Cryptologic Bytes

"On This Date in History" Calendar

1929: Cipher Bureau Closed.

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

31 October 1929: The Cipher Bureau ("Black Chamber") headed by Herbert O. Yardley closed. Read about the Black Chamber in an NSA article: via the link at the end of the page.

After the organization disbanded, Yardley caused a sensation in 1931 with the publication of his memoirs of MI-8, "The American Black Chamber." In this book, Yardley revealed the extent of U.S. cryptanalytic work in the 1920s. Surprisingly, the wording of the espionage laws at that time did not permit prosecution of Yardley. (This situation was changed two years later with a new law imposing stiff penalties for unauthorized revelations of cryptologic secrets.) In a 1952 letter, William Friedman, a contemporary of Yardley, suggested, "In reading Yardley I recommend ingestion of liberal dozes of sodium chloride." (i.e., Take it with more than a grain of salt.)

Yardley did some cryptologic work for Canada and China during World War II, but he was never again given a position of trust in the U.S. government.

Read more about Herbert O. Yardley in NSA's collection of Yardley-related articles.


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