tv Washington Journal Liza Munday CSPAN September 8, 2018 9:03am-9:34am EDT
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the white house, the supreme court, and public policy events in washington, d.c. and around the country. c-span is brought to you by your cable or satellite provider. "> "washington journal continues. host: this week's spotlight on magazines and segment takes a look back at the history of the codebreakers in world war ii and the cold war. author and "smithsonian magazine " contributor, liza mundy, joins us to talk about her article on the codebreakers who unmasked soviet spies. guest: there was a document that chronicled the incredible history of recruiting women during world war ii to become codebreakers. there was a small group of women that started breaking russian messages during report two and they continued during the cold war. teacherst made school useful for this job?
how did the federal government find them? guest: they were college graduates. if you are a woman in 1983 and you're going to college, it's the only job you can get. the u.s. army sent its handsomest, young officers to lure these schoolteachers to washington. they thought these women would want to get married. most of the women who broke the nevern coded messages married because their work was a top-secret,- so they felt they had to compartmentalize their lives. host: did the army tell them they would be codebreakers? guest: they had no idea what they were getting into. they came to washington thinking they would do patriotic work for
the war effort. they had to sign a loyalty oath to the u.s. government and a secrecy of. to talk about their highly classified work would be an act of treason during wartime. whatever they were going to be doing, they knew what the penalty was for talking about it. host: what were the successes? we wereuring the war, breaking japanese and german int systems -- code systems extraordinary effective weight. were the war, these women working the soviet messages, stayed on and achieved remarkable success breaking the soviet system that revealed soviets spying during the war. this was one of the most successful crypto analytics excesses in u.s. history -- crypto analytic successes in
u.s. history. host: we are talking to liza mundy. if you want to join this conversation, if you are in the eastern and central time zones, call 202-748-8000. mountain and pacific time zone, 202-748-8001. you can always reach us on social media, on twitter and on facebook. you've said that a lot of these women who worked on the project never got married. did their families know what they were doing? >> no. their families always wondered. i interviewed a woman who was one of the last living members of this original team. she is 100 years old now. they were always the glamorous aunt and their families. -- in
their families. their families were dying to know what they did. theyomen never cracked, would never tell their families what they were doing. it was very difficult to get these women to yield up any secrets. host: were these women part of the washington social circle? guest: that is such a great question. they were part of the community, they were a great friendship group unto themselves. they went bowling, they played bridge. i met the women who dressed their hair. she said i thought they were just friends. they all went to the same hairdresser. they had a tight friendship circle. host: can you explain how the process of how these women worked? were they working with other codebreakers working on other projects? where in washington where they? >> very compartmentalized. they started in a former girls
school in arlington, virginia. eventually, they moved to fort what wouldryland, become the nsa. interviewed the nephew of angie. sometimes, he would give her a ride up to fort meade. there was a time when the building wasn't marked. all he knew was aunt angie was disappearing into some heavily fortified building. work did these women's expose any spies that were convicted of treason? guest: many spies. , donna mcleanrg was passing atomic secrets -- the soviets wanted to know about our atomic research during world
war ii. they recruited people in this country. many names were exposed as a result of leading these test reading these messages. -- result of reading these messages. host: did everyone in the u.s. government know these women were working on this? was it kept a secret from the white house? guest: it's believed president truman may not have known about the project. overstatessible to how top-secret this project was. in an already secret code breaking operation, they were the innermost cell. even other people working at arlington hall or the nsa couldn't come into the physical space they were working on. host: howard calling from fort lauderdale, florida. good morning. caller: good morning.
submarine,ine on a summ i used to fix the innate met -- enigma machines. it's very interesting that you wrote about this. modernere for encryption. it's very interesting. these women were stripping encryption out of soviet messages/ the germans used the enigma machine. the soviets did it all with pen thataper and one time pads had the encryption on them. they were used a few of these pads. that was all it took for the american codebreakers to be able to break into this incredibly difficult system. host: i was very fascinated with
the part of your article that mentioned they had to be sure that other people in their complex didn't see what they were doing. a russian plant made it inside. guest: at the time, arlington hall, there was a man who was spying for the soviets. william did get the information out to the soviets that we had broken their code system. angie, who i interviewed for my peace, was suspicious of it. her supervisor warned her to cover her work and she did. she was very effective. we still had all their messages from world war ii with these names in them. we went back and back over decades working with the fbi to uncover more names in the messages. we were still able to mine that trove of messages and it took
decades. itt: because of the secrecy, was sometimes hard for the justice system to use this information. prosecutions were difficult. the crypto analytic breakthroughs were so specific, they were withheld as evidence. -- so sensitive, they were withheld as evidence. even the people who were prosecuting didn't know this project was giving them the information. guest: that's always the issue with intelligence gathering. you don't want it known that you are gathering intelligence. even though they had names, concrete information in these messages, they couldn't produce that in court. worked closelyrs with the fbi when they could to figure out other ways to corroborate. host: bill calling from illinois. good morning.
caller: hi. i was just wondering what the difference between what was andg on at brockley park what was going on at the verona project. were these verbal messages or was it all wireless? what were the differences exactly on the material these people were working on? are any of these archived public available to the to see exactly some of the things that were done? guest: sure, they are available. we work closely with bletchley park. the army and u.s. navy both had massive code breaking operations. we worked closely with the british.
wereoviet messages transmitted often by telegram. there wasld war ii, an office of censorship that would look at every table that was going to an international destination. if they could see it was in a cipher, they would send it to the code breaking operation. that's one reason the cipher had to be so good. they knew we would be collecting these messages and trying to break them. you can look at the actual venona decrypts. agency,enona security there's a book authored by lewis benson and mike warner that has the actual messages in them. you can read them. there a collection also at the national archives. it has been declassified and is available. host: how long has it been declassified and available? when did the verona project shutdown?
caller: in 19 -- guest: in 1980. they were working a very old, archaic system. technology had advanced. they were like jewelry workers. 1980,t was rolled off in some of the women retired. then, it was declassified in 1995. host: laura calling from troy, michigan. go ahead. caller: hi. i just love c-span. there's so many different things we can learn about. we here inondering, this country about the spies that are spying in our country, i'm wondering if we have counterparts in other countries that do the same thing.
spying, have code breaking, etc. world?y throughout the i imagine small countries have their own little significant part of something they might cooperate with. guest: sure. it is a constant spy versus spy around the world. other countries have codebreakers, we have our national security agency, everyone is trying to listen to everyone else. to your point about smaller countries, some of our most important codebreakers during world war ii were made by poland. small countries surrounded by large, menacing neighbors like germany or the soviet union, they are nervous about those countries. poland has a brilliant code breaking bureau that achieved a number of breakthroughs on the
enigma machine and ultimately shared that information with the french and british. host: were any of these female codebreakers ever publicly acknowledged? guest: they did get awards within the nsa. they weren't publicly acknowledged. they didn't expect to be. we have so many public servants now who understand they are not going to get credit for their work. women in particular and women of that era in particular did not expect accolades in public life. they did not receive accolades in public life. people often know the name meredith gardner. she was a linguist too was able to figure out what code systems stood for. name --he most famous the women were doing the hard analytic work, working closely
with meredith gardner and others. i think of them as the hidden figures of world war ii and the cold war. we are coming to understand now how important rooms full of women had been to american security i and freedom. host: carol calling from texas. good morning. caller: good morning. what a fascinating story. it reminds me of so many stories that have come out in particular of world war ii of women doing the jobs of men because the men were at war. i'm curious about the fact that you say so many of them didn't marry. was this a conscious choice? guest: yes. it was a conscious choice. the women understood -- during world war ii, we had rosie the riveter, women going into factories, a lot of women doing early stem work during the war.
there waswar, government propaganda to encourage them to go back home. these women understood if they got married, had children, they would be expected to quit work and stay home with their families. this was the height of the baby boom. they understood they really needed to marry themselves to their work. of marryingry leery or even dating the wrong person. when i interviewed angie in washington, she pointed out windows of where soviet diplomats used to live. they formed a tight friendship group with each other. they were beloved by their extended families. they had a lot of nieces and nephews who would come to visit them in washington. they felt these women were the sophisticated element of the
families. children growing up in rural america could come visit aunt angie or aunt jean. they weren't without family life, but they made a conscious decision that they were going to stay single. host: were these women recruited from any specific part of america? or did they come from everywhere? guest: in the beginning, regulations can find the army to recruiting in the south. virginia, north carolina, south carolina. , the armyld war ii spread out and recruited from all over the country. a lot of these women were from texas, virginia, the rural south. they came from very patriotic families. they believe very strongly in their work. host: was this a lifetime commitment? guest: lifetime commitment.
one or two did end up getting married. often, they married men working in the code breaking unit. even if the woman was recognized as better -- the wife was an amazing russian linguist -- generally, if they married and had children, the woman would leave work and stay home. host: mill the calling from florida. caller: good morning. i know you said the army officers were the ones going out and recruiting these women. do you have any documentation reads anything about who exactly came up with the idea? why did they feel in need to keep it secret from the administration, president truman? did other subsequent
administrations -- were they aware of it or not aware of it? i bring it up with what's happening now with all this shadow government, was there a concern during that time? guest: right. the topic of russian spying is always with us. there was enormous fear during the war and after the war that the white house might've been penetrated and was. it's impossible to overstate the secrecy that surrounded this project and the fear that we couldn't have the soviets know that we were breaking their system. they were our allies during the war. it was a constant effort to keep the lid on this operation. host: let's go to al calling from missouri. good morning. caller: good morning. it may have been a rumor way back, but was there talk at one time that churchill made the
statement that the codebreakers were so secretive that they never got around to giving the government a lot of information that the government needed? in the second world war, he swore to take a different approach to codebreakers. --st: i'm not an expert there was important code thating during world war i had a major impact on battles. opponent was an avid proponent ofers -- codebreakers. he deeply recognized the importance of the intelligence the allies were getting from the anomie messages -- enemy messages. host: electra calling from new york. caller: i remember this period very well. it further conforms the horror
the femalesod that ized every bit mccarth as the males. all genders have the same aggression. patriotism, my foot. what about internationalism? host: one of the things i noticed in your article was this was during the mccarthyism era. these women knew things the general public didn't know and couldn't say. in findingnvolved some of the people that mccarthy was talking about? guest: they knew. they were involved in reading the messages. as american society was finger-pointing, innocent people were targeted, some guilty
people got away because these messages couldn't be produced in court. it was a very toxic time. what was in the messages and they couldn't talk about it. host: let's go to patricia calling from syracuse, new york. good morning. caller: good morning. i should tell you that my mother was in the navy during world war ii. so was my father. she worked in codes and ciphers out of charleston, south carolina. guest: i'm grateful for her service and for your family. host: she was the first group of women sworn into the navy not as a nurse but as an officer and a gentleman and she was proud of that. guest: world war ii was a tipping point for women in the the waves were incredibly important in showing the navy and u.s. military what women could do. membersre these women
of the military or civilians working for the government? guest: u.s. navy recruited women as good breakers to break the japanese naval code system and then work on encoding our systems as well. the navy wanted its women in uniform. those women joined the waves and became naval officers. the army prefer to keep its code breaking operations civilian. there was something to be said for both methods. in the army operations, there were some 22-year-old brilliant young women, including the first deputy director of the nsa. she was directing a major unit. youou had civilian units, might have a 22-year-old woman in charge. those female officers -- the men were off fighting and the women were here in washington. those women rose really high and became lieutenants and
sometimes higher than that. host: sal calling from north dakota. good morning. caller: good morning. great topic you guys are discussing. number one, i will be honest with you guys, i'm a little biased, i am native american. first thing i wanted to let you know is native americans are the largest population that have applied to and served their into the utmost what they could do. i wanted to touch on that. , where doeakers, wow i begin? their service to the country, i don't think it could ever be measured. they have done an excellent job for the country.
what i didn't agree with was our so-called president trump when they had the attack with -- he kept referring to the one lady is pocahontas, . that is really disrespectful. women who were in the verona project, what was the toll that being in this secretive project -- of being in this secretive project on their lives? guest: that's interesting. i do have one thing to say about the caller's comment. the women and the toll it took, code breaking was incredibly stressful. lives were at stake. during the cold war, our reputations were at stake. there were a number of codebreakers who had nervous breakdowns, became alcoholics,
and ultimately buckled under the stress. the women, not so much. i think it was because of their friendship with each other, the way they socialized. i didn't hear a lot of talk about psychological and mental stress. one of the things your caller mentioned that i wanted to speak to, speaking as a native american, these navajo code talkers during world war ii were native american men working in the pacific giving us a coded system that couldn't be patriotism-- their of how world war ii was a time of inclusion. it was a shining moment of
inclusion and we are finally recognizing that fact. groups that may be didn't have as much reason to be patriotic but were. host: we want to say thank you for a great conversation, a great article and a great topic. thank you to liza mundy from "smithsonian magazine." guest: thank you for having me. host: for the remainder of the program, we will be taking open phones on any public policy issue. democrats, 202-748-8000. republicans, 202-748-8001. independents, 202-748-8002. note --programming newsmakers interviewed sonny perdue. he was asked about the white
house and the president in light of the anonymous op-ed in the new york times. >> what has it been like in the trump administration this week? what can you tell us about your own experience working in this administration? >> yes, we are pretty isolated. we just do our business. that's what the president wants us to do. president has freed me to run the department of agriculture. i was in the oval this week talking about agricultural policy and things like that. these other issues don't come up. i don't really bother myself with that. i didn't see the frenetic activity that has been described over there. it was a fairly normal day when we were at the rose bowl with producers and in the oval with the president. >> he didn't seem distracted? >> not at all.
he was very attentive to the issue we were talking about. he didn't seem distracted at all. he was very attentive and very engaging in the issue. >> there was a discussion in that particular piece of early whispers among cabinet members about possibly invoking the 25th amendment. you are a cabinet member. did you ever hear a whisper? consider ever such a whisper conceivable? >> i'm missing out. i never heard it then and i haven't heard it since then. i don't know who was whispering to who. i never heard it. i keep my head down, keep plowing in that way. >> "washington journal" continues. host: we are going to go to open phones in just a minute. first,