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Spy Agency Reveals Some, Not All
From: InfoSec News <isn () c4i org>
Date: Tue, 3 Jul 2001 11:53:48 -0500 (CDT)
By Maureen O'Hagan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 3, 2001; Page B01
Hidden along Route 32, in a drab beige building that looks every bit
the cheap motel it once was, is America's official museum of secrets.
Here, you'll learn about a hush-hush device that historians say
shortened World War II by nearly two years (no, not the atom bomb),
you'll read tales of unheralded genius and you'll glimpse the efforts
of this country's own James Bonds, many of whom resemble the class
nerd more than they do 007. In fact, a number were women.
The sign outside says, National Cryptologic Museum. It's run by the
federal government, but it's a far cry from the Smithsonian
Instead of a prominent spot on the Mall, this museum sits behind a gas
station on the edge of Fort George G. Meade in northern Anne Arundel
County. Instead of a gleaming marble entrance, it welcomes visitors
with a low-slung canopy propped up on spindly columns. Instead of
dazzling displays, it houses mysterious exhibits intended, in some
cases, to obfuscate as much as explicate.
The museum is one of the few peeks the public is allowed into the
super-secret National Security Agency at Fort Meade, an organization
so sensitive that the government once denied its existence and still
won't release its staffing and budget needs.
With the museum's opening in December 1993, however, the agency has
tried to dispel the conspiratorial rumors that have swirled about it
"I had 30 years where nobody but my family and close friends knew
where I worked," said Jack E. Ingram, the museum's curator since 1994.
Shortly after Ingram took the job, his face appeared on television,
making him the first NSA employee to be shown on camera. "I had to
keep pinching myself," he said.
The museum now acts as a release valve for other NSA employees.
"It's a great venue for us to show our families what we actually do
without talking about it," said Bronwen Reagan, an agency public
Inside the one-floor building are exhibits showing how Julius and
Ethel Rosenberg, the first U.S. civilians executed for espionage, were
outted; how the Russians fooled a U.S. ambassador with the help of
Soviet boy scouts; and how an American cryptologist broke the codes of
a gang of Chinese opium smugglers even though she didn't know a word
Don't expect too many details, however. The museum is careful to tell
and show only so much. But contemplating the brainpower behind the
stories helps fill some of that void.
Take Enigma, for example. A World War II-era German machine resembling
a typewriter, it featured a system of mechanical rotors and wires that
turned words into what was thought to be impenetrable code. The code
changed every time a letter was typed, meaning that a mind-boggling
one hundred thousand billion billion combinations of letters had to be
tried to break the code.
The Germans who designed Enigma were smart, but the Allies who solved
it were smarter.
Explaining to visitors how the code was cracked is difficult if not
impossible, both because of the brain wattage required and because the
museum doesn't fill in all the gaps. Suffice it to say that, because
of the work of more than 120 computers and countless anonymous
Einsteins, American cryptologists eventually were able to read a coded
Enigma message in a matter of hours.
The Germans didn't discover this until 1974, when a controversial book
titled "The Ultra Secret" revealed the codebreaking triumph.
"It was absolutely the best secret in World War II," said Ingram, one
that analysts have concluded shortened the war by almost two years.
"Just think of all the lives saved by these people working in secret,"
There is another side to America's professional secret-keepers, one
not touched on at the museum: The NSA has at times monitored not only
the activities of other nations but also those of U.S. citizens, as
revealed by a Senate investigation in the early 1970s headed by
then-Sen. Frank Church (D-Idaho). The agency has since tightened its
rules, and officials are adamant in saying it does not spy on American
citizens. Still, critics charge that the NSA has the capability to
intercept virtually all forms of electronic communication from
whomever it likes.
Are its eavesdroppers really listening to the world's cell phone
conversations? That's a mystery that won't be solved here.
=== To Visit the Museum ===
Getting there: From Washington, take the Baltimore-Washington Parkway
north and exit at Route 32. Turn left off the exit ramp, heading
toward Columbia, then take the first right, onto Colony 7 Road. Go
past the Shell station to reach the museum.
Hours: 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays (except holidays); 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Saturday. Other hours and guided tours are available by appointment.
Particulars: Adjacent to the museum are the National Vigilance Park
and the Aerial Reconnaissance Memorial, dedicated in 1997 to honor
crew members who lost their lives on reconnaissance missions. The park
features a C-130 airplane like one that was downed by Soviet fighters
in September 1958. The backdrop for the park is a semi-circle of
trees, each representing types of U.S. aircraft downed during
For more information on the museum, memorial and park, visit the Web
site, or call 301-688-5849. -=- http://www.nsa.gov/museum/
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- Spy Agency Reveals Some, Not All InfoSec News (Jul 05)