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Summer Road Trip: The NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum Is an Open Secret

24 Jun
Spies Like Them: The NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum Is an Open Secret
(Click the hypertext above to be taken to the delightful Martin Austermuhle’s excellent article in Washington City Paper)

(Irrelevant full disclosure – I took the NSA cryptology test in the early 80s and passed it and was sent a large packet of forms to fill out and apply for a career there.  It was way pre-DADT and I thought I would not be hired and even get in trouble – I was 23 or 24 – so I passed.  I could have been Edward Snowden!)

National Cryptologic Museum

Image: National Cryptologic Museum Sign
The National Cryptologic
Museum is the National
Security Agency’s 
principal gateway to the
public. It shares the 
Nation’s, as well as NSA’s,
 cryptologic legacy and 
place in world history. Located adjacent to NSA 
Headquarters, Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland, the 
Museum houses a collection of thousands of artifacts 
that collectively serve to sustain the history of the 
cryptologic profession. Here visitors can catch a glimpse 
of some of the most dramatic moments in the history of 
American cryptology: the people who devoted their lives
 to cryptology and national defense, the machines and 
devices they developed, the techniques they used, and 
the places where they worked. For the visitor, some events
 in American and world history will take on a new meaning.
 For the cryptologic professional, it is an opportunity to
 absorb the heritage of the profession.

Originally designed to house artifacts from the Agency and
 to give employees a place to reflect on past successes
 and failures, the Museum quickly developed into a priceless
 collection of the Nation’s cryptologic history. The Museum
opened to the public in December 1993 and quickly became
 a highlight of the area.

Being the first and only public museum in the Intelligence
 Community, the Museum hosts approximately 50,000
visitors annually from all over the country and all over
the world, allowing them a peek into the secret world
of codemaking and codebreaking.
The Museum is also an invaluable educational tool,
benefiting thousands of students and teachers every year.
 Tours are provided allowing students of all ages the
chance to learn about cryptology’s impact on history and
the possibility of exciting jobs in an area they may not
have thought possible.
The Museum has been featured in a plethora of
international TV, print, and radio media and has hosted
visitors and dignitaries from around the world.
Museum Library
The National Cryptologic Museum has had an adjunct
reference library since it opened in 1993. The library not
only supports the exhibits, but also encourages visitors
 to research various areas of cryptologic history. Over the
 years, the library has become an important resource to
students, scholars, and those with an interest in this once
 secret world.
The Museum Library maintains a collection of unclassified
 and declassified books and documents relating to every
 aspect of cryptology. The books and records complement
 the museum exhibits and artifacts, but also offer unique
and in-depth sources of information for researchers.
The library has a very large collection of commercial codebooks.
 These codebooks were used by all manner of businesses to
reduce the costs of cable communications as well as to provide
 a measure of security for trade secrets. Modern communications
and encryption methods have made these books obsolete and
 they are mainly of historical interest. Some of the most sought
 after items in the library include the declassified documents.
The Museum Library holds all of the released VENONA documents.
 NSA’s Special Research Histories (SRH) provide documentation
 of NSA’s predecessor organizations in the U.S. Army and Navy’s
 cryptologic services. The SRH collection (available in its entirety
 at the National Archives in Record Group 457) consists of
declassified reports dating predominantly to World War II. The
library also holds some of the oral histories taken by NSA’s
Center for Cryptologic History.
A few select, unclassified monographs are also available to the
 public from the Museum Library. They cover a wide range of
 cryptologic subjects from early American ciphers to the Vietnam
 War. Most of the monographs were written and published by
NSA’s Center for Cryptologic History. These monographs go into
 greater depth than the museum exhibits or museum pamphlets
 and help to provide a greater understanding of the events in
which cryptology played a role in world history.
The collection nearly doubled by the gift of the leading historian
of cryptology, David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers. The works
 range from the first printed book on cryptology, the 1518
 Polygraphiae Libri Sex by the German mystic Johannes Trithemius,
 to Kahn’s notes of his interviews with modern cryptologists.
In June 2010, the library received another gift of the archives
of the late John Byrne who invented what he called “Chaocipher”
 in 1918. Among these papers are an enciphered excerpt from a
 speech by General Douglas MacArthur,
Chaocipher – The Ultimate Elusionworksheets for Chaocipher Exhibit 2,
blueprints of the ChaocipherPreliminary Instructions for Chaocipher II
(a computerized version of the Chaocipher developed by Byrne’s
son John Jr.),correspondence between Byrne and the RD Development Company,
and letters from Byrne to U.S. Navy Capt. J.M. Irish and Greg Mellen.
The Museum Library is open to the public; however, the hours
 vary. Please call ahead to ensure that a staff member will be
 present to assist you (301-688-2145). The library is
non-circulating, but photocopying is permitted.
Museum Gift Shop
The NSA Civilian Welfare Fund Gift Shop, located within the
National Cryptologic Museum, offers a variety of merchandise
ranging from unique NSA logo items to books and videos relating
 to the art and science of cryptology. Gift Shop hours are
 10:00 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 
10:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m., the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of 
each month.
Adjacent to the Museum, is the National Vigilance Park.
The park showcases two reconnaissance aircraft used for
secret missions. The RU-8D serves to represent the Army
Airborne Signal Intelligence contribution in Vietnam and the
 C-130 memorializes an Air Force aircraft that was shot
down over Soviet Armenia during the Cold War.