Army

March 22, 2013

Moments in MI History

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Lori Tagg, Command Historian
USAICoE Command History Office

SIGINT — WAC’s springboard into military intelligence

Personnel at Arlington Hall Station study IBM runs to determine traffic characteristics.

World War II served as the springboard for women’s entry into the intelligence field, especially Signals Intelligence, or SIGINT. Beginning in mid-1943, Women’s Army Corps, or WAC, personnel served in the Signal Security Agency, or SSA, the U.S. Army’s SIGINT agency. Chosen for their intelligence, character, and loyalty, women worked alongside male counterparts assembling a picture of the enemy situation, intentions and capabilities.

Small detachments of WACs served at the SSA’s two “listening posts” at Vint Hill Farms, Va., and Two Rock Ranch, Calif., primarily as radio intercept operators. Most of the women in these detachments were enlisted and had been carefully screened and chosen for the duty. They spent their days copying Morse transmissions and transcribing intercepts from both the German and Japanese armies.

WACs work side-by-side with civilians to prepare traffic intercepts of the Japanese Army for eventual analysis.

Intercepts of interest were sent to Arlington Hall Station where the largest of the SSA’s WAC contingent served as cryptanalysts, traffic analysts and clerk-typists. They processed and evaluated nearly 4,000 intercepted messages daily. By 1945, the SSA was reading nearly every message, usually within hours of transmission. Messages often were intercepted, decoded, translated and placed in the hands of the Military Intelligence Service, or MIS, before their addressees might be presumed to have read them. For example, the MIS knew the Japanese had accepted the Allied terms of surrender several hours before the State Department.

At the end of the war, the WAC detachments were disbanded, although some women were reassigned with U.S. occupational forces overseas. The Army’s SIGINT field closed to women until 1971, when the SSA’s successor, the Army Security Agency, was granted authority to enlist women.

This information is taken from a historical interpretive panel on Fort Huachuca. To see this and nine other interpretive panels featuring MI Soldiers throughout history, visit the MI Soldier Heritage Walkway, located between Prosser Village and the Academic Complex Headquarters.




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