Monday, 20 May 2019

alphabet soup or no such agency

Having relocated (see also) from Washington, DC to New York City on this day in 1919, the antecedent to the National Security Agency, a three-person operation called the Cipher Bureau, was ostensibly declared redundant after the conclusion of World War I but continued intelligence activities fronting as a business, the Code Compilation Company, providing encryption services for businesses wanting to protect trade secrets that could negatively impact stock prices and investor confidence.
Under the ægis of a group calling themselves the Black Chamber, comprised of recruits from the similarly disbanded Army cryptographic corps, the Company managed to convince Western Union and other telegraph operators to allow them access to the communication networks and focused on intercepting diplomatic cables exchanged through the many consulates concentrated in the city. After the nature of the operations came to the attention of the upper echelons of the government a decade later, the Secretary of State/Secretary of War Henry Lewis Stimson ordered the Company to be shutdown, with the remark, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.” With the outbreak of World War II and the US entry, the talent pool was conscripted again and underwent several re-organisations and fell under the auspices of different military and civilian activities until finally centralised as the Armed Forces Security Agency, with the responsibility for all cryptographic analysis, recognising the precariousness of the geopolitical situation post-war, on 20 May 1949. Due to conflicts between civilian and military intelligence resources and over-compartmentalisation, President Harry S Truman formally established a civilian equivalent three years later through a then classified directive to share intelligence for their joint mission.