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It's time for the reader's Ohman act with Warren Bauer. Originally broadcast over station WNYC New York and distributed by national educational radio the reader's almanac is America's oldest continuous book program. Here now is Mr. Bower now and again a book comes up on the horizon of this program a special force in a field. It carries excitement with it naturally because of the freshness of its subject matter. One wonders why the story is not been told before so great is a natural interest in it such a book dropped on my desk not so long ago a volume published by Random House called a broken seal by Ladislaus farrago a writer whose name I knew well the author of Patton ordeal and triumph in a number of other volumes. Broken CEO has a subtitle which will be useful to those who want to know first what I book is about. Well this one is about the story of Operation magic in the Pearl Harbor disaster.
That is what went on behind the scenes on the diplomatic front and what particularly went on as both sides sought to hide their necessary communications through the use of difficult codes and attempts to break the other's codes through what might be called crypto a logical espionage operation magic had a particular meaning in a very dramatic story told fully in this book which brings the whole story right up to the morning of the Pearl Harbor disaster. Mr Virgo is well at home in such a milieu. He has been involved with the field of intelligence during World War Two and The Office of U.S. Naval intelligence as chief of research and planning. He has written several books in the field of intelligence for example behind closed doors written with Rear Admiral Alice and Zacharias another book is Burn After Reading. And at a different field the 10th fleet in the middle of Arabia just to demonstrate Mr. Geragos versatility. Now that
Termini cryptologic got espionage Mr. Geragos sounds both fascinating and melodramatic and having just finished reading the broken seal I can assert that it is indeed that. But let's talk about the crypt the logical part of the phrase first. I suppose it means that you mean the devising possibly the breaking of secret code. Yes both the consumate of communications. And what may be called the consume and decrypting of the methods used for concealment. And I came to inclusion. I have no axe to grind. I mean this in all forms of espionage. But I came to the conclusion that the crypto logical espionage is the hinge. In war and peace that is to say in military affairs and in diplomacy and in the relation between nations. Namely this is where you will come to the core
of what an adversary or an opponent maybe a friend maybe a foe tries to conceal. And since he is eager to conceal it it is the real McCoy. Yes and if you succeed in getting to it and succeed in sort of recovering the code in which the concealment is done and you think you secret you will penetrate to the very core of his intentions. Plans. Timetables and so on. So therefore it is an example for his for example doing that. Second World War in the battle of the Atlantic. As long as the Germans buried in our courts in which we did our convoy halting they were the ones who were winning the battle of the Atlantic. Nor did the succeed in cracking the U-boat cause of the Germans than we were winning the battle of that handsome. I know of course that governments do not carry on communications are straight and undisguised language naturally but they do recognize that efforts are
always being made to break codes. This they take as a rule of the game. What can they do to prevent the breaking codes is there anything you just know that's all I can do you know. It is generally believed today is a panacea. Namely the development of the so-called unbreakable cipher or the unbreakable code. Actually the cryptologist does not so he who has no delusions some cryptologists have delusions amid the illusions. As a matter of fact many have delusions even because as his commander Rochefort once said If you have to be or not to be engaging in these activities they have no illusions about. The panacea they they know that there is no panacea what they are trying to develop with Die kind of code or the kind of cipher that real can maintain a secret as long as it is necessary. Let's take for example that there will be an invasion in Europe on the 6th of June
1944 in Normandy and a record would had been devised. For this Operation Overlord. Now what the cryptologists trying to do is to devise a code that was secure enough. For long enough to conceal the secret of this particular secret of course. If somebody cracks it on the 7th of June. It's very interesting from a point of view that it could have been cracked but is useless from the information intelligence point of view. Because the event which he tried to conceal had to have taken place the day before. So the basic aim of the cryptologists is devise a code. That will be safe as long as the secret have to be kept. How close is it possible to get to the unbreakable code I suppose that's an ideal that they recognize is often a great beyond. But they must try to get close to it. What steps do they take
to keep the code unbroken until there is no longer useful to them. Well generally it was believed. In the early thirties that M machine. That the automation of cryptology will make the quote unbreakable. Until then most of the codes and ciphers used are so-called paper and pencil codes. Which you had to read were devised and you yourself wrote up on the base of code books or on the basis of crypto systems prearranged systems but it was believed that maybe a machine will make the code unbreakable. So I mean this country and the English and they can't. The Germans may be Germans but especially the Japanese went to extreme length. In developed very complex very complicated crypto machines and the Japanese succeeded in developing one which really seemed unbreakable
and reach. They themselves were persuaded that it was unbreakable but we attacked the ingeniously that is to say the United States keep the logical establishment at that. Please. Quote unbreakable unquote quote the cipher machine and in Valiant and. The F word in our AP of 19 month they succeeded in reconstructing the machine itself. And from then on these are tiny blueprints without ever having seen the machine just by deducing the mechanical structure of the machine from certain clues which developed out of intercepts and so on. Out of the product of the machine and then this proves that the machine is not unbreakable. If you succeed in reconstructing the machine itself as a matter of fact once you have the machine all you have to do is that to pick up any of the encoded messages put through the machine and you read as clearly as it was when it was put into the machine.
That's an extraordinary exercise in human ingenuity and your eyes are seen in their eyes at those principles of course of a what CNN operate. That's right. For example a trained cryptologist looks at an encoded message and cipher message and just intuitively or instinctively by looking at it on the base I experienced and on the basis of what is called a cipher brain. His sixth sense he cracks 40 percent of it right off the bat. Of course the 60 percent or presenter Mendis hardships and difficulties and sometimes the last 2 percent last 1 percent is the one which makes the code unbreakable. To that particular man who is trying to take a crack at it but the code. Itself provided the ciphertext itself. Provides ipso facto certain Kluth. From reach the cryptology is the theme cryptologist proceeds and succeeds in breaking into the code develops the principle he can see right off to bed with the. Transposition Code very the
substitution cypher and there is a quote. There is a machine based code on a people in pencil code and that's how it begins let's see if you get 25 percent of it cracked right away and then start working from the clues which is 25 percent yield it. On cracking the remaining 75 percent. And I did pick up one little reference that you made there to the individual who is well not only well trained in this but has a feel for it. Perhaps you'd go even further than that who might be let's say a genius at doing this kind of thing as a talent for it. He looks at it cold and he knows a great deal about it just and looking at it right. So that earned very many of these crypt analysts around are they really can't be in such detail as that. But it so happened that during the Second World War when the United States like any other country or any other belligerent power went into cryptology on a tremendous scale we had more then I mean maybe as many as 40
50000 people engaged in cryptology but that doesn't mean that all those 14 50000 have deciphered brains mettle of a very few of them do have most of the people are engaged in to keep the clerical task like for example preparing frequency Tabor's trying to unravel a cipher by knowing that the most frequently humanitarian there is so preparing these frequency tables that I can remember all Edgar Allan Poe. Yes yes and then for example or yes. And then others are engaged in for example in trying to. Utilize the Apply already cracked system to uncracked messages that you see and call images this way for example I used to know a young lady from Smith College she was just out of Smith College can speak any language except English and she was engaged in cracking Chinese ciphers Yes. And but there is this elite in cryptology and it's just a
handful. I would say no more in this country I would say no more than maybe 30 40 people. Who processed this cipher brain they are at the top who are really dealing with penetration to systems and then they have a dual task. They not only crack the codes and cyphers of others but also devise the codes and ciphers of the United States and try to make them as complex as possible to talk about these unbreakable cipher. For example we had an occasion we had occasion during recent Hiers to come up against an unbreakable cipher we just proved unbreakable. You may recall a famous Soviet agent who operated in this country by name of Colonel Abel. Yes yes I remember every remark or perhaps a most important agent who ever was assigned to the United States certainly the most intelligent the smartest. And he was the cipher which proved unbreakable even before we succeeded in
sort of apprehending him and finding him. We found one of his messages. By coincidence a message was concealed in a nickel. Dad had been hauled out for the purpose of transmitting messages and by mistake Evil must have spin this and it got into circulation and one point it was paid by a complete stranger. A third party who had absolutely no inkling of what kind of money right or what kind of hot money he was harboring was given in payment for a newspaper to a newsboy. The newsboy who was then going down the steps dropped this nickel nickel opened up and there was a missile. And the message had been given to the FBI the FBI recognized an espionage message included severely and called it. They put the best FBI cryptologist on it and it was transmitted to the National Security Agency and they just failed never screenplay. But then these are the by ways of espionage to. The
assistance of Colonel Abel defected to us and he brought along the key to that call and as soon as we had the key at the COSI most of the time. You don't have to go to the heartbreaking trouble of tracking records. You wrote rather to the user told waiting for someone to defect from the enemy carrier. Now I think we ought to know about that phrase operation magic and what and what that really means in this story of what led up to Pearl Harbor. For a long time that God was certainly not crack wasn't it. Yes it was for 18 months. Yes it was 19 months the matter long term as a matter of fact was much longer than that. It came into play in 1937 the Japanese started using that particular cypher 937 and it was only November in September 1940 that we succeeded in cracking sufficiently to be able to read the messages in them and the Japanese very extremely ingenious in developing that system. They departed from the conventional form
of cipher machine there were no longer using the conventional disks and re-use but instead used relays switches that it really is a fixed release which was so novel a concept that it took 18 months even for this called cracker to think of him. Now a Gemini and confidence and that special code are theirs and showing you that your super secret purposes. There are of course a great many missing was in your book I certainly didn't know that there are a great many gods for a great many different purposes. Yes well every establishment is in the government use its own quote. There are diplomatic corps without the military cause our naval codes. And they are for example the CIA uses the whole system of courts of its own to date the Japanese used diplomatic code for certain types of messages and in the header. Mostly rear security a security system in cryptology for the naval organization and then for the military for the army
they use exclusively courts want to make this distinction between codes and ciphers. Accord is a system of a huge device that is to say very one thing means something entirely different. Yes but as a cipher it is a system which is a form of manly pollution of the alphabet or symbols. And a cipher is usually easier to crack. Because the rate is manipulated. This money pollution can be repeated or duplicated. There is a code in order in Benghazi to the meaning of a code you usually have to have acquired a procurer to code book itself. And you make a very good point an interesting point too or that the Japanese did not suspect that that operation magic had been cracked. Did we do something to keep it secret that we had broken into it. No we did not. Not really as a matter of fact. Several times twice in the history of our vault kept a logical bow
to the Japanese. What we called traitors. American employees of the establishment went over to the Japanese and tipped them off. That we are reading their codes and ciphers. And once a German the German intelligence service threw in the discretion of the State Department succeeded in finding out that we were reading the messages and then after some hesitation so advised the Japanese and the Japanese had such confidence in their machine that they assume as everybody has to assume that most of their people and pence of course had been compromised. But refused even to believe that the machine code had been compromised. You know the question I wanted to ask you how are messages picked up or intercepted. And I understand of course that wireless is radio. Yeah we listen in but Telegraph how do we get that. We put taps on telephone telegraph cables or does a
communications agency like RCA for example turn over messages sent over it at the demand of a friendly government. Not in this country or at least it's not supposed to in this country because in this country the privacy of the graphic communication is very strictly controlled and I believe also assured as a matter of fact for quite some time the greatest difficulty is in the crypto logical establishment the United States was not to crack the enemy's code but to procure the messages. The Intercept. Of course all these became quite easy when the violence telegraphed a bag of food was introduced. Before that like the Rothschild for example they had to intercept Aquarius of they compared to doors and adversaries and take away the letters they were carrying steam open the seal let them break the seal of the letters. You know that for example. More than 70 percent of the
communications of the United States at that revolution would never reach the envoys in Europe because the British succeeded more than 70 percent. It was a communicator not only it was 10 years and longer but also extremely precarious because the police succeeded to subdue most of the Koreas. Now most of the deception is done by monitoring the radio traffic and this monitoring is done by mechanical devices we pick up every scene that we go through the air. Now they spend a good deal of time talking about a vastly interesting topic but I don't want to get on to something related a little more closely to Pearl Harbor. This occurred to me to ask you Were we negligent. Maybe stupid. Certainly overconfident in allowing Pearl Harbor to come about. We could perhaps have done no more than had our fleet out of that harbor when the attack came. But that would have been a very great deal with very considerable effect on the war.
But only very little Should we have done something if we didn't do it. The invalid if I may say so this is a very complex question. It is a complex question that can be answered like in riot one can see your political attitude if you like Rose and you say that there was nothing he would have done. If you dislike Rosie you say there could have been that he himself conspired to make the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Actually Roosevelt was not averse to getting the United States into the war because the British needed us the Russians needed out and he was absolutely determined to defeat the Nazis for which I think we ought to be grateful to him. What I criticize in this attitude and in this active was that he did not take the American people into his confidence that he used all kinds of shenanigans and backdoor diplomacy in order to get into the war not only big daddy problems but all kinds of provocative measures in the Atlantic. When the Germans didn't respond he was this is a Japanese. But there was nothing he would have done to
prevent the Japanese from going to war once. He cornered them when once he pushed them in the corner of his sanctions. These economic measures. And as far as the feed was concerned I think that once the showdown came. We were very fortunate the fleet was caught in Pearl Harbor. Really. Yes when I was at it because we were very fortunate that it wasn't an open seat because the fleet was in no position to take on the Japanese striking force. The Japanese flag was consisted not only of surface forces surface unit but especially of a very great number of submarines whose presence was completely unknown. And who could always have intervened and sink our ship by torpedoing them. Well very engaged in challenging grants in the challenge of the surface units. Now if it had come to a surface engagement with this Japanese submarines provided in the coup de gras. Our feet would have been something
we would not have had the opportunity of salvaging them. And we would have had to build an entirely new field fleet from scratch as it was the Japanese attacked a fleet in Pearl Harbor. The vast ships sank in shallow water and using three to six months they had back in service again. That's a totally new and different and different point of view on this matter than I have ever heard before and I'm very glad I didn't present it. Are we better prepared these days cryptographically I mean I know you can go into details on this but I do think the American people after this book as revelations want to have some answer to such a question as that. Right we have a better and bigger. Crypto logical establishment today in the form of an agency which did doesn't we does openly what are clipped logical establishments used to do quite secretly tucked away in the Navy and the army and the State Department today they have their own
tremendous agency in the form of the National Security Agency which is as big as Central Intelligence Agency if not bigger it is engaged in developing our crypto system to prevent others from encroaching upon it. You sing gauged encroaching upon the crypto systems of our this. And according to two defectors who went over to the Russians because none of these systems are completely airtight down leaks they are they are the fictions to defectors who had reason to know. For the rest talking about they said that we are reading the messages thank you for the myths just as many as 40 countries to date. And since I don't think we have 40 enemies as we have few friends and I'm going to. That's very reassuring I say to Mr. Ladislaw very goal for this chance to talk with you about the broken seal a book that is a stirring exciting account of the train of events that led to Pearl Harbor and our participation actively in World War 2. It's drama it's history and it's what the American people ought to know about their
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Reader's almanac
Ladislas Farago
Producing Organization
WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program focuses on Ladislas Farago, author of Patton, Broken Seal and other works.
Other Description
A literature series featuring interviews with authors, poets, and others in the literary world.
Media type
Host: Bower, Warren
Interviewee: Farago, Ladislas
Producing Organization: WNYC (Radio station : New York, N.Y.)
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 67-28-10 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:24:33
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Chicago: “Reader's almanac; Ladislas Farago,” 1967-08-08, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed August 17, 2022,
MLA: “Reader's almanac; Ladislas Farago.” 1967-08-08. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. August 17, 2022. <>.
APA: Reader's almanac; Ladislas Farago. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from