NSA posts declassified intelligence from Korean War
- By Dan Verton
- Jul 18, 2000
The National Security Agency has setup a World Wide Web site where it plans
to post newly declassified documents outlining the triumphs and pitfalls
of signals intelligence known as SIGINT - during the Korean War.
"In the coming weeks and months you can expect to see releases of newly
declassified materials relating to SIGINT operations in Korea during 1950
[and] published articles detailing intelligence-gathering activities," said
NSA's director, Air Force Lt. Gen Michael Hayden, in an introduction to
the Web site.
The site represents NSA's latest effort to defrost itself from a Cold
War footing and increase its public communication and education initiatives
about the agency's contributions to national security.
The National Security Archive program at George Washington
University has published an electronic briefing book, "The National
Security Agency Declassified," which includes declassified documents relating
to the history, organization and operations of the NSA, including the controversial
global surveillance system known as Echelon.
The Web site's first installment outlines the signals intelligence contributions
made before and during the war by the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA),
the forerunner of NSA. The document discloses for the first time the details
of an espionage case known to NSA officials as "Black Friday" and the resultant
failure of NSA analysts to uncover evidence of a North Korean invasion of
South Korea in 1950.
In 1934, the Soviet Union's intelligence service, the KGB, recruited
William Weisband, a Russian linguist who had been working for AFSA. The
KGB convinced him to divulge details of U.S. penetration of Soviet cipher
systems. Then, two years before the start of the Korean War, "in rapid succession,
every one of these cipher systems went dark," according to the NSA document.
Thanks to Weisband, the Soviets had conducted a massive change of all
cryptological systems, denying U.S. intelligence critical communications
intercepts. "This was perhaps the most significant intelligence loss in
U.S. history," states the NSA document.
However, AFSA did score some successes. Although communications intelligence
during the Korean War was "hampered by supply shortages, outmoded gear and
equipment ill-suited to frequent movement over rough terrain," AFSA inadvertently
discovered a new communications intercept tool. It soon became apparent
that sound detection devices planted near enemy bunkers were capable of
intercepting telephone calls. Known as "ground-return intercept," the new
capability enabled collection of Chinese and Korean telephone traffic.