Western communications intelligence failed to uncover Nazi Germany's preparations before World War II, or its efforts during the war to annihilate European Jewry, claims a new study of the American National Security Agency (NSA), published this week in Washington.
The failure was mainly a result of the Nazis' extreme caution in using telephone and wireless communications for messages pertaining to the annihilation, said the NSA, which is responsible for the collection, decryption and analysis of communications messages.
Despite the negligible contribution of communications intelligence to revealing the Holocaust atrocities in real time, the intercepted communications are still valuable as research materials, because the Nazis systematically destroyed all records of the annihilation in their defeat.
The study, entitled "Eavesdropping on Hell: Western Communications Intelligence and the Holocaust, 1939-1945," by Robert J. Hanyok, was published by the historical division of the NSA, and brought to the attention of the Israeli public by Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists.
One of the study's conclusions, which is not original but is still earthshaking if one considers its official status, is that anti-Semitism in the ranks of the political, security and intelligence establishments in the West, and in Britain in particular, caused the information about the destruction of European Jewry to be received skeptically and even with indifference.
Hanyok writes that the U.S. enlistment in the war effort only in December 1941, almost two years after it broke out in Europe, resulted in considerable dependence on British intelligence.
American intelligence was especially successful at intercepting telegrams from diplomats in the capital cities of Berlin, Rome, occupied Paris and Budapest. Secret listening had a secondary and possibly marginal importance.
On the other hand, the Germans observed severe discipline in regard to communications in many regions they occupied. The partial information that was decrypted did not allow the full extent of the destruction to be reliably gauged. Messages from concentration camps mainly consisted of inventories of forced labor, and the number of prisoners at the beginning and end of the month. Transports of prisoners who were sent immediately to the gas chambers were generally not counted, presumably because the SS sought to conceal the scale of the destruction.
Hanyok admits that the interception of police messages before the Soviet invasion in 1941 and of SS wireless messages from the concentration camps in 1942 should have made it clear that a machine of destruction was in place, but since the annihilation was underway before these messages were intercepted, these could not have provided an advance warning.
Intelligence analysts encountered fragments of codes they did not recognize.
Another official study published in London this week about British-Polish intelligence cooperation claims that then-foreign secretary Anthony Eden refused to bring eyewitnesses of the destruction to meet Winston Churchill.
Hanyok also writes that efforts by Churchill and then-U.S. president Franklin D. Roosevelt to improve goodwill toward Europe's Jews met with anti-Semitism in the higher ranks of their establishments, including the intelligence community.
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