Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Herbert Yardley : The NSA Hero Who Was a Spy

There is hope for Bradley Manning yet. That statement seems odd given that he's not challenging the facts of his case and, instead, is opting for a mitigation strategy. However, as the saga of Herbert O. Yardley shows, treasonous heels can become heroes if the evidence of their guilt is hidden by classification, buried in document dumps, and obscured by the passage of enough time. This was proven in 1999 when Yardley became an inaugural member of the NSA's Hall of Honor.

Well documented by James Bamford's books and the NSA's own website, Yardley "served as a cryptologic officer with the American Expeditionary Forces in France during WWI. In the 1920s he was chief of MI-8, the first U.S. peacetime cryptanalytic organization, jointly funded by the U.S. Army and the Department of State. In that capacity, he and a team of cryptanalysts exploited nearly two dozen foreign diplomatic cipher systems. MI-8 was disbanded in 1929 when the State Department withdrew its share of the funding." In 1931, in need of funds, Yardley published 'his memoirs of MI-8, "The American Black Chamber." In this book, Yardley revealed the extent of U.S. cryptanalytic work in the 1920s."

What Bamford did not know or chose to leave out his books was the fact that Yardley sold out the American Black Chamber to the Japanese Empire for 7,000 in 1930. This fact was uncovered by Ladislas Farago during his research for The Broken Seal: The Story of Operation Magic and the Pearl Harbor Disaster, a book on cryptography relation to Pearl Harbor. The story spawned an CIA investigation. Below is the 12/12/1967 Memorandum for the Deputy Director of Central Intelligence from Walter Pforzheimer confirming the allegations. 

CIA Herbert Yardley Spy Memorandum                                                           

Nor was the CIA alone in launching an investigation. The National Security Agency conducted its own inquiry into Yardley's conduct which "tend[ed] to strongly to substantiate Farago's basic claim" though it also found that "much of the rest of his account of the transaction either could not be confirmed or was found to be wrong."(1) This tendency to be wrong was undoubted a reason that David Kahn and others disbelieved his allegations.(2) Eventually, the controversy as well as Yardley's memory faded from public memory creating the space necessary for his 1999 Hall of Honor Induction.

(1) [redacted], "The Many Lives of Herbert O. Yardley, Cryptologic Spectrum, Fall 1981 - Vol. 11, No. 4 , pg. 26 Read here
(2)Ibid., pg 28 fn. 68

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