In early January 1955, an NSA employee pleaded guilty to an espionage-related offense, the first ever. This led to the first public mentions of NSA, which was only little more than two years old.
During World War II, Joseph Petersen had been assigned to cryptanalytic work In the South Pacific, and had worked with some Dutch cryptanalysts m a cooperative effort against Japanese communications. He apparently formed a close friendship with one of them.
The friendship remained close after the war, and Petersen continued, illegally, to send his friend classified documents about cryptologic activities.
In 1953, when, Incidental to an investigation of a U.S. Navy officer, security officials learned that Petersen had close contacts at the Dutch embassy, they contacted the FBI. Petersen revealed some of his activities under questioning, and the FBI found classified documents in his apartment.
The decision on whether to prosecute was left to General Ralph Canine, director of NSA. Although he was advised to do nothing more than fire Petersen, since a trial might result m the release of secrets, Canine chose to prosecute.
However, the case did not go to trial. Petersen decided to plead guilty. In light of his cooperation with the FBI, Petersen was sentenced to only seven years. He was released after four.
Even without a trial, the case was public knowledge. The Associated Press Circulated an article about Petersen, describing NSA as an agency that “listens in on the world’s radio traffic, both conventional messages and coded material.” The news service went on to say that NSA had tighter secrecy than the CIA, and it was “not listed by name either in the Washington directory or in the Pentagon phone directory.”
This, incidentally, may be the origin of the canard that NSA was at one time a secret organization.
9 January 2023 at 16:24
Old joke NSA = No Such Agency. Espionage not funny tho.
LikeLiked by 1 person
10 January 2023 at 07:08
I recollect this incident very well. I was a senior in high school and read about it in the newspapers.
After I’d joined the USN and was stationed at NSA in 1960 it was mentioned about the same time the
two gay ‘O’ branchers defected to USSR. NSA was always referred to as ‘No Such Agency’ when outside the building and CIA was “The Company’ and FBI was ‘F—-d up Bunch of Idiots’. The military personnel and civilians that I worked with in TCOM were all very highly regarded. Thank you, Mario,
for this remembrance.
LikeLiked by 1 person
10 January 2023 at 23:49
You folks with “No Such Agency” and our uniformed services are still highly regarded by the vast majority of folks that I know and socialize or otherwise communicate with.
Happy New Year, 2023, to all of you wonderful people we Americans depended on and are depending on for our internal and external security. Ditto, to your families.
Former HN, USN