Cryptanalysis: Martin and Mitchell defection

Close-up of the rotors in a Fialka cipher machine

“In September 1960, two U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) cryptologists, William Hamilton Martin and Bernon F. Mitchell, defected to the Soviet Union. A secret 1963 NSA study said that: ‘Beyond any doubt, no other event has had, or is likely to have in the future, a greater impact on the Agency’s security program.’  Martin and Mitchell met while serving in the U.S. Navy in Japan in the early 1950s and both joined the NSA on the same day in 1957. They defected together to the Soviet Union in 1960 and, at a Moscow press conference, revealed and denounced various U.S. policies, especially provocative incursions into the air space of other nations and spying on America’s own allies. Underscoring their apprehension of nuclear war, they said: ‘we would attempt to crawl to the moon if we thought it would lessen the threat of an atomic war.’ Within days of the press conference, citing a trusted source, Congressman Francis E. Walter, chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), said Martin and Mitchell were ‘sex deviates’, prompting sensational press coverage. U.S. officials at the National Security Council privately shared their assumption that the two were part of a traitorous homosexual network. Classified NSA investigations, on the other hand, determined the pair had ‘greatly inflated opinions concerning their intellectual attainments and talents’ and had defected to satisfy social aspirations. The House Un-American Activities Committee publicly intimated its interpretation of the relationship between Martin and Mitchell as homosexual and that reading guided the Pentagon’s discussion of the defection for decades. … The defections had another life inside the U.S. intelligence community. At a meeting of the National Security Council in October 1960, officials considered a response to the Martin-Mitchell affair. Attorney General William P. Rogers believed that the Soviets had a list of homosexuals to use in their recruiting and blackmail efforts, that Martin and Mitchell were part of ‘an organized group’. … Yet a series of NSA investigations gave little credit to the role of sexuality in Mitchell and Martin’s defection. In 1961, an NSA report called them ‘close friends and somewhat anti-social’, ‘egotistical, arrogant and insecure young men whose place in society was much lower than they believed they deserved’, with ‘greatly inflated opinions concerning their intellectual attainments and talents’. …”
W – Martin and Mitchell defection, W – Fialka
W – Cryptanalysis, W – History of cryptography, W – IBM 7950 Harvest, W – List of cryptographers
Glenn’s Computer Museum
YouTube: What is Cryptography – Introduction to Cryptography – Lesson 1

(Left) William Martin and Bernon Mitchell (Center) tell Moscow press why they defected

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
This entry was posted in Computing and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s