Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

'Australian' Agent

"It is easy to distinguish our women from the locals by dress and outward appearance, by their stockings and berets (American women wear hats), by their bags and slovenliness. Our women do not pay attention to their hair or make-up." Such was the harsh verdict pronounced on Soviet women in a cable sent in 1943 to Moscow from the Soviet Embassy in Washington. It was published by the U.S. National Security Agency.

This radiogram is one of a group of documents from the once top-secret dossier "Venona." Its more than 2,000 items from the Soviet Embassy and external security service seized during World War II and subsequently deciphered by the American intelligence services are gradually being released to the public domain. This new, declassified fourth portion contains very unusual documents on the means of sending an illegal female agent to the United States under the pseudonym "the Australian."

Judging from the large number of blanks in the texts, the cables were not fully decoded, though the general "contours" of the operation can be seen rather clearly.

The Australian was to penetrate the United States from a Soviet merchant ship. The ports at Portland, Oregon and San Francisco were identified as being more appropriate for this operation. In Portland, the Soviet spy had a trustworthy agent named Davis, who as part of his official profession "personally" met "practically every ship" at the dock. However, as indicated in the dispatch, Portland "is small; it's hard to blend in or find a hotel room and practically impossible to rent a furnished room." In San Francisco, though, according to the Soviet Embassy, "it's easy to disappear, rent a room or buy a train ticket."

One may suppose that the Australian was successfully sent to the United States, apparently through California, in spite of the "constant observation by the 'greens,'" (as American counterintelligence was called in code). In any case, in a dispatch dated March 5, 1943, the "biography" of the illegal agent was discussed. Moscow was asked in part to clarify "how many stories there are in each of the houses where she used to live" on the green continent and "how many stories there are in the school she attended."

In one of the dispatches of the period, there is mention that the Australian's "receiving" work in a government agency or defense plant "is not a possibility."

"They've got fingerprints on 29 million people here," a Soviet intelligence operative in Washington relayed to Moscow. "All immigrants, sailors on incoming ships, employees of defense factories and government agencies are subject to this procedure ... In spite of existing agreements, the authorities permit our crews into the cities only after they show their passes."

No one knows what subsequently happened to the Australian. In any case, American cryptologists were able to "read" the first fragments of dispatches from the Soviet missions in Washington and New York in 1950, seven years after the agent's purported entry into the country. And the last documents from the "Venona" dossier were decoded only in 1980 ...