Cryptologic Bytes

"On This Date in History" Calendar

1946: Meredith Gardner broke into KGB message re: Manhattan Project.

Wednesday, December 20, 2023

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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