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Secret Messages

Codebreaking and American Diplomacy, 1930–1945

David Alvarez

April 2000
304 pages, 25 photographs, 6 x 9
Modern War Studies
Cloth ISBN 978-0-7006-1013-6, $35.00

Book Cover ImageTo defeat your enemies you must know them well. In wartime, however, enemy codemakers make that task much more difficult. If you cannot break their codes and read their messages, you may discover too late the enemy's intentions. That's why codebreakers were considered such a crucial weapon during World War II.

In Secret Messages, David Alvarez provides the first comprehensive analysis of the impact of decoded radio messages (signals intelligence) upon American foreign policy and strategy from 1930 to 1945. He presents the most complete account to date of the U.S. Army's top-secret Signal Intelligence Service (SIS): its creation, its struggles, its rapid wartime growth, and its contributions to the war effort.

Alvarez reveals the inner workings of the SIS (precursor of today's NSA) and the codebreaking process and explains how SIS intercepted, deciphered, and analyzed encoded messages. From its headquarters at Arlington Hall outside Washington, D.C., SIS grew from a staff of four novice codebreakers to more than 10,000 people stationed around the globe, secretly monitoring the communications of not only the Axis powers but dozens of other governments as well and producing a flood of intelligence.

Some of the SIS programs were so clandestine that even the White House--unaware of the agency's existence until 1937--was kept uninformed of them, such as the 1943 creation of a super-secret program to break Soviet codes and ciphers. In addition, Alvarez brings to light such previously classified operations as the interception of Vatican communications and a comprehensive program to decrypt the communications of our wartime allies. He also dispels many of the myths about the SIS's influence on American foreign policy, showing that the impact of special intelligence in the diplomatic sphere was limited by the indifference of the White House, constraints within the program itself, and rivalries with other agencies (like the FBI).

Drawing upon military and intelligence archives, interviews with retired and active cryptanalysts, and over a million pages of cryptologic documents declassified in 1996, Alvarez illuminates this dark corner of intelligence history and expands our understanding of its role in and contributions to the American effort in World War II.

"Provides an unparalleled glimpse into Army codebreaking in World War II."--John Prados, author of Combined Fleet Decoded: The Secret History of American Intelligence and the Japanese Navy in World War II

"Imaginatively written, thoroughly documented, and brilliantly comprehensive. Fills a significant gap in intelligence literature."--Carl Boyd, author of Hitler's Japanese Confidant: General Oshima Hiroshi and MAGIC Intelligence, 1941–1945

"An important and pioneering work that will be essential reading for any student of cryptology, or of intelligence during the Second World War."--John Ferris, author of Intelligence and Strategy

DAVID ALVAREZ is a professor of politics at Saint Mary’s College of California. He is the author of Spies in the Vatican: Espionage and Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust, also from Kansas, and coauthor, with Robert Graham, S.J., of Nothing Sacred: Nazi Espionage against the Vatican, 1939–1945.

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