SIGINT Secrets

Title:                  SIGINT Secrets

Author:                Nigel West

West, Nigel (1990). The SIGINT Secrets: The Signals Intelligence War, 1900 to Today: Including the Persecution of Gordon Welchman. New York: W. Morrow

LCCN:    88043153

UB251.G7 W486 1988

Date Updated:  February 25, 2016

Nigel West is an extremely persuasive person when it comes to making cases. He is a voracious reader, writes well, and probably is the best debunker about intelligence myths I’ve ever known. In this book he writes about signals intelligence, including code making and breaking. Other than giving an overall history of the field and its development primarily in the U.K., it focuses on the German Enigma machine and Allied efforts to break it during the war. According to West, Enigma was never broken, despite copies of the machine being in Allied possession, and never could be broken – stories to the contrary, he says, are false. I take that to mean that given nothing other than the machine’s design and a message sent from such a machine, no one ever broke such a message without any external information. Nevertheless, a number of techniques were used that aided in decrypting many messages, especially naval messages. These messages were broken more owning to crypto-operator errors, or such things as resending an encrypted message in the clear to make sure it was received. Such scoops as the Allies got from snooping on Enigma transmissions were entirely because of bad procedures being followed by some Axis operators on some occasions

This rest of this review is adapted from one by Erik Graff[1].

Eric Graff’s father was an US army cryptanalyst attached to the navy during World War II. Eric says his father’s copy of The Secret Government, the first decent history of the CIA, was the first non-fiction book he ever read about intelligence operations. Those facts and the whole spy fad during the sixties got him interested in the subject of intelligence early on.

Nigel West’s The Sigint Secrets is about signals intelligence, i.e. code making and breaking. Other than giving an overall history of the field and its development primarily in the U.K., it focuses on the German Enigma machine and Allied efforts to break it during the war. According to West, Enigma was never broken, despite copies of the machine being in Allied possession, and never could be broken – stories to the contrary are entirely false. Such scoops that the Allies got from snooping on Enigma transmissions were entirely because of bad procedures being followed by some Axis operators on some occasions.

[1] Erik Graff’s Reviews > The Sigint Secrets: The Signals Intelligence War 1900 to Today including the Persecution of Gordon Welchman, downloaded February 25, 2016.

 

 

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