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U S A secrets code and cipher

Saturday, January 8, 2011

In October 1941 the Japanese government led by Prince Konoye was replaced by a purely military government, with General Tojo as premier and Shigenori Togo in charge of Foreign Affairs. The governments of Konoye and his immediate predecessors had scarcely been peacetime regimes besides being at war in China since 1931, creating the puppet state there of Manchukuo and fighting with some success an undeclared war against the Red Army in Siberia, Japan had been preparing for the expulsion of the Europeans and Americans from all East Asia but government was specifically created to fight the current major war in alliance with the Germans, who were then expecting and expected to defeat Russia within a matter of weeks. One Shigenori Togo's first actions were to call in his chief of signals Kazuji Kameyana and ask him whether the diplomatic ciphers were secure for Togo had read a book called The American Black Chamber by Herbert O. Yardley in which Yardley told much about American intelligence in the 1920 and more perhaps than he should have, and this from first hand knowledge about code and cipher-breaking before the Black Chamber was wound up in 1929.

What Togo wished to know was whether Japanese ciphers were now safe in view of the coming war with the United States. Kameyana replied that this time they were but Kameyana was wrong
Yardley was an employee in the State Department where he first entered the Black Chamber in 1913. It was not what its name implied but, as he says, a 'spacious room with a high ceiling overlooking the southern White House grounds.
By lifting your eyes you could see a tennis game in progress where a few years earlier President Roosevelt and his tennis cabinet had played each day.' The job of Yardley and his colleagues was the decoding and deciphering of foreign diplomatic and consular services communications
Indeed the civil servants who worked in the State Department have never enjoyed what might be called a good press a generation after Yardley's arrival in the Black Chamber President:

Franklin D. Roosevelt was to refer to the members of the American diplomatic corps collectively as 'cookie-pushers'. The reason for the low status of these men, compared with that of their European equivalents, is not hard to find n the first place and until quite recently, government service was not held in high esteem in the United States.
The business of America,' Calvin Coolidge, perhaps the most 'American' of Presidents in this century until Harry S. Truman, once said, 'is business.' Even army officers were regarded by most of their compatriots, at least in peacetime, as men who had chosen a safe, ill-paid career because of their inability to compete in the market place: officers in the Navy and in the Marines were more respected being on the one hand high  grade technicians and on the other the first line of defense abroad.
Secondly, the eighteenth century system place had in politics persisted, like the Constitution itself, well into the twentieth. The diplomatic-plums of office, the embassies and ministries, went not to professionals but to the men who had backed the incoming President, usually financially; in any case they had to be rich men to keep up with the other ambassadors; ;00 their own negligible pay, and resigned automatically after each Presidential election. If the head of the other party had won they were usually replaced. (Relics of this extraordinarily amateurish system remain, but not in the more important posts.)
Thus a man who became a servant of the State Department in the' .years before the first World War had little hope of achieving either financial success or great prestige in a country that was increasingly a plutocracy. On the other hand he was unlikely to sack.
He therefore tended to be the sort of man who took holy orders in England. There were exceptions, of course, both in the Church of England and in the United States civil service, and these latter Herbert O. Yardley was certainly one. Finally, contacts between the State Department and the other branches of government, including in peacetime even the armed forces, well kept at a minimum. Yardley says: 'At last I found the American Army pamphlet on the solution of military ciphers.'

In such circumstances it is hardly surprising that American diplomacy was so frequently inept; it was also almost as often adequate for a great nation protected by two huge oceans, a big navy and general global acceptance of the Monroe Doctrine. In fact, diplomatic expertise was scarcely needed, for in Central and South America 'dollar diplomacy' was not yet a pejorative expression: the Panama Canal was bought, as Louisiana and Alaska had been bought in the northern continent. As for Europe, the word 'isolationism' had not yet been coined, for the simple reason that it was so far accepted that no such word was needed. Most Americans, or their immediate forebears, had so recently, so deliberately and at such emotional cost left Europe that there was then little desire to return in any sense.
Only the westward momentum that had carried the power of the United States to Hawaii, to the seizure of the Philippines from Spain, and to the open-door policy in China foreshadowed conflicts to come, conflict not with China which appeared to be in a condition of perpetual political chaos but perhaps with the country that Commodore Perry's treaty of 1854 had introduced into the diplomatic equivalent, with Japan that had defeated China and then Russia, with this now major power growing so rapidly and with intentions so difficult to fathom. Here, at least, that form of expertise called intelligence, political, naval and military was badly needed by the policy makers in Washington. For the popular imagination it might be enough to describe the Japanese as inscrutable: for any administration of a country that was growing to regard most of the vast Pacific as an ocean within its own sphere of influence, it was essential that the new power on the far shore be scriptable.
Japan was still a friendly power, but after the Japanese Navy had defeated the Russians at the Battle of Tsuschima in 1905, it became increasingly evident to the other great naval power in the Pacific that it must know what the Japanese were about. Or to put it more bluntly, it was important whether Japanese warships could, if hostilities arose, destroy American battleships, and how, and where, and when.
For Japanese-American relations were, at best, ambiguous from the Japanese point of view they formed only a part of Buro-Asian racial relationships, always tinged with the potential hostility inherent in great social and religious differences, but until the late nineteenth century a hostility neutralized in part by extreme remoteness. It is said that in outermost space galaxies collide. European, by name at least Christian, civilization did not meet that of the Western hemisphere until 1492, and the collision occurred a few years later when Cortez and Pizarro conquered and destroyed what are now Mexico and Peru. Since Alexander the Great's expedition into India three hundred years before the birth of Christ, Asia proper too had been left almost entirely alone by Western Europeans, though they fought and ultimately lost enormously protracted wars against the Byzantines and later, the Russians.

By the mid-nineteenth century, however, Western European modes seemed to be dominant in much of Asia. The so-called Indian Mutiny led to Queen Victoria being proclaimed Empress of India; the Dutch had long ago annexed Indonesia; the Westernized Russians extended their domination to the Pacific; enormous China lost an estimated forty to fifty million lives in the mid-century civil wars called the T'ai Ping rebellion and the ensuing turmoil, from which the Manchu Dynasty never really recovered.
The great European colonial powers, in particular France and Britain, descended like greedy vultures upon the enormous moribund, carving out spheres of exploitation for themselves; the Germans joined in the game later, and when the newly in desterilized and militarized Japanese won their war against China in 1894-5 and had signed the Treaty of Shimonoseki, they found themselves under the strongest diplomatic pressure not only from Russia, with which country they were now in direct and, from the Japanese point of view, absolutely vital confrontation, in the Manchuria-Korean area, but also with the other European colonial powers that had interests in China.
These powers backed Russia and compelled the Japanese to withdraw from the Chinese mainland. The Japanese retained Korea, but the loss of the Tsuschima Strait to Russia would have given distant Moscow dominance in the western Pacific and would have prevented Japan from achieving or maintaining such status. The forced surrender of Chinese territory had greatly offended Japanese national pride, even though they were 'allowed' to retain Taiwan. Euro-Asian relations, already more or less hostile, became catalyzed in the Russo-Japanese War, the first great Asiatic victory since the time of Ghengis Khan.

From the moral point of view what happened in the Far East a hundred years ago was and is somewhat disgusting. The importation in vast numbers of high-minded missionaries, principally Protestant and in the majority from the United States, to convert 'the heathen Chine' was less acceptable to an ancient civilization than had been the arrival, two and a half centuries earlier, of Roman Catholic missionaries sent to convert the far more primitive natives of the Americas. From these Asian activities Japan had remained immune, an island race with a population greatly in excess of Great Britain's and unconquered by foreigners for the better part of three thousand years. Having tasted, and at first accepted, European culture in the form of Portuguese missionaries and traders in the mid-sixteenth century, the Japanese had expelled them less than a century later; the Jesuits were ordered to go, Christianity stamped out, and when the Christians rebelled, Japan was sealed. Such small communities of Christian traders as were permitted to remain were compelled to live in closed ghettoes. Apart from these rigorously controlled, and on occasion persecuted, commercial minorities in their enclaves, Japan had retreated behind its seas and this for some two centuries. Thus was a Japanese identity, distinct from that of their forebears from continental China, created. And thus did Japan, a nation with its own implosive forces, remain almost totally un-Europeanized both culturally and economically, and above all in its concept of politics, until quite late in the last century. When finally the Japanese in some measure accepted European, by then American- European, modes and standards, what they were accepting or modifying was not the Europe of the Renaissance but the methods and morals of high capitalism with its corollary of the time, colonialism. Japan as a world power was born, like Pallas Athena, fully formed. However, its father's forehead was not that of Zeus but what Lenin called colonialist monopoly capitalism, a form of power into which the ancient Japanese system of over lordship slipped far more easily and quickly than had European feudalism. The speed itself, however, was perilous for a country with an intense population density and,

1905 was a climactic year, so far as Japan was concerned. Not only did the Russo-Japanese War and the great Japanese naval victory of Tsushima put a stop for forty years to Russian expansion eastwards, but it also saw a diplomatic demarche, not unconnected with this victory, in the Anglo-Japanese Treaty or alliance.
This was a somewhat cynical treaty based less on any genuine friendship than on obvious mutual self-interest. The building of the German High Seas Fleet and the growing strength of the United States Navy, as proven in the Spanish-American
War, had rendered the British concept of 'splendid isolation', backed by a two-fleet Royal Navy out of date. Near-global hostility to the British Empire during the Boer War had under lined Britain's need for a powerful naval ally. The Anglo-French entente was tenuous, new and not yet an alliance. Russia was obviously weak, while tension along the Indian northwest frontier had not entirely abated.

The Kaiser's Germany was the great potential threat. America was, in theory at least, strongly antiimperialist, while Anglo-American commercial rivalry was very real and had become overtly political in Venezuela (Lenin' misinterpreted this coolness in Anglo-American relations as the' inevitable prelude to a war).
Only the Japanese alliance offered: both a substantial increase in British strength and the protection of the British Empire's distant flank in the Pacific. In the Fareast, in 1905, the British and the Japanese had few territorial or maritime areas of potential conflict. Commercial relations were, by the standard of the age, admirable. Britain exported' machine tools and technological knowledge; Japan paid in cheap goods produced by rice-eating Asia tics
Therefore it was also in the Japanese interest to renew the Treaty of Alliance in 1911, and: to abide by it with impeccable rectitude, immediately, and at very small cost to themselves, when Great Britain declared war on Germany in August 1914.
For, from the Japanese point of view, the enemy was not the north wind that blew from Russia, a gale stilled by Japanese bravery and skill at least for the time being, nor the south wind that blew from Malaysia, Indo-China and Indonesia, but the east wind that blew from the United States, that had engulfed S. Philippines and was rapidly turning those islands into the trans-Pacific American colony. Furthermore these American imperialists were threatening to block the Japanese from what must, eventually, be their main source of raw materials and their first area of Asiatic domination, from enormous China, that huge land mass with a vast polyglot population, already in obvious political disintegration before Sun Vatsen gave the old dynasty its coup de grace in 1911 and ushered in a new period of war-lord chaos that was to last for a very long time.

Finally in the same year, 1905, that curse of the United States, racialism, had reached the West Coast, and its first victims after the Red Indians were the Chinese and Japanese. In that year racial segregation was introduced into the schools of San Francisco, and it spread rapidly until by 1921 it applied in all the western littoral states. The attempt by President Theodore Roosevelt to stop this obviously dangerous and indeed repulsive populist movement at its earlier legislative appearance had failed. In his State of the Union address to the Congress in 1906 he had urged that an act be passed investing the Japanese who had 'won in a single generation the right to stand abreast of the most intelligent and enlightened people of Europe and America' with the same rights of naturalization that were then reserved for 'free white persons, aliens of African nativity and persons of African descent'. The President was overruled by the Congress. The Japanese already in America became, with a mere handful of exceptions, not just second-class citizens, like American Indians, but aliens. The Congress, representing the American people, had declared itself as anti-Japanese, in opposition to a President who has not been regarded by history as anything other than an extreme patriot. And this was carefully observed, nor was it to be forgotten, in Japan. The Europeans, from Vladivostok to Jakarta, might be resented; but it was henceforth the Americans who were the enemy of the proud and increasingly powerful Japanese.

In 1912 the Japanese Emperor Matsuhito died after a long reign of forty-five years. He was posthumously renamed Meiji Tenno and his reign was called the Era of Meiji (which has been translated as the Era of Enlightened Peace, though it had seen two major Japanese Wars). It was succeeded by the Era of Taisho, of Moral Righteousness (ominous nomenclature: an essentially European, even Christian, concept, in a totally Japanese ideology) and the enemy of this righteousness, once the German outposts in China and the Pacific islands had been rapidly swept aside in 1914, was to be in the first instance American arrogance and American imperialism, and secondly, the European presence in eastern Asia.
This long historical digression is intended to show why Japanese intelligence, at least for most of the first half of the twentieth century, was directed against the United States of America, for America was then the primary enemy in Japanese eyes.
American secret intelligence before the First World War was both neglected and negligible. It has varied, with exceptions between these two negatives ever since. The great battles of the Civil War were, usually, the head-on collisions of large armies. A-t the cost of enormous casualties these reciprocal slaughters were won by the army that got there firs test with the moistest' and also that had the less inefficient commander. At the beginning of that ghastly war the latter was usually the Confederate general; at the end, and backed by overwhelming strength, the Northern generals.
Any civil war should, in theory, be a most fertile field for intelligence of every sort. In fact this seems seldom to have been the case. The explanation may be that on the one hand each side knows too much about the others and the evaluation apparatus therefore becomes swamped and inefficient; on the other, that hatred of 'traitors' distorts judgment. In any event civil wars are notoriously bloody wars, and brute power even more important than in international wars, for defeat must be total, surrender 'unconditional'. Until 1941 at least, the war between the States, was, for Americans, the prototype war. Patriotism at the front, productivity in the rear, such was the war-winning combination. And this suited the ethos of the United States, suspicious of brains and contemptuous of the sly approach.
Only very large and powerful states can win wars in this expensive fashion. For a long time the United States could afford the expense, and won wars into which it was, almost always reluctantly, dragged.
Herbert Yardley was, he tells us, employed in a junior capacity by the State Department during the years immediately preceding the entry of the United States into the First World War.
He worked in the department engaged upon the encoding and de coding of communications to and from the Department and its representatives overseas, and soon realized that the American diplomatic cipher system was extraordinarily naive and most easily broken, even by a quasi-amateur like himself. Since he was, to judge by his book, somewhat anti-British before 1917, he seems to have been incensed by the ease with which the British were reading American material not intended for their eyes. With the American declaration of war upon Germany and Austro-Hungarian on 6 April 1917, he and the intelligence section of the U.S. Army General Staff realized that his very considerable talents in code and cipher" matters were better employed in the military than in the diplomatic field. His further activities are described in the second part of this book, which is devoted to Secret Intelligence in the First World War.

As already stated, secret intelligence is the discovery by A of what B would conceal from him, A and B being usually organizations, national, ideological, even religious. To be of any use, the information that A or its agents has acquired about B must be relayed to A's evaluation centre, where the decision can be made whether it is true, false, a deliberate plant or a mixture of two or more of these. Apart from most immediate battlefield intelligence, the discoveries that A may make about B's abilities and intentions are almost entirely dependent on the communications system used by both parties. And it is these that are most vulnerable, in both directions and with an ever-increasing complexity. The three main methods of making and breaking secret communications, whether these be operational or intelligence or both, are agents, variants of what can be called 'invisible inks' , and ciphers. The agent can of course be broken, by torture for instance, or A code is essentially the substitution of one word for another; a cipher the replacement of one letter by either another letter, a mathematical symbol, an ideogram or a jumbling of these, all of which can be carried on, with permutations, ad infinitum. Codes are not necessarily 'secret', e.g. the Morse code and many counterseal codes designed to save time and expense, whereas ciphers are usually intended to be secret. Codes and ciphers can be mixed. Therefore, for the purposes of this book, the word ciphers, encipherment and decipherment will be used to include codes, encoding and decoding. For more detailed definitions the reader is referred to The Code breakers by David Kahn, turned around, say, by bribery, once he has been identified and caught. Until then, a trained secret agency employing an adequate number of spies is very efficient, but once infiltrated more dangerous to its country than to its country's enemies. The 'secret ink' technique and its successors such as the micro-dot - used in conjunction with apparently innocuous correspondence assume that A will read B's mail and be misled as to its real meaning. Cipher assumes that he will read the messages but fail to understand them at all. With the introduction of radio the practice of ciphers has taken on a really vast significance in peace and war, but one which may have reached its peak during the Second World War.
It is not possible to invent an unbreakable cipher, for the simple reason that anything which a human mind has knitted together another human mind of equal caliber can eventually unravel. (If beings of a sort from outer space exist, they might have means of communication so far beyond our imagination as to be indecipherable on the other hand, they might not be aware that space is filled with our radio and other communications, or even that we were able to communicate with one another at all.) 'Eventually' is here the key word Ciphers of an almost incredible complexity have been invented, and indeed used. But they usually have one major disadvantage, more in war than in peace, in that their very complexity can make the deciphering by the proper recipient a lengthy business. There is little point in a foreign minister sending an ambassador a communication that the recipient cannot read almost immediately. For if the contents of the secret message are so lacking in urgency that days can be afforded in their deciphering, then it is obviously easier, quicker and safer to send this message verbally or even to summon the ambassador home to the foreign ministry. This of course applies even more in time of war particularly where immediate military or naval plans are the content Furthermore, the nearly unbreakable cipher will be broken, eventually. Under the intense pressure of war or impending war, an enemy of equivalent brains, organization and technological knowledge will break the cipher. Then one of two things happens: either A is not aware that B is reading his top ... secret signals and continues to use a broken cipher with disastrous results to himself, or he comes to realize in one way or another that his cipher has been broken, and changes t. However, the more complex the cipher, the more difficult it is to change. Either a whole new system has to be introduced to a whole host of legitimate recipients - itself a most dangerous proceeding - or the cipher has to contain a built-in method change, involving the mere switching of a button or turning of a notch or two of a wheel. But such a built-in method, being itself an element of the cipher, is certain to be broken in the end  

The user of the cipher may change it automatically with a broken periodicity; but even this method of changing an existent cipher will be deciphered, quite quickly, and the more quickly the more often it is done. Increasingly sophisticated computers have course, made for the creation of ever more complicated ciphers but have probably made the breaking of them much easier too.
And even a micro-computer is an awkward piece of delicate equipment with which to decipher a message if you are, say, riding a camel or flying a glider in a hurricane zone
Finally, the nearer to 'unbreakability' your cipher or cipher system becomes, the more reliant will you become upon it. You may even come to assume that it is unbreakable, and this is extremely perilous for, as they say in the higher-class newspaper editorials, you will be lulled into a false sense of security. Even before the First World War constant vigilance was the price of cipher safety. Of this the government and military leaders of the United States were sublimely unaware. Washington had few secrets so far as London or Berlin, Paris or Vienna, Rome or Tokyo was concerned. And when America's intentions were unknown it was almost invariably because such intentions did not exist, beyond the next presidential campaign.
This is perhaps the most foolproof form of security imaginable, but one not usually regarded as consistent with statecraft of the highest order.

As will be seen the Americans took this lackadaisical absence of security abroad with their army to France in 1918 and as late as 1941 President Roosevelt still believed the claptrap the British had told him during the First World War about a Danish-based British .Secret Service network inside Germany. 


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