“It was a surprise to me, for no matter what may be said about my organization, it can never be charged that any of us ever played politics, either for promotions or for honors. In fact, we were happy to remain unknown, hidden behind curtains, as long as our work was useful to the United States Government.” (Herbert O. Yardley in, The American Black Chamber, p.322)
A Deceiving Patriot: Stealing the Limelight
During the Armament Conference, the American Black Chamber had gone over five thousand decipherments and translations, an enormous amount of work that led to many overworked minds. In fact, exhausted from it all, Yardley was ordered to Arizona by his doctors.
Quickly following his return from Arizona, Yardley was ordered to Washington by Colonel Heintzelman.
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Soon after the Armament Conference, the Colonel Stuart Heintzelman was promoted to Brigadier-General, and before his ascent to General, he was determined to reward Yardley and the American Black Chamber for their work throughout the conference.
Major General Stuart Heintzelman
"I have talked about you to the Chief of Staff, General Pershing, and the Secretary of War. You are to receive the Distinguished Service Medal...we find it difficult to draft a citation that will describe your distinguished services, and at the same time keep the nature of your activities secret, for of course all citations are published. Have you any suggestions?" (Page 321-322)
"I naturally have never given the matter any thought" (Page 322.)
Major General Stuart Heintzelman
"Well, we'll draft something, so that your successes will not be revealed. The only regret is that the real reason for conferring the D.S.M can not be given" (Page 322.)
Soon after Yardley received the medal, his name became famous throughout every intelligence channels in the world. In every corner of the world, whether in France, England or Italy, government officials and fellow cryptographers, knew of Herbert O. Yardley, the Chief of MI-8. If foreign government wondered if the U.S had a cryptographic bureau, the first thing they would do is look for Yardley
As time passed, MI-8 continued to be entrusted with ciphers and top secret missions. Newspapers would be full of activities carried out by the Black Chamber, yet the public never knew they were the ones behind it all. Foreign governments continued to alter their codes, and although it would be of great setbacks for the Chamber, nothing deterred them from deciphering those new ones as well.
However, the American Black Chamber's good fortune soon took a turn. The lack of telegram intercepts following the conference, combined with a governmentwide strict drive, had a serious impact on the Black Chamber. In May of 1923, Yardley was forced to make serious cut backs, such as firing more than half of his staff. Nine people, including Yardley's trust assistant, Frederick Livesey, were dismissed, reducing the American Black Chamber team to seven.
In his novel, "The American Black Chamber," Yardley displays an entry from his diary that explains the reasons why he was forced to make such drastic cutbacks:
In 1919 our organization called for an expenditure of $100,000. This was reduced to something like $70,000, and then to $50,000; next year we are reducing it to $35,000 and if the plan outlines above are followed we shall, for the following year, reduce it to $25,000. This means that in the year 1924-1925 we will be spending only 1/4 of the money that was planned for this bureau when it was first established in 1919, or a reduction of 75% in a period of five years.
As a result of the break in and to save on rent, the Black Chamber was forced to relocate from its town house at 141 East 37 Street, where it had moved in June 1920, to several back rooms in a large office building at 52 Vanderbilt Avenue, where it again was hidden behind the cover of Yardley’s Code Compilation Company. This transition was in 1924.