Herbert O. Yardley life and biography

Herbert O. Yardley picture, image, poster

Herbert O. Yardley biography

Date of birth : 1889-04-13
Date of death : 1958-08-07
Birthplace : Worthington, Indiana,U.S.
Nationality : American
Category : Science and Technology
Last modified : 2011-12-15
Credited as : cryptologist, writing “Solution of American Diplomatic Codes”, known for his book The American Black Chamber

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Herbert Osborne Yardley (April 13, 1889 – August 7, 1958) was an American cryptologist best known for his book The American Black Chamber (1931). The title of the book refers to the Cipher Bureau, the cryptographic organization of which Yardley was the founder and head. Under Yardley, the cryptanalysts of The American Black Chamber broke Japanese diplomatic codes and were able to furnish American negotiators with significant information during the Washington Naval Conference of 1921-1922. He later helped the Nationalists in China (1938–1940) to break Japanese codes. Following his work in China, Yardley worked briefly for the Canadian government, helping it set up a cryptological section (Examination Unit) of the National Research Council of Canada from June to December 1941. Yardley was let go due to pressure from Washington.

His career in cryptology began with his work in the code room, as he broke the U.S. government codes that crossed his desk. At that time, American codes were very weak and Yardley solved them easily. He was shocked to learn that President Wilson was using a code that had been in use for over ten years. The weakness of American codes worried Yardley, especially considering the war in Europe, so in May 1916 he began writing a hundred-page “Solution of American Diplomatic Codes”, which he gave to his boss.

Breaking American codes got Yardley wondering about the codes of other countries. American participation in the war gave Yardley an opportunity to convince Major Ralph Van Deman of the need to set up a section to break other countries' codes. In June 1917, Yardley became a 2nd lieutenant in the Signal Corps and head of the newly created eighth section of military intelligence, MI-8. One early case was the cryptogram discovered in the clothing of German spy Lothar Witzke after he was arrested at the Mexican border in 1918. The evidence linked Witzke to significant sabotage activity in the U.S.

Yardley proved to be a very good administrator and during the war the people of MI-8 performed well even if they did not have any spectacular successes. After the war, the American Army and the State department decided to jointly fund MI-8 and Yardley continued as head of the "Cipher Bureau". They located their operations in New York City for legal reasons.

MI-8 closed its doors for good on October 31, 1929, just two days after the stock market crashed. With Yardley's esoteric skills in very low demand, he took up writing about his experiences in codebreaking to support his family. His memoirs, The American Black Chamber, were published by Bobbs-Merrill in 1931. The book outlined the history of the first U.S. Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) organization, described the activities of MI-8 during World War I and the American Black Chamber in the 1920s, and illustrated the basic principles of signals security.

This book was an embarrassment to the U.S. government and compromised some of the sources Yardley and his associates used. Through this work an estimated 19 nations were alerted that their codes were broken. Much of the post-World War I codebreaking was done by obtaining copies of enciphered telegrams sent over Western Union by foreign diplomats, as was the custom before countries had technology for specialized communications devices. William F. Friedman, considered the father of modern American signals intelligence (SIGINT) gathering, was incensed by the book and the publicity it generated in part because sources and methods were compromised and because Yardley's contribution was overstated.

None of Yardley's many later attempts at writing were as successful as The American Black Chamber, though he published several articles and three spy/mystery novels (The Blonde Countess, Red Sun of Nippon, and Crows Are Black Everywhere). He contributed as a writer and technical advisor to several movies, including Rendezvous, based very loosely on one of his novels, The Blonde Countess. His 1957 book on poker, Education of a Poker Player, which combined poker stories with the math behind the poker strategies, sold well. Another book of cryptographic memoirs, The Chinese Black Chamber, about his work in China, was declassified and published in 1983.

Yardley died on August 7, 1958, nearly a week after having a major stroke. He is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Author of books:
-The American Black Chamber (1931)
-The Education of a Poker Player (1957)

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