Friday, August 5, 2011

Bamford , the Russian ''FISH'' and Unteroffizier Karrenberg - Part 1

James Bamford is a bestselling author who has written several books on the  National Security Agency.
The NSA is the United States eavesdropping and codebreaking organization. Back in the early 2000’s I bought his book    ‘’ Body of secrets: anatomy of the ultra-secret National Security Agency’’ and although I enjoyed all of it two things stuck with me.One that NSA was years or decades ahead of the rest of the world when it came to computer technology (CPU’s and storage).The other thing that I found fascinating is the story of the Russian Fish in pages 15-16:

Within a few days the team struck gold. They came upon an entire convoy of four German signal trucks, complete with four Fish machines, a signals technician, German drivers, and a lieutenant in charge. Arthur Levenson and Major Ralph Tester, a British expert on the Fish, escorted the whole lot, including the Germans, back to England. Once at Bletchley Park the machines were reverse-engineered to determine exactly how they were built and how they operated. (Levenson would later return to Washington and go on to become chief of the Russian codebreaking section at NSA.)

With enough Fish and other equipment to keep the engineers busy for a long time at Bletchley, the team began a manhunt for key German codebreakers. On May 21, 1945, Lieutenant Commander Howard Campaigne and several other TICOM officers interviewed a small group of Sigint personnel being held in Rosenheim. They had all worked for a unit of the Signals Intelligence Agency of the German Abwehr High Command, a major target of TICOM. What the prisoners told Campaigne would lead to one of the most important, and most secret, discoveries in the history of Cold War codebreaking. Their command, they said, had built a machine that broke the highest-level Russian cipher system. The machine, now buried beneath the cobblestones in front of a building nearby, had been designed to attack the advanced Russian teleprinter cipher-the Soviet equivalent of the Fish.

If this was true, it was breathtaking. For over six years US. and British codebreakers had placed Japan and Germany under a microscope, to the near exclusion of Russia and almost all other areas. Now with the war over and with Communist Russia as their new major adversary, the codebreakers would have to start all over from scratch. But if a working machine capable of breaking high-level Russian ciphers was indeed buried nearby, years of mind-numbing effort would be saved.

The Germans, eager to be released from prison, quickly agreed to lead TICOM to the machine. Campaigne wasted no time and the next day the twenty-eight prisoners, dressed in their German Army uniforms, began pulling up the cobblestones and opening the ground with picks and shovels. Slowly the heavy wooden boxes began to appear. One after another they were pulled from the earth, until the crates nearly filled the grounds. In all there were a dozen huge chests weighing more than 600 pounds each; 53 chests weighing nearly 100 pounds each; and about 53 more weighing 50 pounds each. It was a massive haul of some 7-1/2 tons.

Over the next several days the dark gray equipment was carefully lifted from its crates and set up in the basement of the building. Then, like magic, high-level encrypted Russian communications, pulled from the ether, began spewing forth in readable plaintext. Whitaker, who pulled into the camp a short time later, was amazed. "They were working like beavers before we ever arrived," he scribbled in his notebook. "They had one of the machines all set up and receiving traffic when we got there."

The Russian system involved dividing the transmissions into nine separate parts and then transmitting them on nine different channels. The German machines were able to take the intercepted signals and stitch them back together again in the proper order. For Campaigne and the rest of the TICOM team, it was a once-in-a-lifetime discovery. Back in Washington, Campaigne would eventually go on to become chief of research at NSA. Once the demonstration was over, Campaigne had the German soldiers repack the equipment and the next day it was loaded on a convoy, completely filling four heavy trucks. Two TICOM members, including I First Lieutenant Sehner Norland, who would also go on to a long career at NSA, accompanied the equipment and soldiers back to England. There it was set up near Bletchley Park and quickly put into operation. It, or a working model, was later shipped back to Washington. The discovery of the Russian codebreaking machine was a principal reason why both the US. and British governments still have an absolute ban on all details surrounding the TICOM operations.

The Fish is mentioned again in page 20.

The relative handful of American codebreakers who stayed on quickly shifted gears. The Soviet Union instantly became their number one target.
One key listening post not shut down was Vint Hill Farms Station. Known as Monitoring Station Number 1, it was located in the rural Virginia town of Warrenton. During the war, Vint Hill played a pivotal role in eavesdropping on enemy communications for thousands of miles in all directions. At war's end, 2,600 people stayed on, many of them intercept operators, to handle the transition from hot war to cold war. They were able to eavesdrop on key Russian diplomatic and military communications sent over the Fish machine. "They intercepted printers at Vint Hill, Russian printers," said Colonel Russell H. Horton, who commanded the station shortly after the end of the war. "They had these ... circuits that had nine channels if I'm not mistaken. They had machines ... all hooked up so that they separated the channels and did all of the interception in Cyrillic characters." Horton added, "As far as I know, there was no effort against the Russians until after the war
Since the discovery of the Russian Fish machine by TICOM at the end of the war, and the ability to read a variety of diplomatic, KGB, and trade messages as a result of the Venona breakthrough on Soviet onetime pads, American codebreakers had been astonishingly lucky. Virtually overnight they were placed in what NSA has called "a situation that compared favorably to the successes of World War II."
 So this Russian Fish must have been very important to the Western Allies.But why haven’t we heard more about it ?
In fact another author has mentioned this information back in 1986. Thomas D. Parrish,'' The ultra Americans:the U.S. role in breaking the Nazi codes'' .He has an entire chapter called the Russian Fish plus he has pics.
From chapter 14 pages 282-4:
Then came May 21, a day that, most regrettably, Ralph Tester had to
miss. To those devoted to cryptanalysis it possesses something of the quality
of the moment in 1922 when Howard Carter, chiseling through the door of
Tutankhamen's tomb, reported to the breathless Lord Caernarvon that through
the aperture he had made he could see "wonderful things." On the morning of
the 21st a party of seven left Berchtesgaden for Rosenheim, where Campaigne,
Capt. Edward Rushworth of British intelligence, and Tom Carter, a U.S.
officer who had joined the group, were to question an OKW-Chi (intelligence
department of the High Command of the Armed Forces) cryptographer. Whitaker,
Norland, and two British officers who were likewise newcomers to the team,
Pickering and Cockrell, were to continue on in search of various wanted
persons. (Pickering quickly proved a notable addition to the group, because
of his marvelous Hitler act. One evening, with a lock of hair pulled over his
face, he harangued the staff of a hotel with a Ftihrer-style monologue - to
such effect, Levenson said, that "they were ready to follow him anywhere.")

In the evening, after a fruitless search, Whitaker's group returned
to Berchtesgaden. Here they found the rest of the TICOM team seething with
excitement. A soldier had come to Campaigne, Rushworth, and Carter while they
were at Rosenheim, with a message that some prisoners in the cage nearby
wished to speak with the "proper people."

These prisoners had served at OKW-Chi headquarters. What they were
burning to tell the "proper people" was that, fearing the advance of the
Russians, they had buried a great mass of cipher equipment under the
cobblestones in front of their headquarters. They were sure that this
equipment would be of the greatest interest to the Western Allies and to the
Russians, because by means of it the Germans could read Red Army signals -
and not just any signals, but the most secret ones. It seemed that the
Russians would split the message being sent into nine elements, transmitting
it on nine different channels, and this German equipment could reintegrate
it; having developed this capacity, the Germans had then succeeded in
decrypting Russian traffic. The prisoners who were pouring out this news to
Campaigne, Rushworth, and Carter had no way of knowing two facts: a) the
western Allies very much wished to obtain information about the nature and
significance of various Soviet troop movements in Germany, information which
even then the Soviets were bluntly refusing to provide; and b), the Allies
had no capacity to decrypt this Soviet radio traffic. It was a momentous
discovery, more of one, perhaps, than the TICOM team realized at the moment;
"iron curtain" and "cold war" had not yet entered the language. Certainly the
Germans' viewpoint was clear. Already, just two weeks after the surrender had
been signed at Reims, the prisoners in their cage were hailing their American
and British captors as comrades, men who must see the need to make common
cause with them against the Russian hordes. They were eager to dig up the
buried equipment and demonstrate its wonders to the TICOM team.

It was an offer the team could not refuse. The next day Campaigne's
group returned to Rosenheim to supervise the recovery and sorting out of the
equipment, and on May 23 Whitaker joined Campaigne and Carter on the sortie
to Rosenheim. By the time the team arrived, "a little twenty-year-old German
sergeant had the group well under control and working like beavers. They had
one of the sets all set up and receiving traffic." On studying and analyzing
their find, the TICOM team realized that what they had been presented with
was nothing less than a system that received and decrypted the Soviet
equivalent of the German Fish traffic. And the Soviets, it was obvious, had
no inkling that the Germans had developed this capacity. Nor could they know
that the Western Allies had now inherited it. TICOM had made itseff into a
truly Top Secret operation. The Germans "had put the equipment together down in the basement of
part of this barracks complex. They were intercepting Russian traffic right
while we were there. And pretty soon they had shown us all we needed to see."
The Allied team ordered the prisoners to dismantle the setup and return it to
its crates along with the rest of the equipment. In sheer bulk the treasure
was phenomenal. It filled twelve huge chests weighing more than 600 pounds
each, fifty-three chests weighing about 100 pounds each, and about fifty more
weighing 50 pounds each - some seven and a half tons altogether. It filled
four large German trucks to capacity.

Rushworth and Norland were assigned to accompany the equipment and
some of the technicians to England, where a highly select audience would see
a demonstration. One wonders what General Marshall thought when he received
word of this remarkable convoy. He never put his thoughts about it on paper,
and he died fifteen years before the existence of Ultra would even have been
confided to his official biographer. TICOM and its amazing secret have
remained unknown till this day.
On June 2 Whitaker was ordered to take six of the OKW-Chi prisoners
to the Albrechtstrasse jail in Wiesbaden, where they were to be confined
until official papers came through authorizing their being taken to England.
"Those boys," Whitaker said, "were very downhearted at being left in a prison

after what they had done." He assured them that their stay at Albrechtstrasse
would only be temporary, and a week later they were flown to England, where
the equipment was set up at an installation about twenty miles from
Bletchley. It appears to have been put to work by the Allies immediately

Here are the pics : 

Also Nigel West in ‘’Venona: the greatest secret of the Cold War’’ says in p32 :
On 21 May, another TICOM team, led by Howard Campaigne, was taken by some German PoWs to a hiding place in a basement under an OKW (Wehrmacht High Command) communications centre at Rosenheim, near the Austrian frontier, where German technicians had intercepted Soviet military wireless traffic. The TICOM men were shown a still operational, fully-equipped intercept facility, complete with a machine for demodulating teletype signals, which they promptly dismantled and shipped to Bletchley. Altogether seven and a half tons of hardware were carried to England in a convoy of captured German trucks escorted by Selmer Norland and his British counterpart, Edward Rushworth.
Hmmm so the Fish was capable of  reconstructing the Soviet teletype transmissions.However that does not mean that the messages would be plaintext .If the Soviets used automatically enciphered teleprinters like the Lorenz SZ42 and the Siemens T-52 then the text would be encoded .I said IF in the previous phrase keep this in mind it’s important later on….
Ok so the plot thickens….Here is my breakthrough:
Recently the NSA released the EASI reports:
European Axis Signal Intelligence in World War II  As Revealed by "TICOM" Investigations and by Other Prisoner of War Interrogations and Captured Material, Principally German. In Nine Volumes
By going through these reports i found information on some aspects of this machine plus the unit and identities of the people in Rosenheim.Look forward to post 2 it’s coming soon.
PS : I have to thank Frode Weierud (  ) and Noel Chiappa  for sending me the info from Parrish’s book,although now I have my own copy.Mr Weierud also gave me info on the enciphered soviet teleprinter Bandwurm.

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