Code Warriors

Title:                      Code Warriors

Author:                  Stephen Budiansky

Budiansky, Stephen (2016). Code Warriors: NSA’s Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War against the Soviet Union. New York: Alfred A. Knopf

LCCN:    2015045330

UB256.U6 B83 2016


Date Updated:  December 30, 2016

Reviewed by in The Intelligencer[1]

A sweeping history of the NSA and its codebreaking from its roots in WWII through the end of the Cold War. Post-war, things became murky targeting not battlefield enemies, but suspected spies, foreign leaders, and American citizens. The challenges faced by cryptanalysts, and how they broke some of the most complicated codes of the twentieth century, add to this fascinating story of this remarkable Agency.

Review by History Net[2]

In the shadow of National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden’s leaks and flight to asylum in Russia, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the recent establishment of North Atlantic Treaty Organization advance guards in the Baltic states, Budiansky—former editor of World War II and author of six previous books—recalls the code breakers who worked for the Pentagon and Navy even before the United States’ official entry into the war. From 1943 onward these departments turned their attention to the coded messages from the Soviet Union, an ostensible ally. Prompting that decision was suspicion the Soviets were engaged in secret diplomatic negotiations with Japan. With the coming of the atomic age and subsequent Cold War the code breakers and the mathematical methods they used to decode Soviet messages became crucial, as the Central Intelligence Agency’s ring of secret agents dropped in behind the Eastern Bloc had been compromised. “The only thing you’re proving,” sniffed an aide to General Lucian Truscott, “is the law of gravity.”

One reason for the failure of in-theater covert operations was the net of double agents created by such British turncoats as Harold A.R. “Kim” Philby. One double agent with the code name “Baron” remains unidentified. Nevertheless, among the solid successes attributed to cryptanalysts at Virginia’s Arlington Hall was their identification of the majority of those British moles.

Budiansky seeks to justify the NSA’s activities against Snowden’s revelations the NSA watched everything and everyone, in violation of the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. In his five appendices the author explains the mathematical methods the Soviets used to code their messages and the counter methods the NSA used to break them. In reality all those cipher machines depended on applying a combination of analysis and an element of probability theory.

More than 400 years after French mathematician François Viète deciphered coded missives from both the Catholic League and Spain, and 160 years after Edgar Allan Poe broke code using the substitution method (hint: E is the most common letter in the English language), Budiansky provides an insightful update on the more sophisticated methods of code breaking developed in the computer age, closing an important transitional gap in U.S. military and political history.

[1] The Intelligencer: Journal of U.S. Intelligence Studies (22, 2, Spring 2016, p. 139).

[2] History Net HistoryNet Staff, 8/26/2016. Downloaded December 30, 2016. is brought to you by World History Group, the world’s largest publisher of history magazines. contains daily features, photo galleries and over 5,000 articles originally published in our various magazines.


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