WOMEN IN SECURITY: Agnes Meyer DRISCOLL
Women’s History Month runs from the 1st to 31st March each year since 1987. Each week Horus Security Consultancy will be exploring the work of notable women in security that have made significant contributions to the industry throughout history. From WW2 intelligence officers to the first female Director General at MI5. Our month long series concludes with the life of Agnes Meyer Driscoll and her notable work for U.S Navy.
Agnes Meyer Driscoll
Agnes Meyer Driscoll, also known as one of the “originals” in American cryptology, was born in 1889 and received an A.B. degree from Ohio State University in 1911. At university, she majored in mathematics, physics, foreign languages and music. After graduating, she moved to Amarillo, Texas where she became the director of music at a military academy, and later the chair of the mathematics department at the local high school.
World War I
During World War I, Driscoll enlisted in the United States Navy where she was recruited for the highest possible rank of Chief Yeoman and was assigned to the Code and Signal Section of the Director of Naval Communications. Subsequently, Agnes Meyer Driscoll would remain a leading cryptanalyst for the U.S Navy until 1949.
Whilst in the Navy, she was involved in the development of emerging machine technology which saw her co-develop one of the U.S Navy’s cypher machines, the “CM”. In 1923, Driscoll left the Navy and became a technical advisor for Hebern Electric Company. Although the company failed, its work in rotor technology would affect machine cryptography for years to come. Subsequently, she returned to the US Navy in 1924.
Throughout her thirty-year career, Driscoll broke numerous Japanese Navy manual codes including: the Red Book Code and Blue Book Code. However, in 1940 she made critical inroads into JN-25, the Japanese fleet’s operational code which the U.S Navy exploited after the Pearl Harbour attack. In 1935, she also led the attack on the Japanese M-1 cypher machine (ORANGE machine), used to encrypt the messages of Japanese naval attaches around the world.
World War II
Early in World War II, Driscoll was engaged in the U.S Navy’s effort against the German naval Enigma machine, although this work was later replaced by the U.S-U.K cryptologic exchanges between 1942 and 1943.
Agnes Meyer Driscoll was part of the Navy contingent that joined the new national cryptologic agencies, first the Armed Forces Security Agency in 1949 and the National Security Agency in 1952. In 2000, Driscoll was a ‘Hall of Honor’ Inductee and ‘Women in American Cryptology’ Honouree.
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