I. Introduction‎ > ‎

Origin of TICOM

As the European war drew to a climax in the summer of 1944 the technological advantage that the Germans demonstrated in tanks, jet aircraft, rockets and missiles became apparent, causing great concern among allied planners. A number of intelligence operations, planned to become operational as soon as practicable in the event of a German collapse, were designed to seize the intellectual property of the Third Reich.  Loosely coordinated by the Combined Intelligence Objectives Subcommittee a number of these operations such as ALSOS, which searched for nuclear information and research, OVERCAST, dedicated to the capture of rockets, and SURGEON, the search for avionics and jet technology, were planned. These operations were well documented in both popular and academic literature after the war. However, a lesser-known operation, TICOM, which targeted the capture of German signals intelligence organizations remained top secret and to this day remains shrouded in mystery.


It was assumed that Germany, like all other major states, had an active program in diplomatic and strategic signals intelligence, and experience had provided plenty of evidence as to their capabilities in tactical SIGINT on the battlefield. Questions arose as to the German’s actual capabilities, their level of success against Anglo-American codes and ciphers, and their level of cooperation with their Japanese allies. In order to find answers to these questions the British began planning a program to actively seek out and capture the cryptologic secrets of Germany. US Army Chief of Staff General George Marshall, getting wind of these plans, ordered General Eisenhower to cooperate with the British effort, and a secret joint operation was formed, codenamed TICOM (Target Intelligence Committee).


The basic concept of TICOM was to form teams of cryptologic experts, mainly drawn from the code-breaking center at Bletchley Park, to go into Germany with the front line troops and to capture the documents, technology and personnel of the various German signal intelligence organizations before these precious secrets could be destroyed, looted, or captured by the Russians.


           Colonel George A. Bicher, the senior U.S. signals intelligence officer in the European Theatre of Operations, initiated American participation in TICOM. Upon learning of the British planning, Bicher determined that Americans needed to be included in the operation and he began working his chain of command. This eventually resulted in a memo from Army Chief of Staff George Marshall directing General Eisenhower to form a team to participate with the British. Marshall’s memo defined four objectives for the TICOM mission: to learn the extent of the German cryptanalytic effort against England and America; to prevent the results of such German effort from falling into unauthorized hands as the German Armies retreated; to exploit German cryptologic techniques and inventions before they could be destroyed by the Germans; and to uncover items of signal intelligence value in the war against Japan. It was in effect, a shopping list from Marshall for any and all information pertaining to German secret communications.
Ronald Lewin. Ultra Goes to War. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.