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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cables Tell of Trotsky Assassin, Frumpy Spies

The Soviet Union considered launching a commando operation in 1943 to spring the assassin of Leon Trotsky from a Mexican jail, according to declassified cables released by the U.S. National Security Agency.


The Soviet spy cables, deciphered after years of painstaking work by U.S. code breakers and released Wednesday, also resolve an old Cold War controversy involving Amerasia magazine, whose staff was the target of an FBI probe and congressional hearings into suspected communist influence in the 1940s. The cables prove that at least one Amerasia staffer, Joseph Bernstein, was in fact reporting to Soviet intelligence under the code name "Marquis."


The 800 pages of cables between Soviet spies in Moscow, New York, Washington, San Francisco and Mexico City are the fourth batch of the "Venona" messages to be released by the NSA.


Venona was the name for the NSA's decoding of Soviet cables intercepted between 1942 and 1946, which NSA code breakers at Fort Meade, Maryland, continued to work on until 1980.


Venona cables released over the past year have shed light on some of the most bitterly debated chapters of the Cold War: establishing the guilt of spies Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, strengthening the case that State Department official Alger Hiss worked for Soviet intelligence and showing Soviet spies sought to recruit friends of Eleanor Roosevelt.


The latest batch contains no revelations on that scale, but they add details to a portrait of a Soviet intelligence program in the 1940s of striking reach.


The cables offer the first evidence of plans for a combat operation to free Ramon Mercader, the Spanish communist who fatally wounded Trotsky with a mountaineering ax in his Mexico City home in 1940, presumably on orders from the Kremlin.


The cables also reveal active operations in San Francisco of both the NKVD, predecessor to the KGB, and GRU, or military intelligence, and include intriguing details of Soviet spycraft, including one message lamenting how hard it is for Soviet women to pass as more fashionable Americans.


"This is because of their stockings, their berets [American women wear hats], their handbags and their untidiness," the cable says of Soviet women.