October 11, 2011
Historian Mark Stout
A couple weeks ago while I was at the National Archives doing research for a book I’m writing about John Grombach and The Pond, a little known espionage organization that did work for the US Government from 1942 to 1955, I came across a fascinating artifact of the secret world.
In the early 1950s, the Pond used as a source a Hungarian General named Bela Lengyel who had fled the Communists and come to the West but ran an organization that supposedly still had contacts behind the Iron Curtain. At one point The Pond needed to change case officers handling Lengyel. Pond headquarters in New York came up with a clever method by which the new case officer and Lengyel (who did not know each other) could confirm each others’ identity. They cut up a dollar bill and sent one half to Lengyel and gave the other to the case officer. When the two men met, if the pieces of the bill matched up, they could trust each other.
That dollar bill is in the Archives!
This was not the first time that spies had used this kind of recognition symbol. Atomic spies David Greenglass and Harry Gold had used the front of a Jell-o box similarly cut up and this fact had been widely reported during the 1951 trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg. Maybe this is where the Pond operatives got the idea.