Venona : The Greatest Secret of the Cold War

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9780002570008: Venona : The Greatest Secret of the Cold War

The hitherto untold story of the peacetime equivalent of ULTRA, an extraordinary cryptographic effort conducted in conditions of unprecedented secrecy over three decades which gave Western counter-intelligence experts a fascinating glimpse into how the KGB and GRU recruited and ran moles.

The US National Security Agency and its counterpart in Cheltenham, GCHQ, spent 37 years analysing cipher messages exchanged between Moscow, London and New York, before abandoning the project in 1977. In 1996 the White House authorised the release of the complete VENONA collection, which proves that the FBI and CIA had accumulated compelling evidence against the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, Klaus Fuchs, Donald Maclean and other Soviet spies. To protect the source, VENONA was never mentioned in any trial.

Study of the VENONA material reveals that there are nearly 300 unidentified Soviet agents in Britain and America, plus a smaller number of people (like the nuclear physicist Dr Theodore Hall) whose activities are described in compromising detail.

Nigel West’s book is based on the only complete set of decrypts held in Britain outside Whitehall, supplemented by interviews with most of the principal players in the VENONA drama (NSA, GCHQ, FBI and MI5 officers).

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From the Back Cover:

'VENONA: The Greatest Secret of the Cold War ' is the hitherto untold story of the peacetime equivalent of ULTRA, an extraordinary crptographic effort conducted in conditions of unprecedented secrecy over three decades which gave Western counter-intelligence experts a fascinating glimpse into how Soviet Russia recruited and ran hundreds of moles across the globe.

Nigel West’s book is based on the only complete set of decrypts held in Britain outside Whitehall, supplemented by interviews with most of the principal players in the VENONA drama. The US National Security Agency and its counterpart in CHeltenham, GCHQ, spent 37 years analysing cipher messages exchanged between Moscow, London, Canberra and New York, before abandoning the project in 1977. Long before then, VENONA had provided the FBI and CIA with compelling evidence against Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, Alger Hiss, Klaus Fuchs, Donald Maclean and many others, but – to protect the source – VENONA could never be mentioned in any trial.


Nigel West identifies for the first time the real names of several important Soviet British spies (including a famous scientist and the son of a peer) whose names have never before been made public. His study of the VENONA material reveals that there are nearly 300 as yet unidentified former Soviet agents in America and Britain, plus a smaller number of people (like the nuclear physicist Dr Theodore Hall) whose activities are described by their Soviet contacts in the most compromising detail.

The astonishing story of VENONA remains one of the last untold chapters in the history of the Cold War. Once again Nigel West proves himself a masterly guide to the intricate world of espionage and a supremely well-informed authority on the spies themselves.

About the Author:

Nigel West is a military historian specialising in intelligence and security issues, author of some 20 titles including A Matter of Trust: MI5 1945–72, MI6: British Secret Intelligence Service Operations 1909–45, GCHQ: The Secret Wireless War, Molehunt, Secret War: The Story of SOE, The Secret War for The Falklands and The Crown Jewels: The British Secrets at the Heart of the KGB’s Archives (HarperCollins, 1998)

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West, Nigel
Published by HarperCollins (1999)
ISBN 10: 0002570009 ISBN 13: 9780002570008
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West, Nigel
Published by HarperCollins (1999)
ISBN 10: 0002570009 ISBN 13: 9780002570008
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