Thursday, November 29, 2007

Everybody Loves Raymond?

Harry Gold’s biggest self-confessed role in Soviet espionage consisted of shuttling atomic secrets from a contact he met in Santa Fe, NM, and taking them to his contact, another Los Alamos employee named David Greenglass. Greenglass, and/or his wife Ruth, would allegedly travel to New York to pass the information onto his sister and brother-in-law, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Either Julius or his college buddy, Morton Sobell, would pass the information to Alexandre Feklisov, a Russian spy working under diplomatic cover.

Fuchs returned to England in 1946, and took a job as assistant director of the British nuclear research center at Hallwell. For the next three years, he seemed fairly happy, with a host of friends, a job he loved, and the respect of his peers. But at a research center party in November of 1949, he approached his host (and boss) Henry Arnold with a rather dicey situation.

It seems that Fuch’s dad had accepted a professorship in East Germany, behind the Iron Curtain. Fuch’s wanted Arnold’s opinion as to whether that would jeopardize his security clearance. Arnold said that he was pretty sure it wouldn’t, but told him to check with MI5 official Jim Skardon.

Arnold sent Fuchs to Skardon because Intel had alerted him to Klaus’ possible involvement with Soviet espionage, according to VENONA. So, when Fuchs finally met with him, the counterintelligence officer grilled the scientist, hoping to gain a confession of espionage. Fuchs flatly denied the charge.

By January of 1950, however, Fuchs had changed his mind. He now claimed that he had become a Soviet spy in 1941 after learning that the US and UK were freely sharing nuclear information with each other but not their mutual ally, the USSR. Fuchs apparently walked into the Soviet Embassy in London and met with the chief-of-station, Jurgen Kuczynski, who told him to wait contact from one of their agents, a woman he referred to as “the girl from Banbury.” As it turns out, the mystery girl from Banbury was Kuczynski’s sister, Ursula.

When he transferred to Los Alamos during the war, Fuch’s new contact was a man he would only know as Raymond. According to Fuchs, he met with Raymond regularly in Santa Fe, NM between 1943 and 1946. In addition to meeting professionally, the two developed a sort of quirky friendship, spending evenings dining and drinking together while discussing a number of topics other than physics, a subject that Raymond didn’t know much about.

For some reason, in February of 1945, Raymond lost contact with Fuchs, and went looking for him all over the US. Fuchs’ kid sister, Kristal Heineman, happened to live in Cambridge, MA. Thinking that he might turn up there, Raymond knocked on Kristal’s door, and asked if she knew anything about her brother’s whereabouts. She told him that he would be visiting in a few weeks, so Raymond hung around the Boston area, and re-established contact with Fuchs there. Raymond knocked on her door again, a few months later after another temporary lapse in communication.

According to the official story, the man codenamed Raymond was none other than Harry Gold. But there are two major problems with this scenario. First off, Kristal Heineman had supposedly talked to Gold twice at her home, and gave the FBI a pretty thorough physical description of him. But because of her hospitalization for mental illness in February of 1950, the FBI dismissed her description of the stranger who came looking for her brother.

Okay. Makes sense that the Feds might not want to enter into evidence a statement from someone residing at the funny farm. But when Raymond visited, Kristal was never alone. Her kids, and her husband were all there, and they too had seen the putative spy. On one occasion, an acquaintance, Konstantin Lafazanos, was also on hand to witness the stranger. Everyone’s description of Raymond was identical to Kristal’s. Yet, the FBI never thought to seek testimony or a statement from the presumably sane others who had seen the spy in the flesh. And establishing Gold’s identity as Raymond was critical in helping the British make a case against Klaus Fuchs.

Stanley Yalkowsky believed that there could only reason why the FBI didn’t seek the Heineman’s help, and dismissed their descriptions of Raymond: namely, that they couldn’t have identified Raymond as Harry Gold, for the two did not look alike:


’The Crime of the Century,’ for the May 51 edition of Reader’s Digest, conceded that Fuchs described his contact as ‘forty to forty-five years of age, possibly five feet, ten inches tall, broad build.’ Harry Gold was delicate, frail, about five feet, four inches tall, and thirty-four years old.
The Heinemans weren’t the only ones. When asked to pick him out of a photo lineup on May 20, 1950, Klaus Fuchs couldn’t identify Gold either.

Think about that. Fuchs confessed that he had met frequently with Raymond, and befriended him. Nevertheless he failed to recognize his buddy in a photo-lineup. Furthermore, the description he gave doesn’t match the person the government wanted to tie into the crime. That would strongly suggest that Raymond, and Harry Gold, were two different people. Yet, for the really big cases coming their way, federal prosecutors had to prove that Gold and Raymond were one and the same.

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Tuesday, November 27, 2007

All that Glitters…

Swiss-born Harold Golodnitsky--later shortened to Gold (left)--immigrated to the US at the age of four with his Russian-born parents in 1914. After graduating high school, he took a job as a laboratory assistant at The Pennsylvania Sugar Company, which laid him off in 1932 amidst the economic woes of the Great Depression. Gold subsequently earned a BS in chemical engineering at Drexel University (Philadelphia) in 1936, and then pursued a graduate degree at Xavier University (Cincinnati).

According to the official version, an NKVD agent named Thomas Black recruited Gold as a Soviet spy in 1934 (some sources say 1935). Black worked for a chemical engineering firm founded by Abraham Brothman (Brothman Associates). Brothman, as the story goes, participated in a Soviet spy ring headed by travel agent Jacob Golos, a high-ranking official of the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA), and Galos’ assistant, Elizabeth Bentley.

According to the FBI, Gold’s name first surfaced on the government’s radar in 1947 during a probe of Brothman’s alleged espionage activities. The FBI interviewed Gold at length that year, and considered him truthful and reliable, although a bit naïve. An internal Bureau memo dated March 9, 1950 depicted Gold as a not-witting agent serving as a courier between Brothman and Galos:

GOLD, according to Confidential Informant Gregory, acted on behalf of JACOB GOLOS, known Soviet agent now deceased [Golos died in 1943], in 1940 and 1941 in picking up blue prints [sic] from ABRAHAM BROTHMAN. GOLD admits he did this in 1940 and 1941, making trips between Philadelphia and New York to see BROTHMAN for this purpose. GOLD stated that it was on GOLOS’ instruction that he, GOLD, evaluated these blue prints before turning them over to GOLOS. It is GOLD’s contention, however, that GOLOS showed no interest in these prints [caps original].
Stanley Yalkowsky, in his 1990 book The Murder of the Rosenbergs pointed out a severe problem with the FBI’s story of how and when it first noticed Gold. The Bureau had Brothman under constant surveillance since 1945. As his employee, Gold’s name and voice would have been picked up on the wiretaps of Brothman’s home and office telephones. Special agents couldn’t have missed seeing them together.

The government’s handling of Gold was rather curious in other respects too. Federal prosecutors filed no perjury or obstruction charges against him in 1950 when he completely renounced the statements he gave to them in 1947. Also, the Bureau gave him advanced warning of a search, allowing Gold invaluable time to destroy, change or create evidence.

If you’re wondering why the Feds handled Gold with kid gloves, then perhaps the answer has something to do with his willingness to testify against a number of high profile targets. In the spring of 1950, Gold participated in the prosecution of a man named Alfred Slack, an Eastman Kodak employee who had given Gold information about camera lenses on and off from 1940-1944. Press accounts of Slack during the summer of that year depicted him as part of an “atomic spy ring.” With Gold poised to testify against him, public opinion ready to throw him into a pit of hot coals, and on the advice of his attorney, Slack pleaded guilty to giving Gold information, and received a stiff fifteen-year sentence.

Yes, Slack actually gave Gold information about lenses. But lost in this whole shuffle is the fact that Slack had only given Gold public information readily available at any library. Slack didn’t know anything about atomic bombs, so he couldn’t have relayed secret information.

Not that it mattered. As far as the prosecution was concerned, Gold’s testimony had given them a victory in their battle to prove that communist spies were everywhere, and had given the Soviets enough information to create an atomic bomb.

Gold figured prominently in other prosecutions as well. He testified against Brothman and his business partner, Miriam Moskowitz on obstruction of justice charges. Although Federal Prosecutor Irving Saypol admitted in court that the government had insufficient evidence to convict the pair on espionage charges, Gold had linked them to a number of people who had reputations as communist sympathizers. For the defendants’ refusal to implicate others, Judge Irving Kaufman sentenced Moskowitz to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine, and Brothman to seven years and a $15,000 fine.

That the US government, through Gold, went after Brothman, Moskowitz and Slack in the year 1950 serves only as a backdrop to the big story. These prosecutions fuelled a national hysteria that hallucinated red spies everywhere, conspiring to overthrow the US by force or by infiltration. But to Gold and Bentley, these trials were only a warmup for the big show.

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Sunday, November 25, 2007

There’s Russians on the Starboard Bow

Despite the suspect validity of VENONA, panic arose within the US and UK that Soviet spies within the US had somehow transferred secrets about the atom bomb to the USSR. What’s worse, they had infiltrated American society to such a degree that only the most aggressive tactics could eliminate the enemy hordes preparing for attack.

At least, that’s what our official history says. When you look at the communist scare of the 1940s and 1950s, however, it seems to have been largely manufactured. Of course, there were Soviet spies in the US at the time. But the authorities didn’t seem to take them as seriously as you might imagine. Instead, they seemed more eager to go after citizens who made appealing political targets.

Take Dr. Klaus Fuchs, for instance, a self-confessed NKVD (Soviet) agent. A physicist originally from Germany, Fuchs immigrated to England in 1932 to escape Nazi persecution as a communist. He earned a PhD in Physics from the University of Bristol in 1937, and taught at the University of Edinburgh. During the war, however, the UK officially branded him a foreign undesirable who would be deported at war’s end, and interred him at prison camps on the Isle of Man and in Quebec. A colleague successfully convinced the UK government to release Fuchs so that he could work for the British nuclear program.

Everyone agreed. The Crown granted him English citizenship in 1942, and Fuchs went to work. The British, cooperating with the Americans, shipped Fuchs off to New York to work on the Manhattan Project in 1943, and from there the Americans transferred him to Los Alamos.

According to the official story, Fuchs boosted the Soviet weapons program by solving their problems concerning the gaseous diffusion used to create fission within the uranium atom, a secret he smuggled off of Los Alamos through an intermediary. He also provided the Soviets with detailed information about the upcoming hydrogen bomb, which wouldn’t become a reality until 1952.

The intermediary would take this information to another middleman with a connection to someone in New York. The New York connection then turned over this information to his handler, Soviet diplomat Alexandre Feklisov.

VENONA, that handy-dandy supposedly infallible decryption project undertaken by the NSA, set out to find the New York connection. Fortunately, for some strange reason, the Soviets transmitted enough personal information about their US spy to identify him. According to the intercept, the New York connection, codenamed ”Antenna,” (1) lived in New York (duh!), (2) attended Cooper Union College in 1940; (3) served in the US Army Signal Corp; and (4) married a woman named Ethel. US Intel diligently tracked down these leads, and found a single individual who fit that description: a man named Joseph Weichbrod.

Nowadays, of course, the Weichbrods are almost synonymous with treason, with tons of books and movies about their infamous plots. Many historians describe their communist leanings, and how they allowed the USSR to develop nuclear weapons that the Soviets didn’t know how to create on their own. They and their “ring” of henchmen gave away the United States’ most precious possession: the secret of the atom bomb.

Surely, you’ve heard of Joe and Ethel Weichbrod, haven’t you?

Of course you haven’t. That’s because the FBI decided that VENONA was just plain wrong with respect to the Weichbrods. The Bureau found another couple to pin blame on, and as it so happens, they could make a better case against them in court through “more conventional means.”

If nothing else, this proves that the FBI had absolutely no faith in those decrypted ciphers, and for good reason VENONA. Sadly, however, they should also have had less faith in “more conventional means.”

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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Oswald the Raven?

Frank Camper, in his 1997 book The Mk/Ultra Secret, alleged that Lee Oswald served as a trained sex-spy for the US Marine Corps while stationed at Atsugi Air Force Base (Japan) in the late-1950s. Camper offered as evidence numerous sightings of Oswald in local clubs, too expensive for him to afford, where he would meet the aging widows of wealthy Japanese industrialists and, literally, charm the pants off of them.

Camper also cites Oswald’s medical records for his time at Atsugi, noting in particular a diagnosis made by Capt. Paul Deranian, who in September 1958 determined that Lee had contracted “Urethritis, Acute, due to gonococcus #3033.”

In other words, Oswald had the clap. So what?

Well, sexual activity with unauthorized people was prohibited in the military. One could theoretically be court-martialed for the offense, especially if there’s evidence of hanky panky, such as coming down with VD.

Capt. Deranian also noted that the disease was “In line of duty, not due to own misconduct.” Question: how does anyone get the clap in the line of duty, other than serving as a sex spy?

In an article titled “Oswald & VD: An Intelligence Connection?” Mark Zaid explains that misconduct was determined by whether or not a soldier took himself out of action permanently on purpose or because of gross negligence, according to the Manual of the Judge Advocate General [US Navy]. Because Oswald reported his illness right away, he complied with Manual section 0809, which meant that he was acting in the line of duty.

That the USMC decided not to cite Oswald or any other Marines for misconduct, I can understand. The “In line of duty” explanation, however, is still curious. I mean, why would the Marines put something in a soldier’s file that seems like a commendation, rather than simply making a more neutral statement, or none at all? Thousands of servicemen contracted VD during the 1950s. I wonder if they have similar wording on their medical records.

Zaid’s essay doesn’t disprove the allegation that Oswald served as a sex spy. Zaid's saying that JFK researchers cannot use Oswald’s medical records to prove he was a sex spy. They have to use other evidence.

In recent years, someone has stepped forward out of the blue claiming to have been an integral part of Oswald’s life in the months preceding JFK’s assassination. Judyth Vary Baker, a biochemist specializing in cancer cell research, worked directly with Dr. Mary Sherman, an orthopedic surgeon, Director of Bone Pathology at the Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans, and an associate professor at Tulane Medical School.

In the British miniseries The Men Who Killed Kennedy, Baker relates the meet-cute with Oswald, who just happened to be nearby, and who also just happened to know David Ferrie, Dr. Alton Ochsner (the clinic’s founder), Dr. Sherman, and the research they had all been doing on how to artificially induce cancer into people.

Baker claims that she and Oswald had an affair, and that she very much fell in love with him, despite the fact that he was already married to Marina, and despite the fact that she was engaged to a man she would later marry.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the means to verify Baker’s story, or disprove it. But speculating that she is neither lying nor crazy, we would still have to wonder if Oswald was continuing to act in the capacity of a raven, given some of the rumors that had trailed him from Japan.

 

For more stuff on the JFK assassination, click here.

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Scott Free

Here’s a game your whole family will enjoy.

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A Hello to Arms

President Dwight Eisenhower wasn’t a politician, but a popular war hero with no political experience. While that might have put him behind the eight ball all by itself, he was also saddled with an allegedly corrupt Vice President in Richard Nixon.* He also suffered from Crohn’s Disease, strokes and a heart attack while in office, and thus spent a good deal of his tenure convalescing.

Eisenhower wasn’t a stupid man. He could see something very wrong in his presidency, something which because of his ill health and inexperience he couldn’t stop.

So he did the best he could. He warned us.


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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Yes, But Would You Purchase a Used Car from Them?

By now you’re probably figured out that I don’t quite buy the findings of the VENONA Project. I’m not the only one. Back in the 1950s, many within the FBI didn’t believe them either.

On February 1, 1956, Special Agent Alan Belmont, a high-ranking Bureau official who would later become Assistant Director, distributed a memo on VENONA with respect to the reliability of its information, and its possible use as evidence in trials against suspected Soviet spies. In a 1999 Nation article by Walter and Miriam Scheir titled “Cables Coming in from the Cold,” the authors mention that the FBI had cooperated with the National Security Agency (NSA) and it’s predecessor organization, the Army Security Agency (ASA) on the project. But the messages they received were “full of gaps and unintelligible.” The NSA subsequently handed the ball off to the FBI, hoping that it’s investigative and law enforcement capability could flesh out the information decoding yielded.

Belmont was no saint. He participated in the FBI’s smear campaign against Martin Luther King in the 1960s, and as a special agent on the organized crime detail in 1954 reported to Hoover that no evidence established the Mafia’s existence--words Hoover, at the time deeply indebted to the mob, desperately wanted to hear. In short, Belmont seems to have been the consummate team player, who would do or say anything the Director asked of him.

Although Belmont wasn’t all that truthful to the public, he was severely candid within Bureau corridors about the viability of VENONA as trial evidence. Obviously, he feared that using it in court might alert the Soviet Union that the US had broken its one-time pad encryption, thus prompting the reds into more careful usage of their otherwise unbreakable codes. But he had even more critical doubts concerning VENONA’s admissibility:

In the first place, we do not know if the deciphered messages would be admitted into evidence.... The defense attorney would immediately move that the messages be excluded, based on the hearsay evidence rule. He would probably claim that...the contents of the messages were purely hearsay as it related to the defendants.
Belmont summed up his reticence by pointing out the unreliability of the information:

Assuming that the messages could be introduced in evidence, we then have a question of identity. The fragmentary nature of the messages themselves, the assumptions made by the cryptographers in breaking the messages, and the questionable interpretations and translations involved, plus the extensive use of cover names for persons and places, make the problem of positive identification extremely difficult.... Reliance would have to be placed on the expert testimony of the cryptographers and it appears that the case would be entirely circumstantial.
In this memo, Belmont also provided an example of what he believed to have been misidentification. But the story he told is very similar to the hypothetical example of SHE, and three people codenamed Foam, Libby and Mayden’s Voyage mentioned in the previous post. So we have really no way of knowing who’s guilty of anything using VENONA alone.

And in the example Belmont gave, we have serious doubts about the guilt of many, if not most, of the people accused of treason.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

I Canna Change the Laws of Encoding, Captain

If we believe the information gained from VENONA, then we have strong evidence of serious Soviet infiltration into Western government, political and cultural institutions. Problem is, we have a ton of reasons to doubt conclusions derived from it.

First off, the information provided by the VENONA project was extremely sketchy. Thus, we lack a good deal of context for the 349 names “identified” by it. We wouldn’t know if they were spies, saboteurs, people set up for recruitment into Soviet Intelligence, people who were victimized by Soviet Intelligence, or just some poor schmo living next door to a person of interest. As journalism professor (Columbia University) and former Nation editor Victor Navasky stated in one of several op-ed pieces:

The reader is left with the implication--unfair and unproven--that every name on the [VENONA] list was involved in espionage, and as a result, otherwise careful historians and mainstream journalists now routinely refer to Venona as proof that many hundreds of Americans were part of the red spy network.
Navasky’s comment presumes that the identies resulting from VENONA actually belonged to the people they were attributed to. Those listed in VENONA weren't cited by name, for the most part, only by codename. We would have to possess sufficient context and evidence in order to deduce what character string belonged to whom, which is next to impossible if the information itself is extremely sketchy.

Worse than that, there’s rampant inconsistencies in the application of various codenames to specific individuals. To counter these glaring discrepencies, US Intel explained that the Soviets changed codenames for various subjects during the middle of operations, and sometimes used the same codename for two or more individuals at the same time.

There really were Soviet spies operating in the US and UK during the 1940s, some of whom you will meet shortly. At the same time, there were false-Soviet spies in the US, a type of triple-agent posing as a ‘defector-in-place’ (DIP)—i.e., an American or Brit who secretly becomes a Soviet citizen, but remains in his or her home country. These false DIPs took on roles of covert and semi-closeted communists, who infiltrated suspected commie fronts, and then testified against their members in legal procedings. You’ll meet a few of them too.

With all of these known communist agents, and pseudo-communist agents running amok, VENONA might very well have been able to identify some of them fairly easily because of knowledge of their activities through more conventional means (surveillance, wiretapping, etc.). The problem was tying them to other people.

One might find it strange that the Soviets were that flexible in their codenaming. One might begin to suspect that those working on VENONA found it easier to conflate the activities of many individuals in order to justify various prosecutions and persecutions long after the fact.

For instance, suppose we have two parties codenamed Mayden’s Voyage and Libby, the latter a phony DIP, the former a suspected enemy spy. According to a secret intelligence intercept program (that we’ll codename SHE) Libby met Mayden’s Voyage in Chicago everyday during the summer of 1999. While we have a number of witnesses and copious evidence that Libby met with someone in Chicago during this time, we also have a problem, becase Mayden’s Voyage can prove that he spent the summer of 1999 in London. Meanwhile, another party, codenamed Foam, is in Chicago during the summer of 1999, and his neighbors file affidavits stating that he frequently met with someone who generally fit the physical description of Libby. SHE subsequently concludes that Foam and Mayden’s Voyage are one and the same person. In other words, SHE presumes that the diabolically clever enemies of the republic simply re-assigned Mayden’s codename to Foam while still using it for Mayden’s Voyage.

From the above scenario, one of two things could happen. The government could arrest Foam for espionage, claiming that he had long been suspected of such because of the prior activities attributed to Mayden’s Voyage; OR, the government could arrest Mayden’s Voyage for Foam’s activities, if Uncle Sam can find some way to place him in Chicago despite good evidence that he was in London. Either way, we have no evidence at all that either Mayden’s Voyage or Foam did anything wrong. The Feds have nothing on Mayden’s Voyage, whose name might have only appeared in SHE because of enemy speculation about his potential to be a good agent for their side someday. And for all we know, Foam could have simply been giving Libby art lessons in Chicago.

“Okay, X. Dell,” you might want to say at this point, “This is all very nice, but it’s purely hypothetical, based on fictious spies in a ficticious sting operation guided by a ficticious spycode intercept. Nothing like this happened would have happened in real life, would it?”

I wish that I could say that it wouldn’t.

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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

It’s a Code, Jim, but Not as We Know It

During World War II, the United States, United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union were allies. As such, the three main Allied forces shared intelligence to achieve a common goal: the destruction of Hitler’s Wehrmacht.

These three weren’t really all that chummy. Although politics makes for strange bedfellows, war makes for even stranger one-night stands. Despite their mutual reliance, the USSR spied on the US and UK, and vice versa. The Soviets feared Anglo-American expansion after the war, especially into Eastern Europe. The US and England feared that the Soviets would cut a deal with Hitler, and withdraw from the alliance, as they had done during WWI.

The Soviet methods for keeping tabs on their allies were quite sophisticated. Their codes, for example, consisted of words that were then translated into randomly generated numbers, which could only be matched by the notation of a special disposable pad (facsimile left). Soviet Intel would issue a pair of pads--one for the receiver, one for the sender. Because the data were truly random, and because the Soviets used each pad only once, one couldn’t deduce any patterns upon intercepting a single message or a block of them. Experts agree that disposable pads are virtually unbreakable. In order to decipher such codes, you would have to hope that the sender and receiver are stupid enough to re-use the same pad, even once.

In the middle of WWII, Carter Clarke, chief of US military intelligence, launched a full-scale attempt to break Soviet codes, without the knowledge of Presidents Roosevelt and Truman. The project existed under many names from 1943 to its termination in 1980 under the Carter administration, but is best known under the code name VENONA.

VENONA made its first breakthrough when US spies investigating Soviet economic trading noticed an occasional duplication in the codes sent. Over the years, there have been stories that the US, or UK found partially burned codepads found by the Finns during the war and confiscated by the UK after the war. Another rumor tells us that the FBI actually stole pads from somewhere. But this is all guesswork. Wherever the break in these ciphers came from, no one who knew told.

Through the ciphers, US and UK Intel identified over 340 American and British citizens as Soviet spies. After declassification and release to the public in 1995, it appeared to shed light on some of the most sensitive espionage operations around. They confirmed, for example, that Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, Alger Hiss and many other controversial claims against private citizens were true. Furthermore, they validated Senator Joseph McCarthy’s claims that NKVD, GRU and KGB agents infested the US State Department, the American Communist Party and Hollywood.

So, if you believe the story of VENONA, then you have proof positive that commie plots were afoot everywhere in the US, and that those advocating for civil liberties and due process were unwitting stooges at best, and duplicitous traitors at worst. Cut and dried. Case closed.

Well, there’s a lot to indicate that the case hasn’t quite closed yet. And when it comes to the world of espionage, nothing is cut and dried.

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

Star Trekkin’ across the Universe

As most of you know, the original Star Trek series was a metaphor for the ongoing Cold War tension between the Soviet and NATO bloc nations. The Klingons and Federation, both bound by the Organian Peace Treaty, developed less affluent planets in return for influence in the same manner that the Soviet Union and United States plied Third World nations with gifts of food, medicine, and sometimes even nuclear weapons for similar reasons.

In the episode “Journey to Babel,” first aired on NBC November 17, 1967, we meet Spock’s parents, Amanda, a human, and Sarek, the Vulcan ambassador. Sarek’s attempts to cement a difficult negotiation with Andorian and other alien factions run into a severe snag when one of his severest critics winds up dead, apparently the victim of the Tal Sh’aya, the Vulcan death grip.

Sarek suffers a heart attack that will prove fatal without a transfusion from his closest relative, which happens to be Spock. When things can’t look any worse, Uhura discovers that there is a spy onboard when she picks up covert transmissions coming from somewhere to someone aboard the Enterprise. Then, someone stabs Captain Kirk, forcing him to the sickbay. Spock thus cannot donate to his father because he is duty bound to skipper the spaceship.

Dr. McCoy patches up Kirk just well enough to convince Spock that he should give the transfusion to his father. The captain intends to hand over the rains to Mr. Scott, when Uhura tracks down the incoming encrypted messages to another ship, which then attacks them.

The next action is key. Kirk orders Uhura to send a message of his own to Starfleet. Uhura reminds him that Klingons and other enemies had compromised the encryption on that channel. The content of Kirk's message, however, makes it clear why he wants the adversary to hear it.

The Captain advises Starfleet Command of the Enterprise’s powerlessness and imminent destruction. He then orders off all systems powered down, except for weapons and shields, making the ship look as vulnerable as he falsely described. When the enemies swoop in for the kill, the Enterprise easily blasts them to Smithereen Heaven with a single photon torpedo.

The maneuver worked for two reasons. First, Kirk realized that the enemy had compromised the channel. Had he sent the message out unencrypted, on an open channel, the enemy might have doubted the sincerity of it. They might have figured out right away that the communication was nothing less than a ruse.

Second, and perhaps most critical, the enemy didn’t realize that Starfleet knew about the busted encryption. Had the attackers known this, the enemy would have immediately seen Kirk’s deception.

That’s how it works in real life, actually. Oftentimes, sources that are difficult to come by aren’t scrutinized nearly as carefully as sources open for all to see.

In fact, many historians--academic and otherwise--have taken at face value one source that has dubious origins and all the markings of disinformation. That’s not to say the source itself is accurate or inaccurate. The problem is, we have no verification one way or the other, really. The message came from an enemy of the US. Some believed it hook, line and sinker with no evidence at all.

Okay. Maybe some always doubted the information. But even if false, even if it had no national security value, it could still have political value.

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Friday, November 09, 2007

Old Riddles, New Riddles

Friends, thanks for playing along with this week’s riddle. It wasn’t easy, but you proved to be up to the task, as I suspected you would. I’m proud of you.

I can’t put the answer any better than Rayke, so I’ll quote him verbatim:

When Auburn called the house to talk to he Husband, Society Lady answered.

Auburn didn't know what to do, so she claimed to be the maid, probably pretending that it was just a "routine" call.

SL saw Auburn on the bus. Once she heard her obviously distinct voice, she recognized it as the lady on the phone. And she at least knew what the maid LOOKED like, so she knew Auburn wasn't the maid.
Sure, Rayke gets deserved credit for hammering in the last nail of the coffin. But this was a total team effort, in which everyone contributed substantially

Lux established that there wasn’t a personal item that tied Auburn to Society Lady’s husband.

Foam established (1) that Society Lady wasn’t stalking Auburn; (2) that the Society Lady was actually the killer, (3) that the husband wasn’t blackmailed, (4) that the maid existed; and (5) that the maid and Auburn did not resemble each other.

Scary Monster established that Auburn and the husband didn’t look alike, thus ruling out the possibility that he had illegitimately fathered her.

Princes Banter established that the husband was having an affair.

John established that Auburn and Society Lady did not know each other before that fateful encounter on the bus. He also ruled out the possibility of kids entering the plot, that Auburn knew the husband, but not the maid, and that Auburn was the mistress. Most important, he found that Auburn’s voice was distinct, and not possibly the maid’s.

In addition to putting the finishing touches on this, Rayke established that the meeting between Auburn and Society Lady was a chance event; that Society Lady wasn’t actively pursuing her lover, for she didn’t know of one; that Auburn had spoken to Society Lady over the telephone; and that the setting of the bus was not important.

Eric1313 established that the husband never commuted on the bus, but that Auburn was a regular.

Enemy of the Republic established that the motive was sexual in nature.

YinYang established that the person not mentioned in the riddle was another woman.

Libby established the fact that Auburn called the house to ask for Society Lady’s husband, and that’s where she recognized the voice. Libby also figured out that the maid was somehow used for an excuse. Most important, Society Lady had never heard the maid speak before.

Fatty figured out that it was Auburn’s voice that attracted Society Lady’s attention, and that this was when Society Lady first realized that her husband had had an affair.

Beckeye established that there was no connection between the reason Society Lady took the bus and the crime.

Good sleuthing, all. Well done.

That takes care of the old riddle. I might post another riddle here someday, but I want to get back to the usual business of The X-Spot. I’ve been puttering around for the past month or so doing silly stuff like the Paul Is Dead rumor, games, and jokes. Basically, it’s because my intellectual energies are kinda focused on defending the dissertation. I had planned to finish out Phase I of the blog by now. But as the defense date keeps getting pushed back, I have more and more work to do.

If you thought the Grail series was contentious, the last series in Phase I is even more so. Yet, it’s an important plank in the blog, and I can’t ignore it. So when I post on this topic, I’ll have to give it my full attention.

Thus, I’m going to post on another serious topic instead, one that isn’t quite so hairy. But before we get serious again, I’d like to set up the next series with something silly.

Enjoy

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Monday, November 05, 2007

Detective: Just a Stranger on the Bus

You’re now a team of detectives. You have a mystery to solve. Like a game of twenty questions, you can ask anything you like, provided that it can be answered “yes” or “no.” The point is to deduce the solution to the question posed at the bottom from your own questions.You aren’t limited to twenty questions, of course. You will probably find it helpful to pay attention to the questions asked of your fellow bloggers, and their answers. I’ll give you a hint if we get stuck.


The Case

In a bus headed for downtown Seattle, John watches a woman board. Not only is she an obvious anti-commuter, but she looks out of place. She’s wearing expensive clothes, expensive jewelry, designer shoes and a $500 haircut. John takes out a pad and takes notes on her, dubbing her “Society Lady.”

Society Lady takes a seat next to a redheaded lass, whom John calls “Auburn,” and says hello. Auburn returns the greeting cheerfully enough, John thinks. But for some reason, Society Lady seems suddenly upset. In fact, she exits the bus at the next stop.

That night when he arrives at his crib, John turns on the news and finds out that Society Lady has allegedly murdered her husband.

What was her motive?

For the solution, click here.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007

Joking with You Too

More jokes devoted to the fine folks who populate The X-Spot

For Libby
From Dave Letterman’s Top Ten Lists: Best ways to get a Psycho brother from Point A to Point B

10. Tell Psycho he can’t afford the trip.
9. Call Psycho a New York City taxi
8. Put Psycho on the top of the car, and strap him down tight.
7. Put Psycho on the top of the car, and distract mom and sane brother while they SHOULD be strapping him tight.
6. Take a picture of Psycho, download a photo of Point B, and superimpose Psycho’s image onto that of Point B’s.
5. Order Psycho to push you around in a wheelbarrow.
4. Have the State of Ohio build a new prison in Marion, and convince Psycho to steal a spork from the nearest Taco Bell…at gunpoint.
3. Convince Psycho to hitchhike--preferably near the new prison.
2. Dare Psycho to dress up as a police officer and commandeer a patrol car.
1. Fed Ex (don’t forget air holes and trail mix).

For Malcolm


The shirt reads, “Old DJs never die. They just get lost in the mix.”

For Enemy of the Republic
A professor, grading her midterm exams, found a hundred dollar bill and a note attached to one of the bluebooks. The note simply read, “One dollar per point.”

The professor handed the student back his exam, along with $98 change.

For Jean
Q: How many witches does it take to change a light bulb?
A: Into what?

For She
A man visits a psychologist, and tells him, “Doc, you gotta help me. My wife’s treating me like a dog, and I mean a dog. So help me, I’m starting to believe that I am a dog.”

The shrink says, “That sounds serious. Lie down on the couch, and we’ll discuss it.”

The man says, “Sorry, doc. I’m not allowed on the couch.”

For Rinda Elliot
Q: How many literary critics are required to change a light bulb?
A: Trick question. Literary critics don’t know how to change a light bulb. Nevertheless, they’ll find several things wrong with the way you did it.

For Behind Blue Eyes
Two sisters, Joia and Trinity, are walking along a forest path, minding their own business, when out pops a fire-breathing dragon.

“Ha! Ha! Ha! Little ladies, I’m going to eat you!” roared the beast.

“It’s a shame,” said Trinity to her sibling. “Nobody wants to screw anymore.”

For Dr. Alistair
Two musicians are driving down the road when they notice the Grim Reaper sitting in the back seat. The Reaper explains to them that they are both about to die, but before they do, he will grant each musician with one last request so that they can remember their past lives into the next.

The first says, “Well, I’m a country and western musician. I’d like to hear ‘Achy Breaky Heart’ eight more times.”

The second says, “Well, I’m a jazz musician. My request is that you kill me first.”

For Kate
A woman wakes up next to her husband, and says, “I just had the strangest dream. I dreamt that you bought me a Mercedes for our anniversary. What do you think it means?”

“You’ll find out later tonight,” winked her spouse.

That evening, the husband gave her a gift-wrapped copy of Sigmund Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams.

For The Red Mantissa
The headline should read, “Burn, Baby, Burn.”

In a news of the weird item, we learn that Italian DJ Alessio Bertallot has set Dante’s Inferno to dance music, and has become a hit playing the mix in local discos.

For Lux
Four quick jokes about food

Did you hear about the lady who put a firecracker under her pancakes? She blew her stack.

Did you hear about the chef who got fired because he kept favoring curry?

Did you hear about the couple who played ping-pong with pickles? It was the volley of the dills.

Did you hear about the four food groups for bachelors? Fast, frozen, instant and chocolate?

For Beckeye
Five things overheard by Paris Hilton’s cellmates

“Could you put those handcuffs on again? They make me feel like I’m in my own bed.”
“Wait! When I checked no to conjugal visits, I like totally thought I had to meet with a grammar teacher.”
“Excuse me, but where’s the Starbucks?”
“So, wow, you’re a criminal. You’re like the third one I met today.”
“Why can’t I have my dog with me? He was driving drunk too.”

For Eric1313
Q: Why didn’t the Dog Star like jokes?
A: Because it was Sirius.

For Obosso
Q: What do you call people who hang out with musicians?
A: Drummers.

For Sridhar
A drunk staggers into an insurance convention and blurts out at the top of his lungs, “All insurance people are crooks.”

A man confronts him immediately, and demands, “You take that back.”

“Why? Are you an insurance person?”

“No,” said the man. “I’m a crook.”

For Bellarosa
As Oscar-winning producer Julia Philips (The Sting, Taxi Driver) said, “One day your prince will come. Don’t swallow.”

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  • Alien Abductions
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