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It was a woman code breaker who, inbecame the first American to learn that World War II had officially ended.
The staff participates in "Big Block of Cheese Day", a fictional workday on which White House Chief of Staff Leo McGarry encourages his staff to meet with fringe special interest groups that normally would not get attention from the White House.
N umbers came easily to Angeline Nanni. In high school, she took all the ing classes on offer. Enrolled in beauty school after graduation—cosmetology being one of the few fields open to women in the s—Angie focused on the business side while her sisters, Mimi and Virginia, learned to style hair.
Before the war, the three Nanni sisters had opened a beauty parlor in Blairsville, Pennsylvania, and Angie ran it. So yes, s were her calling. Angie—intent, graceful, unflappable—was seated in a small classroom in a large, ill-built temporary structure.
The year wasand World War II was over. The Nanni sisters had moved to Washington, D. Angie, though, wanted to stay. This test would determine whether she could. It was being administered at a secret government facility in Arlington, Virginia. Around Angie were eight or nine other women, all contemplating the same set of s, wearing various expressions of alarm.
Most, Angie thought nervously, had attended college. She had not.
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On a piece of paper before her were ten sets of s, arranged in five-digit groups. The s represented a coded message. Each five-digit group had a secret meaning. Below that row of 50 s was another row of 50, arranged in similar groups. The supervisor told them to subtract the entire bottom row from the top row, in sequence.
She intuited that the digit 4, minus the digit 9, equaled 5, because you just borrowed an invisible 1 to go beside the top. Angie Nanni raced through, stripping out the superfluous figures to get down to the heart of the message.
Then she ran out of the room to tell her superiors they had a new candidate for the Russian code-breaking project. It also helped seal the fate of other Americans, such as Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, executed in for passing atomic secrets to the Soviet Union. Their conviction was based in part on the work of Angeline Nanni and a group of other extraordinary American women.
Their persistence and talent brought about one of the greatest counterespionage triumphs of the Cold War: Venona, the top-secret U. Their work unmasked such infamous spies as the British intelligence officer Kim Philby, the British diplomat Donald Maclean, the German-born scientist Klaus Fuchs and many others. They provided vital intelligence about Soviet tradecraft.
Their work was so highly classified that President Harry Truman likely did not know about it. Inwhen Venona was declassified, the public face of the project was male. The most celebrated name was that of a man, Meredith Gardner, a linguist who deciphered names and words, working closely with FBI agent Robert J.
Benson, a retired historian for the National Security Agency. Benson interviewed some of them for a classified internal history of Venona, only portions of which have been declassified and released online.
More important, while the exploits of Gardner and other men have been the focus of entire books, the women themselves did not talk about their work—not to their friends, not to their families, hardly to each other. Women want nsa Jefferson Massachusetts took the secret to their graves. This article is based on exclusive interviews with Nanni, the last living member of the original team of Venona women; relatives of code breakers who are no longer alive; and NSA and CIA publications that detail how the project unfolded.
It marks the first time that any of the female Venona code breakers has given an interview to a reporter. She and her colleagues—young women from rural towns—were privy to some of the most closely held secrets of Cold War espionage.
The women code breakers who unmasked soviet spies
Anybody who saw the women together could easily mistake them for a suburban garden club. They wore shift dresses, big hair, fishbowl glasses. They carried handbags. They liked to picnic, shop, play bridge, bowl together. Most started out as schoolteachers.
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They had ferocious intellects, a powerful command of languages and math, a steely commitment to public service and an almost familial devotion to one another. Like Angie Nanni, most of them came to Washington during the war and never left.
She dresses in la bella figura tradition, with startlingly brilliant gold jewelry and bright, well-tailored clothing. She still cooks for herself; grocery shops; walks every day.
And she still lives in the same downtown apartment, exotically decorated with knickknacks she picked up on travels and at antiques stores. The Venona messages were encoded in a fiendishly complex system, so difficult to crack that the women Women want nsa Jefferson Massachusetts the same trove for decades, endlessly going over code groups, digging out names, going back and back as new information came to light. At the peak of the Cold War—which was also the peak of the baby boom, an era when American women were urged to spend their lives as homemakers—it was women who started Venona.
It was women who kept Venona going, and women who rolled Venona up. To try to break wartime Soviet messages was an act of remarkable optimism, if not hubris. The Russians had a well-earned reputation for creating unbreakable codes, and U. But the Soviets Women want nsa Jefferson Massachusetts unpredictable, and it would be vital to know their intentions in a postwar world. The collection of intercepts had begun earlier, and somewhat by accident: Starting inSoviet communications were vacuumed up as part of a massive Allied effort to intercept transmissions sent by the Germans, Japanese and other Axis nations.
When the United States abruptly entered the war on December 8,the Office of Censorship began to receive a copy of every international cable. There, the Soviet messages accumulated in a wooden file cabinet, and then another, and another. Nobody knew what to do with them, but no crackerjack code-breaking operation throws any message away. By earlythe head of Army intelligence, Carter Clarke, had come to distrust the Soviets, ally or not.
If they were planning to broker a separate peace with Germany, Clarke wanted to be able to warn his bosses. At about the same time, a bright young home economics teacher was becoming discontented with the charms of rural southwest Virginia.
Gene Grabeel, 23, had grown up in Lee County. Her hometown, Rose Hill, had people, a grocery, a church and a service station. Her mother raised chickens and sold eggs, and her father farmed tobacco and worked a variety of jobs.
The Grabeels had a tradition of sending their girls to college. At the time, the only job a female college graduate could reliably expect was teaching school, and Gene taught home economics to teenage girls in Madison Heights, Virginia. When she told her father she hated it, he urged her to find work that made her happy. At a holiday dance in her hometown during the Christmas season inshe chatted with hood acquaintance, Frank Rowlett, who was now a top official in the al Intelligence Service. Rowlett confided that there was better work in Washington.
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By that time, the Army had sent a handful of officers out to seek recruits for its code-breaking operation. Since most of the men were off fighting, the recruiters focused on women.
Ninety percent of Arlington Hall code breakers would be women. Grabeel traveled to the post office in Lynchburg to hand her application for war work to a recruiter named Paavo Carlson.
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He offered her a job—doing what, he could not say, because nobody had told him, either—and asked her to head for the capital as soon as she could. On Sunday, December 28,she arrived by train and took a cab to Arlington Hall, where she was given hasty training in the art and science of breaking codes.
At Arlington Hall, most work focused on Japanese Army codes, but Grabeel, four weeks after arriving, was directed to attack the Soviet intercepts, an immensely secret and sensitive task even in that secret and sensitive place. Her code-breaking partner was Second Lt.
Leonard Zubko, a Rutgers graduate fresh out of infantry school at Fort Benning. Eager to command troops, Zubko later figured he got this desk job because he knew Russian. He did not enjoy it. He and Grabeel were seated in one corner of a room and told to speak only in whispers. The other occupant was a British liaison officer—an odd allotment of office space, as the British were not to know what was going on.