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Operation Stella Polaris
Operation Stella Polaris was the cover name for activity in which Finnish signals intelligence records, equipment and personnel were transported into Sweden after the ending of the Continuation war in 1944. The threat of Soviet occupation was considered too likely and an operation was formed to support guerrilla warfare in Finland after occupation.
The leader of the operation was Colonel Reino Hallamaa, commander of Finland's code-breaking services.
Some of the records were later destroyed, but most were sold off to Sweden, Japan, Britain, France and the USA.
The following quotes and references are taken directly from Operatives, Spies and Saboteurs: The Unknown Story of WWII's OSS, by Patrick K. O'Donnell[1] ISBN 0-8065-2798-6 (New York: Kensington Publishing Corp., 2004) pp. 266-270:
On September 21, 1944, three rusting coastal steamers emerged out of the early morning mist and docked in the tiny Swedish port of Härnosänd. The following day, another vessel pulled into Gävle, a port farther south along the coast. The ships were crammed with refugees fleeing Finland. That country had recently signed an armistice with Russia, knocking it out of the Axis. But the steamers' passengers and cargo were far from typical. Finland's entire intelligence service - one of Europe's finest - was on board.[1] Accompanying the "refugees" were hundreds of metal cases that contained the documents and equipment for unlocking the secrets of nearly a dozen countries. Everything was for sale.

For many months the operation, dubbed Stella Polaris, had been planned in great secrecy by Swedish and Finnish intelligence. The Swedes were shocked when, instead of a few senior intelligence officers, 750 cryptologists, commandos, and analysts, along with their families, arrived on the 22nd-23rd. The Finns went into negotiations with the Swedes for the keys to the codes and their expertise. Sweden hired the most talented Finns, while the majority of the refugees sat nervously in internment camps facing the prospect of deportation back to Finland, where they likely faced reprisals from the Russians. With their backs against the wall, the cash-strapped Finns went about selling themselves and their priceless cargo to the intelligence agencies operating out of Sweden.

The largest intelligence organization in Sweden was the [American Office of Strategic Services, with a] 75-man OSS station in Stockholm. For most of the war the station had been working closely with the Finns. R. Taylor Cole, the director of secret intelligence from August 1944 through October 1944, wrote, "The resources of the entire Finnish intelligence services have been largely available to the OSS."[2] The Finns provided OSS with a bumper crop of hard intelligence on the German military, and, strikingly, on America's ally, the Soviet Union. Based on their past dealings, OSS assumed that except for the Swedes, they would be the only consumer of the material.

During their flight the Finns brought over hundreds of cases of intelligence and code material. The sensitive material was squirreled away in a variety of locations: the basement of the Hotel Aston, a castle in central Sweden, and at a private estate outside of Stockholm.

Demand for intelligence on the Soviet Union was at a premium in Washington. "Ultra Secret" arrangements had to been [sic] arranged for OSS to gather it, behind the backs of the [U.S.] State Department's diplomats, who vigilantly guarded the [Allied] alliance with the Soviets.

During one of OSS's first meetings with the newly arrived Stella Polaris agents, Colonel Reino Henrik Hallamaa, commander of Finland's code-breaking services, revealed that the Finns had broken over 1,000 codes - including the U.S. State Department's diplomatic codes. The Finns read messages from American embassies in Helsinki, Moscow, Stockholm, Madrid, Tehran, the Vatican, Ankara, and Rio de Janeiro. [3] While their anti-American achievements were impressive, the Finns had devoted most of their efforts to breaking Russian codes. Hallamaa quickly got down to business and offered 200 cases of Russian material to the U.S., along with the Finnish experts to process it, for a hefty price tag.

State and OSS debated the proposition. Ultimately, State warned against purchasing the material - "We were not in favor of having anything to do with this material." For the time being the deal was off for the Russian material. But apparently the prohibition did not prevent OSS from purchasing a German Enigma machine for a suitcase full of cash.[4]

Unbeknownst to OSS at the time, the Finns had other customers besides the Americans and Swedes. They were also selling the intelligence to the Japanese, who in turn were transmitting it to the Germans. Months would pass before OSS would learn of the Finns' double dealings.

The issue of the Russian codes again surfaced. OSS acted in great haste, probably because the Finns had nearly completed negotiations with the Swedes over the Stella Polaris archives. It is likely that [Ty] Tikander [OSS station chief in Sweden] pleaded with [Major General William Joseph Donovan [Coordinator of Information of the OSS] to act and purchase the codes. The State Department was purposely kept in the dark on the details of the transaction.

A recently declassified handwritten document by Tikander, stamped "Top Secret" and kept in Donovan's personal safe, describes the deal: "In connection with the cypher matter which was discussed with you this morning. Permit me to inform you that I have sent a Top Secret cable today to Dick Huber and William Carlson instructing them to arrange for a meeting with our friends and accept delivery immediately of the materials previously rejected. Further, I directed that this material be photostated and that the films be left in possession of Huber in Stockholm.... I authorized Huber to make a cash payment of 250,000 kroner.[5] For about $63,000, OSS purchased the material, and, in turn, Donovan informed the president, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Despite OSS's best efforts to keep the deal secret, the State Department found out about the purchase. Secretary of State Edward Stettinius protested directly to the president, who ordered Donovan to return the codebooks. A cover story was devised that OSS accidentally obtained the materials with other intelligence it was gathering and offered that "we would immediately make it available to the Soviet Government if they so desire."[6] OSS executive Ned Putzell returned the codes to a chagrined Andrei Gromyko, future foreign minister of the Soviet Union. "I went [to] the Russian embassy in D.C. and returned the codes to him; he was cordial but had a look of disbelief on his face and seemed shocked that we actually had the codes."[7]

While the OSS archives do not address the issue directly, OSS officials reportedly copied the 1,500 pages of Stella Polaris material before it was returned.[8]

This embarassing incident did not prevent OSS from maintaining contacts with the Finns and buying more of the Stella Polaris documents. According to one recently declassified source, OSS bought four rolls of microfilm which contained the codes of ten different countries including the Vatican and Great Britain. Tikander later reported to Donovan that the transaction finally "drie[d] up the well."[9]

OSS continued to maintain contact with several Finns, who provided OSS with practically its only intelligence on the Soviet Union and on the activities of other members of Stella Polaris who were recruited by the British and Fench intelligence services to crack codes. Several Finns subsequently emigrated to the United States where they assisted American codebreakers of the Signals Security Agency (SSA).

The Russians had hundreds of different codes for their military, diplomatic, and espionage services. But remarkably, they did not change the codes that the Finns had cracked.[10]

If the Stella Polaris codes were actually copied, which seems highly probable, the material would have become part of one of the greatest secrets of the Cold War, code-named Venona. Venona represented a collection of nearly 3,000 partly decrypted Soviet secret messages sent between 1940 and 1948. The messages offered U.S. codebreakers an unparalled glimpse into how the NKVD (later KGB) and GRU (the Soviet military intelligence service) operated. The material was studied until 1980. Additionally, the Finnish material provided SSA codebreakers clues on new ways to crack other Russian codes.[11] Venona's massive database provided clues to the identities of thousands of Soviet spies around the globe, and confirmed the guilt of the Rosenbergs, Alger Hiss, and Klaus Fuchs. The material was so important that the U.S. counterintelligence community recognized it as the codebreaker's Rosetta stone. Venona would remain secret until 1996.

  1. ^ Nigel West, Verona: The Great Secret of the Cold War (New York: HarperCollins, 2000), pp. 6-7.
  2. ^ Memo from Helms to Shepardson with R Taylor's Report (December 2, 1944, NA:Record Group 226, Entry 210, Box 435.
  3. '^Matthew Aid, Stella Polaris' and Postwar Europe,Journal of Intelligence and National Security, Vol. 17, No. 3 (London: Frank Cass Publications): 28.
  4. ^ Ibid., p. 32.
  5. ^ "Memo: Tikander to General Donovan" (December 11, 1944), NA:Record Group 226, Entry 210, Box 362.
  6. ^ Robert Louis Benson and Michael Warner, eds., Venona: Soviet Espionage and the American Response, 1939-1957 (Washington, D.C.: NSA and CIA), p. 59.
  7. ^ author [Patrick K. O'Donnell] interview
  8. '^Aid, Stella Polaris' and Postwar Europe,p. 35. Moreover, there is the microfilmed copy of the material Huber was directed to make by Tikander in the December 11, 1944 memo to Donovan that remains unaccounted for.
  9. ^ Tikander to Donovan (March 28, 1945), NA: Record Group 226, Entry 210, Box 361.
  10. ^ Persico, Roosevelt's Secret War, p. 380.
  11. ^ West, Venona: The great Secret of the Cold War p. 10.

[edit] External links

"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.
The Weapons Cache Case is a Finnish criminal case of the late 1940s. It concerned a secret military operation following the Continuation War, where a large number of Finnish Army weapons and equipment was hidden away around the country.
Following the Moscow Armistice, two officers in Finnish Military HQ, Colonel Valo Nihtilä and Lieutenant Colonel Usko Haahti, started planning countermeasures against a possible Soviet occupation of the country. They came up with the idea of decentralized storing of light infantry weapons, so that in case of occupation, an immediate guerilla war could be launched.
During the demobilization, an organization responsible for hiding the equipment was created and war material was given for safekeeping. A total of 5000-10000 people participated in the operation. It was planned that they would hide material for 8000 men, but the participants worked so eagerly that it is supposed they hid material for 35000 soldiers.[citation needed]
The case started to unravel in the spring of 1945, when one man, who had stolen foodstuffs from the cache and sold it on the Black Market, for fear of reprisal from his comrades, divulged the existence of the caches to the Allied Control Commission (ACC). Initially the ACC was eager to follow the case, but after written orders from Nihtilä and Haahti surfaced, they left the investigation to Valpo, the Communist-controlled secret police of Finland at the time.
Valpo interrogated more than 5,000 people but failed to completely crack the case and find all the weapons. Most of the weapons were silently returned to army depots, and some were destroyed, but even today when old buildings are demolished, caches turn up every year. The investigators failed to find out how many people participated in the operation, as the participants tended to be reluctant to divulge meaningful information. In the end, 1488 people were convicted, most of them receiving 1-4 months in prison.
Decades later, in 1980, Arvo Tuominen, a former Finnish Communist leader, claimed that the weapons cache case was the tipping point which transferred the power within the Finnish Communist movement from the revolutionary to the parliamentary wing, as the communists feared armed resistance against revolutionary takeover. However, as historian Kimmo Rentola among others has shown, Tuominen's claims are to be treated very sceptically.[citation needed]


  • Lukkari, Matti (3rd ed 1992): Asekätkentä
  • Rentola, Kimmo (1994): Kenen joukoissa seisot? Suomalainen kommunismi ja sota 1937-1945
  • Rentola, Kimmo (1997): Niin kylmää että polttaa. Kommunistit, Kekkonen ja Kreml 1947-1958
"The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." Karl Marx

"He would, wouldn't he?" Mandy Rice-Davies. When asked in court whether she knew that Lord Astor had denied having sex with her.

“I think it would be a good idea” Ghandi, when asked about Western Civilisation.

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