, and after the war was over Rowlett had put him on the KGB codes. Rowlett told me I'd find Meredith Gardner to be a shy, introverted loner, and that I'd have a hard time getting to know him.

The ASA offices were at Arlington Hall, across the Potomac from the District of Columbia, in Virginia, at what used to be a girls' school. I offered to write up a memo about one of the message fragments because I thought the FBI might have a glimmer of understanding of the subject matter being discussed by the KGB; he was noncommittal.

From that day on, every two or three weeks I would make the pilgrimage out to Arlington Hall. The ASA's work was further aided by one of the early, rudimentary computers.

Even now, long after his extraordinary achievements were publicly acknowledged, few Americans have heard of Meredith Knox Gardner, who has died aged 89. Yet his superb talent as a cryptanalyst led to one of his country's most important penetrations of Soviet diplomatic codes. Among other benefits, it unmasked the wartime spy rings which passed the atomic bomb secrets to Moscow. Years later, when a US government commission released details of the Venona project, it had no hesitation in dubbing Gardner "a genius".

Even before entering the second world war, the United States had cracked one of Japan's top-secret codes, and so discovered that Tokyo had, in its turn, broken some Soviet codes. Washington promptly established a unit of the army signal corps to attack the secret communications of what was then one of its allies.

The job was made slightly easier because Russia had to pass to America's wartime censors duplicates of all its coded cable traffic from the US. The authorities then retained every message sent between 1942 and 1946. In the standard diplomatic custom, Moscow used one-time pads to make its codes unbreakable. But analysis of hundreds of preambles to the main text showed that seven messages had been encrypted with the same key.

It emerged that, when the Nazis were at the gates of Moscow in December 1941, the KGB cryptographic unit had doubled its output of one-time pads by printing an extra copy of each. These duplicates were sent to the KGB, Soviet embassies and consulates, army and navy intelligence, and the Soviet trade organisation - it was the inclusion of the trade organisation that made the first breakthrough possible.

American cryptanalysts were able to retrieve the plain-language cargo manifests of Soviet ships which had sailed from American ports with wartime supplies. They then compared them with the trade organisation's coded messages of the same period. Piece by piece, they reconstructed both the original Soviet cipher books and the duplicate one-time pads with which they were super-encrypted.

It was at this point that Gardner came into the picture. A shy and reclusive figure, he was born in Okolona, Mississippi, and had graduated from the universities of Texas and Wisconsin, before teaching languages at both institutions. With an astounding armoury of language skills - from German and Spanish to Lithuanian, Sanskrit, old and middle high German, and old church Slavonic - he had been recruited just after Pearl Harbor. Initially, he worked on German ciphers, but then amazed his colleagues by mastering Japanese in three months, and subsequently dealing with that traffic.

At the end of the war, he was moved to the Russian section, where he began studying out-of-date Soviet codebooks (probably stolen by FBI agents) to work out the structure of Moscow's current codes. His first real success came in December 1946, when he decrypted a signal referring to the Manhattan Project, which the Russians called Enormoz. Six months later, he decoded a long message containing dozens of cover names (many of which have still not been broken).

Painstaking crosschecking by FBI agent Robert Lamphere revealed that the person code named "Liberal" in KGB messages was Julius Rosenberg. It also emerged that "Charles" was Klaus Fuchs, "Hicks" was Guy Burgess, "Homer" was Donald Maclean and "Stanley" was Kim Philby. The decrypts starkly disclosed the unrealised extent of Soviet wartime espionage in the US.

Gardner's work remained unknown to anyone outside the confines of the US national security agency, and stayed under wraps for years after the Venona project was wound up in 1980. The first revelation that it had ever existed came in 1987, when the former MI5 agent Peter Wright referred to it in his autobiography, Spycatcher. Wright claimed that Gardner had started with a charred copy of a Soviet code book retrieved from a Finnish battlefield, which enabled him to discover some of the commonest five-figure instruction groups used in radio communications.

Meredith Knox Gardner, a linguist and puzzle solver whose skill at deciphering codes played a pivotal role in the Rosenberg spy case, died on Aug. 9 at a hospice in Chevy Chase, Md. He was 89.

Fluent in French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Lithuanian, Spanish and Russian, Mr. Gardner arrived here early in World War II to work for the Army Signal Intelligence Service, a predecessor of the National Security Agency.

He spent the war poring over messages between Germany and Japan. After their defeat, his focus turned to the Soviet Union. He was assigned to help decode a backlog of communications between Moscow and its foreign missions. The project, named Venona, was based in northern Virginia. In recent years, the National Security Agency has made public some of the exploits of the code breakers.

Starting in 1939, the Signal Intelligence Service intercepted thousands of Soviet communications, but they were not studied while America and Russia were allied. By 1946, Mr. Gardner was among the hundreds of people trying to decode the accumulated messages.

On Dec. 20, 1946, Mr. Gardner discerned that a message from 1944 had contained a list of the leading scientists on the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb. More months of toil by Mr. Gardner and his colleagues turned up a reference to an agent code-named Liberal who had a wife named Ethel.

''Liberal'' and his wife were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage. They were executed in 1953....

Because the Venona project was not disclosed in detail until the mid-1990's, its work was never widely recognized. In a speech in 1997, Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York said the deeds of Mr. Gardner and Mr. Lamphere, in particular, were contributions ''that Americans have a right to know about and to celebrate.'' Mr. Lamphere died in February.

Despite his pride in having helped to smash an espionage ring, Mr. Gardner was sorry that the Rosenbergs were put to death. Mrs. Gardner said her husband's reasoning was that ''those people at least believed in what they were doing.''

Meredith Gardner, who has died aged 89, was the American codebreaker responsible for breaking the ciphers that led to the arrests of the atom spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and the break-up of the Cambridge spy ring.

During the late 1940s, Gardner was the main cryptanalyst working on the Venona material, messages sent between the KGB's Moscow Centre and its agent handlers abroad using the theoretically unbreakable one-time pad system.

Fluent in French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Latin, Lithuanian, Russian and Spanish, Gardner joined the United States Army's codebreaking organisation, the Signals Security Agency, early in the Second World War.

He worked initially on German ciphers and then on Japanese super-enciphered codes, in which messages were first encoded in five-figure groups taken from a code book and then enciphered by adding a series of randomly produced figures, known as an additive, which was taken from a second book.

The techniques needed to break these messages were to be extremely useful to Gardner when, in late 1945, he was assigned to work on what was then known simply as "the Russian problem".

KGB messages were produced in exactly the same way as Japanese super-enciphered codes. But where the Japanese gave the codebreakers a way in by repeatedly using the same sequences of additive, the Russian system did not.

As its name suggests, the additive appeared on separate sheets of a pad. Once a stream of additive had been used, that sheet was torn off and destroyed, making the message impossible to break.

But because of wartime shortages, the Russians made a critical mistake. Several pads had been duplicated and sent to different KGB stations abroad. Although it was still not easy to break, the American codebreakers had the help of a partially burned codebook abandoned in Finland.

The intelligence which they produced represented the crown jewels for the FBI and MI5, vital information on the many Soviet agents operating against the West. The breakthrough came on December 20 1946, when Gardner read part of a message that contained a list of leading scientists working on the Manhattan Project, the development of the atomic bomb.

Sent two years earlier, the message was the first hint that there might be Soviet spies working at the Los Alamos atomic weapons plant. By August 1947, when he produced his first report on the Venona messages, Gardner had found a number of agents all referred to by codenames.

One, codenamed Liberal, had appeared in six separate messages. The only clue to his identity lay in the name of his 29-year-old wife. Gardner, a lifelong fan of crossword puzzles, was particularly pleased with the way in which he had come up with the wife's name.

The KGB cipher clerk had spelt the name of Liberal's wife out in single letters but there were only three groups, the first representing E and the third L. "I had never come across a three letter meaning in the spell code," he later recalled. "Then I said: ah, but they anticipate sending a lot of English text, and the most common word in the English language is 'the'."

The name of Liberal's wife was Ethel, one of the key clues that led to the uncovering of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who, in 1953, were sent to the electric chair.

Another wartime Venona message, which Gardner was finally able to break in 1949, revealed that a scientist at Los Alamos codenamed Rest, was passing atomic secrets to the Russians. The message contained a Los Alamos report written by the British scientist, Klaus Fuchs.

By now Fuchs was working at the British atomic research establishment at Harwell, Oxfordshire. He was questioned by MI5 officers and five months later admitted that he had passed atomic weapons information to Moscow. He pleaded guilty in court and, on March 1 1950, was jailed for 14 years.

Probably the most important atom spy that Gardner uncovered was never prosecuted. Theodore Hall, codenamed Mlad (Young), was the star pupil at Harvard of Professor John Van Vleck, an authority on quantum theory who had been secretly recruited by Robert Oppenheimer, the scientific head of Los Alamos, to help to design the atomic bomb.

Recommended by Van Vleck, Hall was soon put in charge of the team designing the implosion trigger for one of the experimental bombs. With access that even Fuchs and certainly not Rosenberg enjoyed, Hall was the best source the KGB had inside Los Alamos.

Although the FBI knew that Hall was Mlad, he was never put on trial, largely because, unlike Fuchs and Rosenberg, he never confessed and the American authorities were wary of making public the evidence from Venona until 1995. Hall left America for Britain where he became a leading Cambridge scientist.

But probably Gardner's greatest triumph was to break the message that led to the demise of the Cambridge spy ring. It was in January 1949 that Gardner broke a number of messages from the KGB station at the Soviet consulate-general in New York to Moscow Centre referring to an agent with the covername Homer.

This spy had been in Washington in mid-1945 and gained access to the secret messages between Truman and Churchill on the fate of the leaders of the Polish Home Army.

It was Donald Maclean, a senior British diplomat, who had been posted to Washington the previous year. Crucially, in mid-1945, his American wife Melinda was pregnant and living with her mother in New York.

Kim Philby, who was posted to Washington as an intelligence liaison officer shortly after the messages on Homer were deciphered, described how the FBI concluded that it could be one of 6,000 people.

"It had so far occurred neither to them nor to the British that a diplomat was involved, let alone a fairly senior diplomat," he said. "Instead, the investigation had concentrated on non-diplomatic employees of the embassy."

But slowly, MI5 narrowed those names to a handful of people who would have had access to the top-secret exchanges between London and Washington. Then in April 1951, the Venona decoders found the vital clue in one of the messages. For part of 1944, Homer had had regular contacts with his Soviet control in New York, using his pregnant wife as an excuse. The names had been narrowed down to just one - Donald Maclean.

Tipped off by Philby, who had access to the Venona material, he fled to Moscow with Guy Burgess, another of the Cambridge spies. The hunt for the so-called Third Man, who had tipped them both off, began and very soon Philby fell under suspicion. It was the beginning of the end for the Cambridge five, made up by Anthony Blunt and John Cairncross.

Meredith Knox Gardner, an Army Signal Intelligence Service code breaker whose work on encrypted KGB messages to and from Moscow during and after World War II led to the exposure of Soviet agents who spied on the U.S. atomic bomb project, has died. He was 89.

Gardner died of complications from Alzheimer's disease Aug. 9 at a care facility in Chevy Chase, Md.

Gardner's work included the discovery of lists of code names in telegrams sent by the Soviet consulate in New York to Moscow from 1943 to 1945. It led directly to the unmaskings of Klaus Fuchs, the German-born scientist convicted of spying for the Soviets; Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who in 1953 were executed for espionage; and the British intelligence officer Kim Philby, who after defecting to Moscow in 1963 said he had been a Soviet spy for two decades.

Within the intelligence community, Gardner was said to have been a living legend, and his work in penetrating Soviet codes is widely considered to have been one of the great U.S. counterintelligence coups of the last half-century. But he remained unknown to the public for more than 50 years until 1996, when he emerged from anonymity to tell his story at a conference on the decrypting operation, code-named "Venona." At that conference, then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) introduced Gardner as an unsung hero of the Cold War.

Describing his discovery of code names in the Soviet cables sent from New York to Moscow during and after the war, Gardner told the Venona conference: "That smelled of espionage. Otherwise, why would you go to the trouble of using something other than someone's real name?"

In December 1946, his suspicions were all but confirmed when he decrypted a New York-to-Moscow cable sent two years earlier containing the code names of several leading scientists who had been working on the Manhattan Project, which was the U.S. effort to build an atomic bomb. This had been the most secret of all U.S. projects during the war, and in the postwar period the atomic bomb was the key to the balance of world power. Not until 1949 would the Soviets detonate an atomic bomb.

Gardner, a gifted linguist who was fluent in German, Old High German, Middle High German, Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Lithuanian, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian and Japanese, came to Washington early in World War II to work as a civilian for the Army Signal Intelligence Service, a predecessor of the National Security Agency....

Over subsequent months, as more Venona cables were decrypted, it became clear that Moscow had recruited dozens of agents at various levels of government, and the FBI was directed to follow up leads. Robert Lamphere was the FBI agent named liaison officer with Venona. He and Gardner developed a symbiotic relationship in which Gardner gave Lamphere lists of agents named in the Venona cables, while Lamphere gave Gardner information that might be helpful in further decryption.

This led to a massive manhunt for spies in the late 1940s and early 1950s and is said to have contributed to the communist-baiting excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Among the other Soviet agents mentioned in the Venona documents were David Greenglass, the younger brother of Ethel Rosenberg who received a 15-year prison sentence for passing along information about the atomic bomb; and Theodore Alvin Hall, who was recruited as a 19-year-old Harvard student to work on the bomb and was then said to have passed along the vital secrets of this work to the Soviets. Hall, who was never formally charged, died in Cambridge, England, in 1999.

Information from the Venona operation also led to the exposure of Kim Philby's British comrades in espionage, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt.

From at least two sources, the Soviets learned that their U.S. espionage net had been discovered. One was Philby, the British intelligence officer and double agent. He was posted in Washington in 1949 and had a habit of dropping in on Gardner's Venona operation.

The other was Bill Weisband, a Russian emigre who was hired as a linguistic adviser for Venona. Gardner occasionally consulted him on points of Russian grammar. At the Venona conference, the National Security Agency declassified tapes of the confession of a Los Angeles aircraft worker who identified Weisband as his KGB handler. Weisband was fired from Venona and later served a one-year prison sentence for contempt of court for refusing to testify about Communist connections. He died in 1967. U.S. counterintelligence officials said they are convinced he was a Soviet spy.

In 1972, Gardner retired from NSA. The Venona operation was shut down in 1980.

In retirement, Gardner lived quietly in a modest condominium on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, where he traced his Scottish genealogy and did the daily crossword puzzle in the Times of London, which is reputed to be the most difficult in the world.

(1) Harold Jackson, The Guardian (16th August, 2002)

(2) Robert J. Lamphere, The FBI-KGB War (1986) page 82

(3) The Daily Telegraph (20th August, 2002)

(4) David Stout, The New York Times (18th August, 2002)

(5) The Daily Telegraph (20th August, 2002)

(6) Peter Wright, Spymaster (1987) page 180

(7) David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors (1980) page 40

(8) Robert J. Lamphere, The FBI-KGB War (1986) page 82

(9) J. Edgar Hoover, message to President Harry S. Truman (1st November, 1950)

(10) Norman Moss, Klaus Fuchs: the Man who Stole the Atom Bomb (1987) page 158

(11) Quoted by David C. Martin, Wilderness of Mirrors (1980) page 41

(12) Walter & Miriam Schneir, Invitation to an Inquest (1965)

(13) Brian Cathcart, The Independent (12th November, 1999)

(14) Peter Wright, Spymaster (1987) page 185

(15) David Stout, The New York Times (18th August, 2002)

(16) Christopher Andrew, The Defence of the Realm: The Authorized History of MI5 (2009) page 378

(17) Ben Macintyre, A Spy Among Friends (2014) page 147

(18) Bart Barnes, Los Angeles Times (21st August, 2002)

(19) The Daily Telegraph (20th August, 2002)


Meredith Gardner and Family – In the Enemy’s House

In the Enemy’s House is the story of an unlikely friendship between a high-spirited FBI agent and a genius code breaker. Working out of Arlington Hall, a former girls’ finishing school in Virginia that had been turned into a top secret decoding facility, the two men stumble to their surprise on Operation Enormoz – a covert KGB mission to steal America’s atomic secrets.

In the aftermath of this startling revelation, the two men begin their own mission to identify and later hunt down the Soviet spies working in America.

The photos that follow – the personal photographs of Meredith Gardner provided by the Gardner family ‎- give a quick introduction to the life and work of the tenacious and talented code breaker whose revelations changed the course of history. And his work continues to resonate into the present day as Russian spies continue their secret war against America.

Blanche Hatfield, a Mount Holyoke Phi Beta Kappa grad and a code wrangler at Arlington Hall, introduced herself to fellow code breaker Meredith Gardner, with a flirty, “I thought you were just a legend!”And in German, to boot. It was pretty much love at first sight.

Meredith Gardner was a long, lanky, ascetic man, partial to a deliberately donnish attire. A man whose very thinness seemed to suggest that all the fun had been squeezed out of him.

Meredith and his daughter Ann on the boat to England. After the execution of the Rosenbergs, he felt a deep guilt that his puzzle-solving had culminated in their deaths. He went to work at Cheltenham, the British code-breaking facility, because he wanted to get away from America for a while.


Meredith Gardner

Meredith Knox Gardner (October 20, 1912 – August 9, 2002) was an American linguist and code-breaker. Gardner worked in counter-intelligence, decoding Soviet intelligence traffic regarding espionage in the United States, in what came to be known as the Venona project.

Gardner was born in Okolona, Mississippi, and grew up in Austin, Texas. After graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, he earned a master's degree in German from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, where he was a teaching assistant from 1938 to 1940. He was a linguist and professor of German at the University of Akron when the United States Army's Signals Intelligence Service recruited him to work on breaking German codes. Soon after, he started working on the Japanese codes instead, mastering the Japanese language in only a few months.

In 1946, Gardner began work on a highly-secret project (later code named Venona) to break the Soviet cryptosystems. The Soviet encryption system involved the use of one-time pads, and thus was thought to be unbreakable. However, the Soviets made the mistake of reusing certain pages of their pads.

Later that same year, Gardner made the first breakthrough on Venona by identifying the ciphers used for spelling English words. By May 1947 Gardner had read a decrypt that implied the Soviets ran an agent with access to sensitive information from the War Department General Staff, U.S. Army Air Corps Major William Ludwig Ullmann. It became apparent to Gardner that he was reading KGB messages showing massive Soviet espionage in the United States.

It was not until 1949 that Meredith Gardner made his big breakthrough. He was able to decipher enough of a Soviet message to identify it as the text of a 1945 telegram from Winston Churchill to Harry S. Truman. Checking the message against a complete copy of the telegram provided by the British Embassy, the cryptanalysts confirmed beyond doubt that during the war the Soviets had a spy who had access to secret communication between the president of the United States and the prime minister of Britain.

Peter Wright met Meredith Gardner in London after the arrests of the atom spies: "He was a quiet, scholarly man, entirely unaware of the awe in which he was held by other cryptanalysts. He used to tell me how he worked on the matches in his office, and of how a young pipe-smoking Englishman named Philby used to regularly visit him and peer over his shoulder and admire the progress he was making. Gardner was rather a sad figure by the late 1960s. He felt very keenly that the cryptanalytical break he had made possible was a thing of mathematical beauty, and he was depressed at the use to which it had been put." Wright revealed that Gardner was upset that his research had resulted in McCarthyism and the executions of Julius Rosenberg and Ethel Rosenberg. Wright quotes Gardner as saying: "I never wanted it to get anyone into trouble." Wright added that Gardner "was appalled at the fact that his discovery had led, almost inevitably, to the electric chair, and felt (as I did) that the Rosenbergs, while guilty, ought to have been given clemency. In Gardner's mind, VENONA was almost an art form, and he did not want it sullied by crude McCarthyism."

Gardner retired in 1972, yet his work remained mostly secret until 1996, when the NSA, the CIA, and the Center for Democracy honored Gardner and his colleagues in a formal ceremony that was the result of campaigning by U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

Gardner died on August 9, 2002, in Chevy Chase, Maryland, at the age of 89.


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Meredith Gardner - History

THE VENONA INTERCEPTS
(Washington, D.C., 1946-1980)
Events > Postscript -- The Nuclear Age, 1945-Present

  • Informing the Public, August 1945
  • The Manhattan Engineer District, 1945-1946
  • First Steps toward International Control, 1944-1945
  • Search for a Policy on International Control, 1945
  • Negotiating International Control, 1945-1946
  • Civilian Control of Atomic Energy, 1945-1946
  • Operation Crossroads, July 1946
  • The VENONA Intercepts, 1946-1980
  • Nuclear Proliferation, 1949-present

Soviet intelligence officers in the United States regularly communicated with their superiors in Moscow via telegraphic cables. These messages were encrypted of course, but in 1946 the United States, with the assistance of Great Britain, began to decrypt a good number of these messages. This program led to the eventual capture of several Soviet spies within the Manhattan Project. The VENONA intercepts, as they were codenamed, remained a closely-guarded secret, known only to a handful of government officials, until the program was declassified in 1995.

The cables should have been impossible to decrypt. Collecting them was easy. The United States government simply acquired copies of all cables openly sent to and from various Soviet embassies and consulates. These messages were encrypted by a means known as a "one-time pad." This meant that, at least in theory, decrypting them should have been impossible. The Army's Signal Intelligence Service began working on the problem in 1943, and they gradually discovered a Soviet procedural error that allowed many of the messages to be painstakingly decrypted. Portions of messages began to become clear in 1946, and by 1948 numerous messages were being recovered by the team led by Meredith Gardner (above left). In 1948, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was also brought into the investigation, its efforts led by Robert Lamphere (right). Although only messages up to 1945 were vulnerable to decryption, and these messages were several years old by that point, they still contained references to spies who had never been detected, including many who presumably continued to work for Soviet intelligence. From 1948 to 1951, numerous Soviet spies were uncovered and prosecuted this way, including the atomic spies Klaus Fuchs (below), David Greenglass, Greenglass's handler Julius Rosenberg, and Rosenberg's wife Ethel. Other sources, such as Theodore Hall, were detected, but without sufficient corroborating evidence other than VENONA, the government was unable to prosecute them. (The VENONA secret was considered too valuable to reveal as evidence in an open court proceeding.)

Once messages were decrypted and translated into English, however, the identity of the individuals mentioned in them was still often not apparent. Soviet intelligence assigned every person a unique codename and sometimes changed it. (For example, Julius Rosenberg was ANTENNA, later changed to LIBERAL, and Theodore Hall was MLAD.) Nonetheless, it was often possible to determine who each codename referred to based on clues within the messages. Sometimes the message where the individual is first given a codename happens to be one of those decrypted, in which case the individual's identity is known with certainty. In other cases, rather obvious clues make identification simple, such as when the name of ANTENNA's wife was openly given as "Ethel." Most people were identified through follow-up investigation by the FBI based on the descriptions of their work, their lives, their appearance, and even their codename itself. (MLAD means "youngster" in Russian Hall was only 19 when he began his work as a spy.) In some cases, especially when dealing with sources who were only mentioned in a handful of decrypted messages, a Soviet spy's identity remains unknown to this day.

Additional wartime messages continued to be decrypted during the 1950s and beyond, but the "value added" of these decryptions gradually lessened over time. Soviet intelligence learned of the VENONA program in 1949 through its highly-placed British agent, Kim Philby, but there was nothing they could do to stop it. The program was finally formally terminated on October 1, 1980.

Rumors of an important codebreaking effort circulated among journalists and historians throughout the 1980s and the early 1990s, but there was no formal confirmation of the existence of VENONA until it was declassified in 1995. Today anyone who is interested can view images of the actual decrypted cables on the National Security Agency's web page at http://www.nsa.gov/public_info/declass/venona/.

  • Informing the Public, August 1945
  • The Manhattan Engineer District, 1945-1946
  • First Steps toward International Control, 1944-1945
  • Search for a Policy on International Control, 1945
  • Negotiating International Control, 1945-1946
  • Civilian Control of Atomic Energy, 1945-1946
  • Operation Crossroads, July 1946
  • The VENONA Intercepts, 1946-1980
  • Nuclear Proliferation, 1949-present

Previous Next


Meredith K. Gardner, 89 Cracked Codes to Unmask Key Soviet Spies

Meredith Knox Gardner, an Army Signal Intelligence Service code breaker whose work on encrypted KGB messages to and from Moscow during and after World War II led to the exposure of Soviet agents who spied on the U.S. atomic bomb project, has died. He was 89.

Gardner died of complications from Alzheimer’s disease Aug. 9 at a care facility in Chevy Chase, Md.

Gardner’s work included the discovery of lists of code names in telegrams sent by the Soviet consulate in New York to Moscow from 1943 to 1945. It led directly to the unmaskings of Klaus Fuchs, the German-born scientist convicted of spying for the Soviets Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who in 1953 were executed for espionage and the British intelligence officer Kim Philby, who after defecting to Moscow in 1963 said he had been a Soviet spy for two decades.

Within the intelligence community, Gardner was said to have been a living legend, and his work in penetrating Soviet codes is widely considered to have been one of the great U.S. counterintelligence coups of the last half-century. But he remained unknown to the public for more than 50 years until 1996, when he emerged from anonymity to tell his story at a conference on the decrypting operation, code-named “Venona.” At that conference, then-Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) introduced Gardner as an unsung hero of the Cold War.

Describing his discovery of code names in the Soviet cables sent from New York to Moscow during and after the war, Gardner told the Venona conference: “That smelled of espionage. Otherwise, why would you go to the trouble of using something other than someone’s real name?”

In December 1946, his suspicions were all but confirmed when he decrypted a New York-to-Moscow cable sent two years earlier containing the code names of several leading scientists who had been working on the Manhattan Project, which was the U.S. effort to build an atomic bomb. This had been the most secret of all U.S. projects during the war, and in the postwar period the atomic bomb was the key to the balance of world power. Not until 1949 would the Soviets detonate an atomic bomb.

Gardner, a gifted linguist who was fluent in German, Old High German, Middle High German, Sanskrit, Latin, Greek, Lithuanian, Spanish, French, Italian, Russian and Japanese, came to Washington early in World War II to work as a civilian for the Army Signal Intelligence Service, a predecessor of the National Security Agency.

A native of Okolona, Miss., he graduated from the University of Texas and received a master’s degree in languages from the University of Wisconsin. Before World War II, he was a language teacher at the universities of Akron, Texas and Wisconsin.

At the Army Signal Intelligence Service, Gardner was known as a quiet and scholarly man whose reticence belied his linguistic genius. He spent his early years with the agency working on telegraphic messages involving Germany and Japan, especially communications between Japanese military attaches in Berlin and other enemy capitals and the Japanese general staff in Tokyo.

After the war, Gardner was reassigned to examine telegraphic traffic involving the Soviet Union, the wartime ally of the United States and Britain. With the end of hostilities against Germany and Japan, Soviet matters were a top priority, and by 1946 as many as 600 people were assigned to decryption efforts on more than 35,000 pages of coded Soviet cables.

As senior linguist, it was Gardner’s job to re-create a Russian code book and translate Russian messages into English. In a 1996 interview, he said he attributed his success to logic, his linguistic skills and “a sort of magpie attitude to facts, the habit of storing things away that did not seem to have any connection at all.”

A few months after decoding the message containing the names of scientists working on the atomic bomb, Gardner came upon a reference to an agent with the code name “Liberal” who had a 29-year-old wife named Ethel. These were Julius and Ethel Rosenberg.

Over subsequent months, as more Venona cables were decrypted, it became clear that Moscow had recruited dozens of agents at various levels of government, and the FBI was directed to follow up leads. Robert Lamphere was the FBI agent named liaison officer with Venona. He and Gardner developed a symbiotic relationship in which Gardner gave Lamphere lists of agents named in the Venona cables, while Lamphere gave Gardner information that might be helpful in further decryption.

This led to a massive manhunt for spies in the late 1940s and early 1950s and is said to have contributed to the communist-baiting excesses of Sen. Joseph McCarthy. Among the other Soviet agents mentioned in the Venona documents were David Greenglass, the younger brother of Ethel Rosenberg who received a 15-year prison sentence for passing along information about the atomic bomb and Theodore Alvin Hall, who was recruited as a 19-year-old Harvard student to work on the bomb and was then said to have passed along the vital secrets of this work to the Soviets. Hall, who was never formally charged, died in Cambridge, England, in 1999.

Information from the Venona operation also led to the exposure of Kim Philby’s British comrades in espionage, Guy Burgess, Donald Maclean and Anthony Blunt.

From at least two sources, the Soviets learned that their U.S. espionage net had been discovered. One was Philby, the British intelligence officer and double agent. He was posted in Washington in 1949 and had a habit of dropping in on Gardner’s Venona operation.

The other was Bill Weisband, a Russian emigre who was hired as a linguistic adviser for Venona. Gardner occasionally consulted him on points of Russian grammar. At the Venona conference, the National Security Agency declassified tapes of the confession of a Los Angeles aircraft worker who identified Weisband as his KGB handler. Weisband was fired from Venona and later served a one-year prison sentence for contempt of court for refusing to testify about Communist connections. He died in 1967. U.S. counterintelligence officials said they are convinced he was a Soviet spy.

In 1972, Gardner retired from NSA. The Venona operation was shut down in 1980.

In retirement, Gardner lived quietly in a modest condominium on Connecticut Avenue in Washington, where he traced his Scottish genealogy and did the daily crossword puzzle in the Times of London, which is reputed to be the most difficult in the world.

Survivors include his wife of 57 years, Blanche, of Washington two children and 11 grandchildren.


20 Dec 1946: Meredith Gardner broke into a KGB message containing list of scientists working on the Manhattan Project. Mr. Gardner was inducted into the NSA Cryptologic Hall of Honor in 2004. Read an excerpt below or click the link below for the full entry. You can also learn more about Meredith Gardner on the Spartacus Educational site.

Mr. Gardner proved instrumental in breaking the underlying code and led the efforts to reconstruct the codebooks. By identifying the "spell" and "end spell" indicators, Meredith Gardner was able to recover the portion of the codebook used for spelling English names and phrases in a message. He continued to build on his success, recovering more and more code groups. The first message was broken in February 1946. The value of his work was clearly demonstrated in July 1946, when he decoded a message containing encryption procedures for Soviet spies in Mexico.

Mr. Gardner decided that merely decrypting VENONA messages was not enough if the decrypts could not be put to good use. He sent a memo, "Special Report #1," to a small number of Army Security Agency (ASA) seniors in the summer of 1947, describing what sort of intelligence VENONA could provide. He also included samples of the material being recovered. Mr. Gardner's report helped the Army's leadership to recognize the value of VENONA, leading to cooperation between the ASA (later NSA) and the FBI in the identification of Soviet agents working in the United States.

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Where and When Christian Dior Began

Despite being created in 1946, the Christian Dior brand calls 1947 its beginning, because that’s when the fashion house’s first collection debuted. Christian Dior started the brand in Paris at 30 Avenue Montaigne. It took less than three months from the brand’s creation to show Christian Dior’s first collection on Feb. 12, 1947.

Dior had a deep love of art and even ran an art gallery in France before going into fashion. After closing his gallery during the Great Depression, he worked under fashion designer Robert Piguet and then-couturier Lucien Long. Dior was ready for his own work to be showcased, though, which is what brought him to create his own fashion house in 1946, and Christian Dior was born.


Meredith Gardner - History

A companion volume to the novel Baker Street Irregular

Published 2015 by Hazelbaker & Lellenberg, Inc.

$20.00 postpaid in the United States,

P.O. Box 32181, Santa Fe NM 87594.

From Randall Stock’s Best of Sherlock website’s listing of

“This companion volume to Lellenberg’s historical espionage novel, Baker Street Irregular , provides a fascinating look into how he researched and wrote that story. It also offers a wealth of detail on American Sherlockians in the 1930s and 1940s, and thus a view into BSI history. Parts of it would be instructive to anyone thinking about writing historical fiction, but its core function is to annotate his novel and so is best read either in conjunction with the novel or shortly after finishing that book. The two work together to make the novel even more interesting.”

I hoped to do this book before now, and I hope some will still be interested in the information in it — both about the Baker Street Irregulars’ history, and their world during the decade and a half the BSI took shape. It explains why Baker Street Irregular was written, and how. “Sources and Methods” is a term in the intelligence community that also took shape in those years, whose formative stages provide part of the novel’s story line. Sources and Methods are critical to collection of raw intelligence and its analysis into useful product to inform policy and in wartime, strategy and operations. They normally must be kept secret —but not here. I want instead to disclose the sources and methods behind Baker Street Irregular for readers who’d like to know more about the personalities, institutions, and events in it. And for the sake of the historical record, since I spent thirty-five years in the kind of work that Woody Hazelbaker, the novel’s protagonist and narrator, goes to Washington in 1940 to do, in Ch. 12.

(One must draw the line somewhere. Some sordid details behind the novel’s composition are stories for which the world is not yet prepared. “We also have our diplomatic secrets,” said Sherlock Holmes.)

Some Irregulars in the novel are heroes of mine. But so are many of its other characters, real men and women also, who didn’t spare themselves in the struggle to preserve liberty at a time when democracy was in mortal peril—something Irregulars of the 1930s and ’40s realized as well. I was pleased when M. J. Elliott, reviewing the novel for the Sherlock Holmes Journal , said: “unlike many pieces of historical fiction, the book does not wear the author’s research on its sleeve.” Nonetheless, as this volume will show, a great deal of research did go into it, because I wanted the story to be real, and to tell real stories of those years. Baker Street Irregular is a work of fiction, but every word of it is true.

“How Long Does It Take to Write One Damn Novel, Anyway?”

New York in the ’30s and ‘40s

Chapter 1: Mr. Bird and Mr. Madden

Chapter 2: “Artists and Writers”

Chapter 3: Christ Cella’s Speakeasy

Chapter 6: A Distant Goddess

Chapter 7: Orange Blossom Limited

Chapter 10: Good Men Must Dare

Chapter 12: The Phantom Squadron

Chapter 13: Comrade Zimmerman

Chapter 15: Cloak and Dagger

Chapter 16: Special Branch

Chapter 19: Walpurgis Night

Chapter 20: Mister In-Between

Chapter 21: “Journeys End in Lovers Meeting”

Appendix : Edward F. Clark, Jr.

Preliminary cover sketch by Laurie Fraser Manifold

Samuel Gottscho’s New York for the novel’s title page

Stanley Walker, Lucius Beebe

Whitney Shepardson, Francis Miller

Elmer Davis at the Office of War Information

Carter Clarke and Alfred McCormack

Arlington Hall headquarters

Aerial view of Arlington Hall Station

George Rance, the Cabinet War Rooms commissionaire

The London Controlling Section

Meredith Gardner in the cooing dovecote

Carter Clarke as a one-star

How Long Does It Take to Write One Damn Novel, Anyway?

When Bliss Austin died in 1988, prompting concern about the BSI losing its history, I thought to do something about it. I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I set out to cover 1930-1960, concluding with Edgar W. Smith’s death, thinking I’d be able to find enough material for a decent 250 pp. book. I had no idea how much I’d actually find once I started looking, or that, a decade later, I’d have done five volumes and some shorter works for over 1500 pages —with the 1950s still to go.

The five chronological volumes came out between 1989 and 1999. In the process, my literary interests and Pentagon life collided to give me an idea for an historical novel about the BSI. Not a cozy like others have written since Anthony Boucher broke that ground in 1940. A serious one, about life in the 1930s, the struggle over America’s course as Europe went to war, the war’s clandestine side after we entered, and afterwards the birth of the Cold War in which my own generation was born and grew up.

The idea came unbidden, and proceeded to eat my brain until I started researching and writing it. I’d never cared to write fiction, and continued to bring out the fourth and fifth Archival History volumes. But I drew up a time-line for the novel as early as July 1994, and for the next several years was constantly writing it in my head: thinking out plot, choosing historical characters and inventing fictional ones, researching issues, and composing snatches of incident and dialogue in my mind. Finally one day in 1999, with Irregular Crises of the Late ’Forties out, and a bit bored with a wargame in which I was playing at U.S. Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla., I suddenly started writing.

I always overwrite, then go back and take stuff out, editing and re-editing. I sent some early chapters to a few Irregulars, drafts embarrassingly prolix compared to the final version. I didn’t receive much positive feedback, and one was honest enough to tell me to stick to nonfiction. I kept on nevertheless, and a surviving note says I was writing Ch. 16 in June 2000, having written obsessively since March. But industry like that came in spurts, alternating with obsessive editing instead, or just plain neglect.

Despite its early shortcomings, I thought there was a genuine story that only required work to bring out. I sent second-draft chapters to Ronald Mansbridge, the novel’s only living character, with lots to say about the 1930s BSI and Irregulars like Christopher Morley, Basil Davenport, and Peter Greig. Ronald’s encouragement kept me writing and cutting and revising, over and over, until I had only three chapters to go. And then, one or two pages into the first of those, September 11th occurred.

My special ops colleagues and I were on the Pentagon’s first floor about eighty feet from the impact point. We were all unharmed, but I witnessed other people brought out of the burning building badly injured, horribly burned, or dead. In the days that followed, the Pentagon courtyard was turned into a field morgue, and the end of North Parking was turned into a crime-scene lab where Army graves-registration personnel, medical technicians, FBI agents, and corpse dogs sifted through every cubic inch of debris from the building for evidence and body parts. This went on several months, smelling like an open grave. It was the first thing I saw upon arriving in the morning, and the last thing I saw when I went home at night.

I didn’t do any further writing in the bloody-minded mood in which my colleagues and I set to work for the year and more that followed. Three times in my Pentagon years, when great events occurred, I had the good fortune to be exactly where I’d want to be in order to take part in them. This was one of them. 9/11 pushed special operations out of the shadows of U.S. military planning into center-stage, and we became insanely busy. But the unfinished manuscript at home nagged at me. Eventually I resumed periodically editing what I’d already written, and at some point showed it to a fellow Washington BSI, Daniel Stashower, with whom I collaborate on Conan Doyle projects.

Dan writes fiction as well as nonfiction, and was enthusiastic about the novel— enough to think it might be of interest beyond the BSI itself. The question was whether the arcane Irregular side of the story was told in a way that interested other readers. He thought it was.

The acid-test was someone outside the BSI: Caleb Carr, whom I knew not because of his fiction (e.g. The Alienist ) so much as his work as a military historian. When I mentioned the novel to him in June 2003, he asked to see a sample. I sent him Ch. 9 (“46W47”). After he read it, he wanted to see the entire thing. I sent what I’d done, and he more or less demanded that I finish it, and he talked to his high-powered literary agent in New York about representing me.

In July ’04, I started writing the three final chapters in Vermont, in the house where the Prologue takes place. I now knew what I wanted to happen in the final chapters it was a case of willing myself to write them. By the time I returned to Washington, I’d finished the first and all but two pages of the second. Soon I finished it and the third as well.

I delivered the manuscript to Caleb’s agent on January 7, 2005, the day of that year’s BSI annual dinner. Several months later, I went back to New York to hear what she thought. She spent an hour with me, a lot of her time for a novice like me, and impressed me with her analytical ability as she dissected the novel and identified things it needed: more about the BSI (I was glad to hear), and about how Woody feels when his marriage goes bad. She asked if I’d had any other novel in mind as a model. While I’d never consciously thought about it before, what popped into my mind was Armageddon , Leon Uris’s epic about the birth of the Cold War, which I’d read multiple times.

But then, near the end of the hour, and as if an afterthought, she remarked: “Of course, you need to get rid of the last two chapters.” Get rid of them? I couldn’t believe my ears. Why? They’re when Woody finally understands what really happened in his personal life, and resolves everything!

Because, she said, people don’t know about the Cold War stuff in those chapters. What they know about, from countless movies etc., are Nazis. So end the novel at Ch. 19, after more build-up to Hans-Dieter Eckhardt getting it in the neck. But that’s not the whole story, I protested for a tense quarter-hour. Her view, reasonable for a literary agent, was that keeping the novel focused on what readers of World War II thrillers expect greatly increased the chance of a big sale to a publishing house, maybe even a bestseller. Save the last two chapters for the sequel, she told me. There isn’t going to be any sequel, I retorted.

The session ended with me saying I’d rather have a 5000-copy edition of my story than a bestseller that wasn’t, and her pointing out that the publishers she’d like to take the novel to aren’t in business to bring out 5000-copy editions. There we left it, as I returned to Washington. I started on other things she wanted, and she continued encouraging me to get rid of those two chapters and make it a “Nazis dunnit” story. A colleague of hers read the manuscript, and she sent me his advice, including “re-framing” the story by re-introducing at intervals the young man interviewing Woody in the Prologue, to create a “thru thread.” (But losing me with an exhortation to “Think Interview with a Vampire .”) And there it was again: “I think the end section on the cold war could be dropped.”

I didn’t. I did some work on the novel through the end of the year, but it was now getting close to February 7, 2006, when I’d be retiring from government and leaving Washington. I spent the two weeks after that in snowbound Vermont turning out a revised draft I sent her on the 20th. “Enclosed is as much as I can do with it for now,” I told her “I haven’t removed the last two chapters, I cannot rpt cannot do that without ripping my heart out, but I’ve added stuff leading up which ties them more closely to the development of the story.”

“Right now, I’m exhausted with it, and the Conan Doyle book is pressing,” I concluded. The latter was the one published two years later as Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters . It needed to be my first big project after leaving Washington, and it kept Dan Stashower and me busy the rest of 2006 and 2007, in fact into 2008 with its post-publication aftermath.

Throughout those next two years, Baker Street Irregular sat on a shelf in her office as I worked on the Conan Doyle book, and she waited for me to come to my senses.

Chapter 1: Mr. Bird and Mr. Madden

New York, February to September, 1933

Synopsis: In February 1933, Woody Hazelbaker, a young lawyer in the Wall Street firm of Emery, Bird & Thayer, is headed for unemployment in the firm’s lay-offs as the Depression deepens. To his surprise, the senior partner, Mr. Bird, gives him an uneasy choice: he can not only stay, but win promotion to partner years ahead of the usual time, if he discreetly acts for bootlegger-mobster Owney Madden, who wants to cash out of his illicit empire and retire. After Woody’s initial meeting with Madden and his henchman Frenchy DeMange, he gets started on it, acquiring along the way a first-hand understanding of the New York underworld he has previously been only vaguely aware of.

Sources and Methods: Woody is the only Baker Street Irregular in the novel who’s fictional. His Kansas City, Mo. hometown is mine too, but he is not me. My family background and life were quite different. Then I went West, not East, for college, and instead of Law studied International Relations for a career in government.

I might have been more like Woody if I’d grown up in Kansas City when he did, during Prohibition. His K.C. was not yet the genteel place it seemed to me in the 1950s. Its long-time machine-boss Tom Pendergast finally went to prison the year before I was born, making a big difference in local corruption and vice— even though in the 1950s “the Factions” (the machine’s remnants) still ran K.C. in cahoots with the Mafia. But this was barely visible to me as a kid. Kansas City’s scofflaw side was far more evident to Woody’s generation.

Making him a lawyer, something rare in the 1930s and ’40s BSI, was for something entirely different, though. In World War II I wanted him to become part of a particular U.S. intelligence organization whose chief, a lawyer in civilian life, recruited other lawyers for it almost entirely. (See ch. 16 herein about this.) Once that was decided, it made sense to make Woody Owney Madden’s diffident lawyer early in the novel, a big part of his real-life education, including getting him over some (though maybe not all) of his insecurities from a lower-middle-class Midwestern upbringing as he makes his way through professional life in New York, dealing principally with different kinds of people.

While I’m not Woody, it was a jolt when one of the novel’s readers called him a “Mary-Sue character.” This term, I gathered, originated in Star Trek fan fiction, meaning “usually written by a beginning author.” [ok, noted.] “Often the Mary Sue is a self-insert with a few ‘improvements’ (e.g., better body, more popular, etc). The Mary Sue is almost always beautiful, smart, etc. In short, she is the ‘perfect’ girl. The Mary Sue usually falls in love with the author’s favorite character(s) and winds up upstaging all the other characters in the book/series/ universe.”

Translated into male terms, that did seem uncomfortably familiar. So I took an online “Is your character a Mary Sue?” test, being Woody as closely as I could, scoring a 24 with these results: “Borderline-Sue (21-35 pts.): Your character is cutting it close, and you may want to work on the details a bit, but you’re well on your way to having a lovely original character. Good work.” And if my own insecurities hadn’t been a factor in the test’s “Your Character and You” section, Woody would have scored a 20: “The Non-Sue: Your character is a well-developed balanced person, and most certainly not a Mary Sue. Con-gratulations!” I’m not sure Woody’s that “balanced” as a person, and nobody describes me that way either, but I take what I can get.

A screenwriter friend jocularly remarked that I needed to start thinking about what to say when Hollywood asked who I saw playing Woody in the movie. I told him I did sometimes see Timothy Hutton as he’d been playing Archie Goodwin in the Nero Wolfe television series on Arts & Entertainment network at the time. There was a silence at the other end, and then, explosively: “Timothy Hutton stole the best girlfriend I ever had!” Ok, he’s out of the movie. But he’s still in my mind’s eye as Woody, in the opening and closing scenes of The Golden Spiders especially.

Woody sees movies incessantly, and admits that he gets too many of his ideas about life from them. (Especially from screwball comedies. We’re alike in that way, and share a lot of our tastes in movies.) He saw Edward G. Robinson’s Little Caesar when it came out in 1931, but his reference to King Kong must have been based on previews, because his remark comes in February ’33 and the movie’s New York premiere wasn’t until March 7th. Unnamed in Ch. 1, but contributing a reference by way of tribute, is The Blue Dahlia starring Alan Ladd and Veronica Lake, for which Raymond Chandler received an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay, 1946. The reference is to the “campaign table with bottles and glasses” in Madden’s apartment (p. 28). I noticed one in the gangster’s apartment in The Blue Dahlia , the first time I watched it eons ago, and it’s always stuck in my mind.

Some readers have asked why Woody never goes by his Christian name Kenneth. I don’t know. There are some matters he won’t discuss with me.

Mr. Bird: pp. 20-24. Mr. Bird is based on Edward F. Clark, Jr. (“The Matter of the French Government,” BSI) as I knew him in his late years. (Ed was recognized as Mr. Bird’s model by the Hon. Albert M. Rosenblatt, BSI.) Born in 1907, Ed was Harvard Law himself from Woody’s era, and a Wall Street lawyer I got to know well in the BSI and The Five Orange Pips. His son Andrew’s moving talk about him, at the Pips dinner following Ed’s death in 1996, began: “My father was born by gaslight when Theodore Roosevelt was President,” and is an appendix in this book. Ed also appears as himself later on in the novel, so there will be more to say about another role he played in history. Ed was one of the princes of the realm in the BSI I entered in 1973 there are few like him left in it, and I don’t deceive myself that I’m one of them. He was an exemplar of a bygone era, and it was a privilege and delight to know him.


Merrillville man sentenced for role in 2012 waitress slaying

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A Merrillville man was sentenced to four years Wednesday after pleading guilty to lesser charges in a 2012 waitress slaying.

Michael A. Craig, 31, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery in exchange for prosecutors dropping a murder charge. The plea agreement called for a sentence of 2-8 years.

He was credited for two years spent incarcerated before he posted bond in 2014. He received good time credit for the remaining two years.

Craig and two co-defendants Stephen Lee Henderson, of Gary, and William Blasingame III, of Harvey, Illinois, were charged with killing Jacqueline Gardner, 24, during a May 19, 2012, robbery outside her Schererville apartment.

Gardner lived in the 8000 block of Alpine Lane in the Hidden Creek apartment complex, south of Pine Island. She was shot in the hallway outside her apartment after she arrived home from work at Joe’s Crab Shack in Merrillville. About $85 in tips were missing.

Craig dated Gardner’s co-worker, tipping off the robbery, but stayed in the car when it happened, documents said.

He knew “when she might be leaving work, might have tip money and would know where to get it,” prosecutor Eric Randall said.

Joan Gardner, the victim’s mother, said in her victim impact statement if it wasn’t for Craig, her daughter would still be alive.

“We are devastated by this loss,” she said. “She was just a wonderful person.”

Jacqueline Gardner’s daughter, then 4, was in the apartment, prosecutors said. She also had an 8-month-old child she was still breastfeeding.

Gardner’s live-in boyfriend told police he was inside their third-floor apartment when he heard heavy footsteps and a struggle in the hallway outside of his apartment door. Through the peephole, he saw a man putting a chokehold on Gardner. He called 911 and screamed for help, he told police.

When he opened the front door he found Gardner unconscious on the hallway floor in front of the door. She died of a gunshot wound to the back.

Appearing in a suit and striped tie, Craig turned toward Gardner’s family and apologized, saying he never intended her to be killed.

“I am sorry for what happened,” he said. There’s “not a day that goes by I don’t think of it. I regret a lot of things from my past. I pray one day you find it in your hearts to forgive me.”

Defense lawyer Maryam Afshar-Stewart argued Craig has changed his life in the nine years since it happened, now married children. A long prison sentence would take him away from his children, she said.

Randall asked for the maximum eight-year sentence with the remainder under work release. It was a “tremendous plea” due to “evidentiary issues,” he said.

Craig’s other lawyer, Josh Malher, argued Craig had a limited criminal history and cooperated in other cases against his co-defendants.

“He is accepting responsibility for what he has done,” he said.

Randall noted that Craig’s children all live in the South, in Texas, Atlanta, Houston and Mississippi.

“He’s already away from his kids,” he said.

Judge Samuel Cappas noted the harm to Gardner’s family, yet Craig didn’t have a substantial criminal history after the murder.

Henderson was sentenced to 10 years in January in a plea agreement on conspiracy to commit robbery. Cappas noted he was avoiding a murder charge that carried a penalty between 45-65 years.

“Your attorney has done a wonderful job for you,” he told the defendant.

Blasingame pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit robbery and was sentenced to 10 years in January.


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