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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

September 6, 1960: Two NSA "Code Clerks" Defect, Homosexuality Alleged

Two analysts from the top-secret National Security Agency held a press conference in Moscow on this day in 1960 to announce their defection to the Soviet Union. William H. Martin and Bernon F. Mitchell said they objected to US spy planes flying over enemy territory because it could lead to nuclear war.

In Washington a member of Congress -- Rep. Francis E. Walter (D. Penna.), chairman of the House Un-American Activities Committee -- denied that he'd said one of the men was a homosexual. President Eisenhower called one "mentally sick" and a Defense Department statement said one was receiving psychiatric treatment. Neither identified the individual. The president called both men "turncoats" and "tools of Soviet propaganda."

Rep. Walter said his committee would hold closed-door hearings on the defections to look into NSA hiring practices. His committee previously failed to obtain personnel records from the NSA when the agency would not admit the person serving the congressional subpoena.

The federal government has not officially acknowledged the existence of the agency, which news reports describe as dealing with coded messages. "In this work, mathematicians are employed in work with computers and other types of electronics machines which can be 'taught to think' in solving word, letter and number patterns," the New York Times reported the next day. The paper, which would run at least three defection-related stories in its September 7th edition, also described the two men at their Moscow news conference as "dressed in neat American suits and [appearing] in the best of health and spirits."