After graduating, Driscoll started her career as an educator in Amarillo, Texas first directing music at the military academy and then leading the mathematics department at a Texas high school.
In June of 1918, about a year into WWI Driscoll enlisted in the United States Navy. During the War Driscoll worked in the Postal Cable and Censorship Office before the military reassigned her to the Code and Signal Section as the Director of Naval Communications. This was her start in crypto-communication and after WWI Driscoll maintained her post as a civilian.
Before leaving the Navy to work for George Fabyan in the Department of Ciphers at his private Riverbank Research Laboratory, Driscoll had achieved the highest rank available to women at the time, Chief Yeoman. Many historians have speculated that she left the Navy because of the lack of opportunities for women in the reserves.
Driscoll’s time with Fabyan proved her credibility as a code-breaker. She easily solved ciphers from the famous inventor, Edward Hugh Hebern’s million-dollar “unbreakable” cryptography machine.
After working with Hebern for a year the Navy recruited Driscoll once again in 1924. She was one of the first Naval instructors in the field of cryptography. She trained some of the foremost minds in cryptography, including Captain Thomas Dyer and Joseph Rochefort both of which regarded her as “exceptionally capable” and “absolutely brilliant” (Johnson).
Back in the Navy, Driscoll focused on breaking Japanese manual codes. Starting with the Red Book Codes in the 1920s and the Blue Book Codes in the 1930s Driscoll used her skills to provide the Navy with vital information about the Japanese military. Because of Driscoll’s work, the United States knew more about the training, operations, and supply of the Japanese Navy. The Blue Book specifically detailed information about the competency of Japanese Battleships and encouraged the United States to develop a faster and more sophisticated fleet in the late 30s.
Holding the position of Technical Assistant to the Officer in Charge, Driscoll led the attack on the Japanese M-1 cipher machine also called the ORANGE machine, which decrypted the messages of Japanese naval attaches globally.
Lt. Edwin T. Layton who worked closely with Driscoll in Navy Intelligence characterizes his time working with her as follows, “I had been warned not to patronize ‘Madame X,’ as her colleagues sometimes referred to her because she was sensitive to her role as a woman in a man’s world… While she could be warm and friendly, she usually affected an air of intense detachment, which was heightened by her tailored clothes and shunning of makeup. It was surprising to hear Miss Aggie curse, which she frequently did—as fluently as any sailor whom I have ever heard” (Johnson).
Her consistency as a code-breaker forced the Japanese to keep developing new cryptography machines during their “Grand Maneuvers.” Driscoll’s already distinguished career continued during WWII when she made critical invasions into the Japanese fleet's operational code JN-25, which the U.S. Navy used after Pearl Harbor and for the rest of the Pacific War.
Driscoll understood that while some of code-breaking required cleverness and intuition, new machines required new approaches. So despite initially viewing new technologies like IBM cards with disdain, she ultimately adopted them using this technology to make breaks in vital codes during the War. Later cryptographers used the research Driscoll started in the Pacific to predict the Japanese attack at Midway Atoll. Late in the War effort, Driscoll worked in the Navy’s Enigma Office (OP-20-G). Her work on Enigma was largely ignored due to disputes with Frank Raven and other male leaders in cryptography; Raven argued that the Navy reassigned Driscoll from Enigma to “get her off [Engstrom’s] back.”
Her peers recalled that she would “raise holy hell” when people questioned her authority (Johnson). In January of 1943, Driscoll led a team focused on breaking a Japanese Naval Ataché machine called Coral. While her team worked on breaking Enigma and Coral, Driscoll ran a tight shift. At one point she threatened to have Raven court-martialed or sent to Hawaii.
From 1918 -1949 Agnes Meyer Driscoll was a leading cryptanalyst for the United States. In 1949 Driscoll moved to the Armed Forces Security Agency (AFSA). Until her retirement, she achieved the level of GS-13. During this time her focus shifted to initial Cold War conflicts. Her team notably solved the Venona Project, which attacked Soviet diplomatic messages and other traffic to decrypt embedded Soviet espionage messages.
Late in her career, she was a top consultant of the NSA where she continued to solve problems that no one else could. In fact, Driscoll’s last assignment before she retired characterizes her career. In 1959 at the age of seventy, the NSA gave her “unreadable communications” that were considered impossible to decrypt (Johnson). Two weeks later Driscoll returned the communications decrypted and readable.
This anecdote speaks to the character of Mrs. Driscoll. She was uncompromising in her commitment to excellence and the continuing evolution of the field of cryptography.