As far as the war effort
went, 1942 was a big year for radio. The "Voice of America" began
broadcasting American-based news of the war throughout Europe. Armed Forces
Radio was launched to boost the morale of soldiers around the world.
And, on October 9, on
a small farm outside Clinton, Maryland--some 25 miles southeast of the nation's
capitol--the FBI launched its first major radio station.
An FBI radio station? That's right. But it didn't play the hits of Glenn Miller, Harry James, and
other top recording artists of the day. It covertly monitored and intercepted
Nazi radio traffic, gathering vital bits of intelligence that supported the
We'd actually been using
radio monitoring stations to intercept signals from secret Nazi radio networks
for more than a year, including at the Clinton site. But with enemy radio
traffic growing by leaps and bounds (the Clinton station alone had intercepted
nearly a thousand espionage messages by March 1942), more engineering and
personnel firepower were needed.
By October 1942,
the revamped station was complete. A larger complement of FBI radio operators--both men
and women--began working 24/7 to intercept any and all enemy transmissions
coming from inside and outside the U.S.
How did the Nazis
transmit these messages? Usually via Morse Code over "covert" Nazi stations
discovered by the FBI or other agencies. Other times by embedding secret
messages in popular German radio programs.
though, the messages were handled the same way: they were quickly sent via teletype
to the FBI Lab, which analyzed and decoded the intercepts.
It was a two-way
street. Beyond picking up transmissions, our operators also sent messages of their
own: to FBI employees connected via radio networks, of course. But also to
Nazi agents. Thinking they were talking to fellow spies, these agents were
actually being used to spread disinformation. Once, with the help of a German
double agent, we sent the Nazis over 140 bogus messages, many of which were
then forwarded to the Japanese government.
With the success
of the Clinton operation, the Bureau built more radio facilities. By February 1943,
our radio circuits stretched from Juneau, Alaska, to Santiago, Chile, with
more than a dozen stations in between. Ultimately, nearly 30 of these radio
stations were operating in the western hemisphere.
The wartime dividends? Outing many Nazi agents in the U.S., across South and Central America, and
even in Europe; throwing the Axis powers off course with disinformation;
and providing key bits of intelligence that were shared with the military,
the State Department, and some foreign intelligence agencies.
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