Arlington Hall – From Coeds to Codewords
The following article was written by members of the Intelligence and Security Command History Office, and published in their pamphlet, “On the Trail of Military Intelligence History: A guide to the Washington, D.C. area.”
June 10, 1942
History has a way of leaving its mark on contemporary scenes in a way that fascinates generations to come. Memorable events and settings can endow a place with an aura of greatness – a lasting reminder of great achievements. Such a place is Arlington Hall.
The 1941 edition of the Arlington Hall Junior College for Women brochure boasted to prospective students of a 100-acre campus offering “ … interesting variety with its open lawns, landscaped gardens and wooded sections.” The main floor of the yellow-brick classic colonial building housed the offices of the school’s president, dean, registrar and a well-stocked library. An auditorium was adjacent to the library. Drawing rooms, parlors and classrooms comprised the remainder of the main floor. On the upper floors were the dormitory rooms, while behind the building stood the gymnasium and swimming pool. (Both the main school building, which is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the gymnasium remain intact today.)
Unfortunately for the college, 1942 brought not students, but military and civilian personnel of the Signal Intelligence Service, or SIS. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, the scope of signals intelligence, or SIGINT, operations quickly exceeded the confines of the Munitions Building in Washington, D.C. The SIS needed a secure location with room to accommodate their expanding mission, and by chance stumbled upon the college.
A party of officers, returning from an inspection of proposed locations for a new monitoring site at Vint Hill Farms, near Warrenton, Va., drove by the college grounds. They decided to stop. Their preliminary inspection of the grounds convinced the officers of the site’s suitability. Arlington Hall was convenient to Warrenton and just four miles from Washington, yet isolated enough to provide the security so vital to a SIGINT mission. On June 10, 1942, the Army took possession of the college under the War Powers Act.
Once SIS completed its move to Arlington Hall, the grounds were soon covered with barracks and hastily-constructed temporary office buildings. Throughout the war, Arlington Hall was the scene of the vital U.S. effort to exploit the enemy’s communications as well as to secure its own. Here, 10,000 members of the Army’s signals intelligence effort accomplished one of the great intelligence triumphs of World War II: the successful decipherment of the Japanese Army’s cryptosystems. American success in code-breaking was credited with shortening the course of the war and saving countless lives.
Over the years, Arlington Hall Station hosted various Army and Department of Defense organizations. From 1945 to 1977, it served as the headquarters of the U.S. Army Security Agency, or ASA, a world-wide command providing intelligence to support the national intelligence effort and the Army in the field. ASA was followed by the U.S. Army Intelligence and Support Command until its relocation to Fort Belvoir in 1989. In May 1993, history repeated itself when Arlington Hall once again became the site of a school – the State Department’s Foreign Service Institute.