David Alvarez

Alvarez, David. Secret Messages: Codebreaking and American Diplomacy 1930-1945. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2000.

According to Erskine, AFIO WIN 7-00 (19 Feb. 2000), this work "focuses on the history of American diplomatic (as opposed to military) codebreaking and its influence on American foreign policy.... It covers in detail cryptanalytic operations against friends, foes and neutrals during WWII (with a chapter on work against Russian traffic)" and "contains a lot on the origin and evolution of Anglo American SIGINT collaboration."

Seamon, Proceedings 126.11 (Nov. 2000), notes the author's conclusion that for all the success of U.S. cryptanalysis before and during World War II, it seems to have "had little effect" in Washington. "For example, there is almost no evidence that President Franklin Roosevelt paid any attention to it." Kruh, Cryptologia 24.4, calls this an "excellent work." It is "the most complete account to date of the U.S. Army's top-secret Signal Intelligence Service (SIS): its creation, struggles, rapid wartime growth, and its contribution to the war effort."

For Bath, NIPQ 16.3, this is an "insightful and well documented study." This sentiment is shared by Benson, I&NS 15.4, who sees Secret Messages as a "brilliantly written and argued account." To Winn, Parameters 31 (Winter 2001-2002), Alvarez' work serves as "an operational history" of the Signal Intelligence Service. The author "does not address codebreaking in the military or naval spheres."

[Interwar/U.S.; WWII/Magic & Cooperation]

Alvarez, David. Spies in the Vatican: Espionage and Intrigue from Napoleon to the Holocaust. Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2002.

Peake, Studies 47.1 (2003), views this work as "well documented and well told." The author "tells about Vatican involvement in a wide variety of intelligence functions, from espionage and counterintelligence to codebreaking and propaganda." Alvarez believes that the "intelligence capabilities of the Papacy" have been exaggerated, concluding that "the Vatican had 'neither the ability nor the appetite to employ ... espionage and clandestine operations' to the degree imagined by others."

According to Brooks, NIPQ 19.3, the author "spends more time enumerating the various espionage attempts by world powers against the Vatican than [he] spends detailing the very limited capabilities of the Pope's tiny diplomatic service." (emphasis in original)

Hess, JIH 3.2, notes that "with the disappearance of the Papal States [in 1870,] the Pope's intelligence capabilities largely vanished." From World War I through World War II, "the world and certainly its European and North-American regions underwent an intelligence revolution.... 'This intelligence revolution completely bypassed the Papacy.'" Spies in the Vatican "provides fascinating reading," is written in "elegant and at times witty and always precise language," and "needs to be read together with the extensive notes. They contain many stories and details, which would otherwise evade the reader's attention."

For Keefe, I&NS 18.3, "[t]his entertaining and thought-provoking study will provide the Papacy's critics and supporters with an unique perspective and some convincing arguments about the place of the Vatican in the world of espionage." Schwab, IJI&C 18.1 (Spring 2005), is somewhat more negative about this work, noting that "the lack of a clearly stated thesis is surprising.... From a stylistic perspective, Spies in the Vatican is an uneven work." Nonetheless, the author "has produced a useful work for students of diplomatic and intelligence history to consult."

[OtherCountries/Vatican; WWII/Eur/Vatican]

Alvarez, David. "Trying to Make the MAGIC Last: American Diplomatic Codebreaking in the Early Cold War." Diplomatic History 31, no. 5 (Nov. 2005): 865-882.


Alvarez, David. "Vatican Communications Security, 1914-18." Intelligence and National Security 7, no. 4 (Oct. 1992): 443-453.

During World War I, the Vatican "depended upon the ordinary mails or, where possible, the diplomatic messengers of other states.... [P]apal cryptography during the war ... was a modest effort.... [T]here can be little doubt that throughout the war the Holy See was plagued by poor communications security."

[OtherCountries/Vatican; WWI/Other][c]

Alvarez, David. "Vatican Intelligence Capabilities in the Second World War." Intelligence and National Security 6, no. 3 (Jul. 1991): 593-607.

"The evidence suggests that the wartime intelligence capabilities of the Papacy have been exaggerated, or at least misperceived. The Holy See was usually no more informed about events than many secular powers; often it was less informed." The author includes two brief case studies in support of his main point, looking at the information available to the Vatican on Operation Barbarossa and the Final Solution in the period 1941-1942.


Alvarez, David. "Wilhelm Fenner and the Development of the German Cipher Bureau, 1922-1939." Cryptologia 31, no. 2 (Apr. 2007): 152-163.

Fenner joined the Cipher Bureau in 1922 as head of the its cryptanalytic section; he was the "effective head" of the Bureau for most of the interwar years. This article surveys Fenner's efforts to build the Bureau, to make it a professional organization, and to fend off attacks on its responsibilities from the proliferating intelligence units under the Nazi regime. In the end, Germany's cryptanalytic capabilities were undercut by "duplication of effort, understaffing, inadequate technical resources, and uncoordinated operations."

[Germany/Interwar; WWII/Eur/Germany]

Alvarez, David, ed.

1. "Special Issue on Allied and Axis Signals Intelligence in World War II." Intelligence and National Security 14, no. 1 (Spring 1999): Entire issue.

Click for Table of Contents.

2. Allied and Axis Signals Intelligence in World War II. London: Frank Cass, 1999.

Clark comment: This book consists of articles originally published in Intelligence and National Security 14, no. 1 (Spring 1999). Gardner, RUSI Journal, Dec. 1999, finds this collection "strong on a wide selection of intelligence topics and nations. Just about the only omission of note ... is the USSR."

[UK/WWII/Ultra; WWII/Magic & I&NS]

Alvarez, David, and Robert A. Graham. Nothing Sacred: Nazi Espionage against the Vatican, 1939-1945. London: Frank Cass, 1997.

Kruh, Cryptologia 22.2, points out that the Nazis "considered the Catholic Church in general and the Vatican in particular, a serious threat to their domestic security and international ambitions." Consequently, they made efforts to recruit informants in Germany and penetrations of the Papacy. The latter were largely unsuccessful, but "the German codebreaking operation was more successful." According to Denniston, I&NS 16.1, this is a "definitive account of what turned out to be largely futile German cryptologic enterprise against Vatican cipher security in World War II."



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