In Washington, on the top floor of a nondescript four-story brick building about a quarter-mile from the nation’s Capitol building, cryptanalysts were busy decoding incoming messages from around the world. The work of these specialists had recently been intensified due to the amount of messaging being intercepted and work was going on day-round on a weekly basis.
The only thing which distinguished the building from most of its neighbors was the array of antennae on its roof, antennae which gathered radio traffic from all around the globe.
Because of recent changes made by the enemy to many of its codes, the work was more frenzied than ever and specialists in the enemy language were being called on incessantly to lend their expertise to highly nuanced phrases which could only be properly interpreted by those who had been immersed in the language for years.
Both diplomatic and military messages were being decoded here, but since the various enemy military services each had their own special code requirements, work on these was also underway at numerous locations around the world and the resultant decrypts were then transmitted to this one location.
As messages were decoded, they were delivered to higher echelon civilian staff or military officers for evaluation and decisions about who should be made recipients of each, some going only to military higher-ups, some to civilian supervisors, and some to both. Inevitably, virtually all messages wound up either with those close to the President or to the chief of staff of the Army or Navy.
When a message was determined to be of a highly critical nature, the final recipient would be the President himself, who then had to make a decision for a response, sometimes on the spur of the moment.
It was vitally important during this time of tension that appropriate messages be sent out to all military commands, to couple with those being decoded by each of those commands so that a clear picture could be developed about possible enemy intentions.
Fortunately for the U.S. SIGINT (signal intelligence) people, they had many years previously determined that military message decoding must be coupled with diplomatic message decoding in order to fully realize the intent of foreign governments.
Of course, the final recipient of each message in Washington had the monumental task of deciding which command should receive which message. Omitting some crucial piece of information could prove disastrous should a command somewhere on the other side of the globe be caught by surprise because it did not receive the right data at the right time.
It was also necessary to assure that transmittal of deciphered messages did not alert the enemy that their codes had been broken and their communications were being monitored, just as the U.S continually worked to keep its own codes secret and unbroken by potential enemies.
Whenever code breakers encountered sudden changes in codes, it was almost universally a sign that something was up, either diplomatically or militarily and these changes would inevitably increase the workload of the code breakers as they scrambled to find the new keys which would keep them connected to the activities of those being monitored.
On this particular day, a diplomatic message to a Washington embassy was being decrypted and the content of the message indicated that there was likely to be a split in diplomatic relations with the United States, and possibly sometime in the very near future.
It was fortunate that the U.S. decrypters had all the keys to the diplomatic code and this allowed them to read these coded messages in quick time, sometimes more quickly than even the intended recipient because it was a well-known fact that the typists at the embassy were not particularly adept and sometimes consumed hours providing a clear transcript.
The message was hurriedly typed up and rushed off the department supervisor who quickly sensed its importance and directed that it be hand-delivered immediately to the Secretary of State.
When the Secretary read the decrypted edit of the message, he directed the messenger to return and notify the decoding group to transmit the message to the military commands and he headed down the hall of the White House to the Oval Office, breaking into a session between the President and one of his possible appointees to an appeals court.
Offering his apologies, the Secretary informed the President that he had a message of some importance whereupon the President politely suggested to his visitor that their conversation was over, ushered him to the door with a firm handshake, and returned to his desk and the offered message from the Secretary.
As the President read through the message, he asked of the Secretary, “Could there be any mistake in the translation?”
“No, Mr. President. The decoders thoroughly vetted the reception and the translation. There is virtually no room for doubt about the content.”
“Well, we shall have to keep a close watch on this and the embassy. It’s entirely possible that this is a prelude to a declaration of war.
“Have the appropriate military commands been apprised of this information?”
“Yes, sir. I went ahead and made sure that they were notified as I was sure that would be your direction as well.”
“Good, good. Thanks for staying on top of this. I may want to talk directly with the Admiral and General at some point, in which case we’ll use the secure telephone line. I don’t want any delays in communication if this reaches a critical point.”
“Yes, sir. Anything else I can do for the moment?”
“Nothing I can think of right now. Let’s just all keep our ears open for any possible eventuality.”
The Secretary gave a brief nod, turned, and headed to the door as the President pensively rubbed his chin, wondering what his potential belligerent’s next step might be.