Want to read Slashdot from your mobile device? Point it at m.slashdot.org and keep reading!


Forgot your password?
Encryption Government Security The Military

NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum 122

Schneier writes "Most people might not be aware of it, but there's a National Cryptologic Museum at Ft. Meade, at NSA Headquarters. It's hard to know its exact relationship with the NSA. Is it part of the NSA, or is it a separate organization? Can the NSA reclassify things in its archives?" There's some interesting stuff in the comments about the building's reason for existence (window views a nearby NSA building?) and some stuff they have (an Enigma machine!).
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum

Comments Filter:
  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:42AM (#33149272) Journal

    I was in Kingson Ontario over the weekend and discovered the Military Communications and Electronics Museum [c-and-e-museum.org] on a Canadian forces base. Hadn't planned on going or even heard of the place before -- we just drove by and decided to stop. Among other things they had an Enigma machine.

    I would highly recommend stopping there if you happen to be in the area. Admission was free, though we opted to make a donation.

  • by Sovetskysoyuz ( 1832938 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:46AM (#33149296)
    Canadian War Museum has one too, for those who are closer to Ottawa than Maryland.
  • by ShadowRangerRIT ( 1301549 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:56AM (#33149380)
    Yes, they can. Classification typically lapses after 25 years unless reviewed and extended, and while it's easy to extend classification, in practice it lapses on a lot of stuff. That doesn't mean they put it on a website or in the museum, but it's open to FOIA requests at that point.
  • Museums (Score:5, Informative)

    by thoth ( 7907 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:09AM (#33149502) Journal

    The National Cryptographic Museum [nsa.gov] is where an old motel used to be (Colony 7 motel) and is a pretty cool place to visit. The Enigma works and you can spin the rotors, type, and encrypt/decrypt messages.

    Nearby is the National Vigilance Park [nsa.gov], which has some cold war recon aircraft on display.

    Being a geek you might as well do the multi-stage geocache [geocaching.com] which starts at the NVP. The NVP and nearby "unclassified" parking lot have a view of NSA buildings, and typically NSA police are quite visible patrolling the area.

    And if you have time, cruise up to the BWI area and visit the National Electronics Museum [hem-usa.org].

  • by vsigma ( 154562 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:26AM (#33149660)

    even if it looks like a converted old school Howard Johnson motel of sorts! They actually have a lot of interesting stuff on display, besides an actual enigma machine that you can play with!

    Interesting details that I noticed when I went this past summer:
    1) My car (and phone!) GPS suddenly drops dead and gets nothing in terms of signal.. it's like we drove off the planet or something! The onboard GPS had to resort to using car instrumentation data to give us a rough guesstimate of where we are - which we thought was really funny!
    2) There's a sign by the main entrance to the NSA there that basically says don't even think about taking any pictures, even of the sign itself that says don't take any pictures!! Note: You make a left right at the main entrance to the parking lots to follow the side road to the museum while passing a permanently parked fighter jet and a gas station right before you get to it. It's really non-descript!
    3) At the gift shop - we decided to buy a few things and charged it on the credit card.. when we got home and looked at the receipt - it doesn't even say NSA museum - it had some totally different name to it!
    4) Also, they had a totally cheap and reasonable soda and snack machines tucked to the side of the entrance once you walk in! Totally surprising - but nice ;)

    and Incidentally, if you're thinking about going to the spy museum in downtown washington DC - *DON'T DO IT!* - it's an absolute travesty and waste of i think it was like $15? The NSA museum blows it away in terms of information and goodies to be seen - and WAYYYYYYYYYyyyyy cheaper too! The spy museum in DC is for kids. The NSA museum is for true Geeks!

  • by isaac ( 2852 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:09AM (#33150238)

    When I last went to the National Cryptologic Museum (2002?) they had at least a half-dozen Enigma machines on display, including the rarer 4-rotor Kriegsmarine version. But the really cool thing was that besides the ones behind glass, they had one in the open that you could actually use.
    They even had some scratch paper and golf pencils nearby for writing out and passing encrypted messages.

    I've seen a number of Enigmas behind glass but had never laid hands on one until visiting this museum. I hope it's still set up this way and they haven't removed the hands-on enigma.


  • by cslax ( 1215816 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:23AM (#33150454)
    And the Jeffersonian Cipher, as well as early copies of a bunch of old coding books. It's a terrific museum staffed primarily by ex-NSA people.
  • by rapiddescent ( 572442 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @12:21PM (#33151200)

    Do any of the museums let you play with the enigma?

    I was lucky enough to play with a Kommando 3+reverser dial enigma. The first thing I did was press L L L L L L L L L L L ... L which mightly impressed the librarian who looks after the collection of old crypto gear. An enigma will never lightup the same character as the key pressed. This enigma was owned by some organisation that I forget and rarely had a drooling nerd giving it the once over.

    The point is that there are lots of hidden away secret caches of old crypto equipment that are kept as momentos from successful operations and never see the light of day. Of course, like the enigma itself, there are crypto units that are not disclosed because they have been cracked and are still in use by the public. The banking system used enigma until the 1950's even though the UK could decrypt messages effectively a decade before. (do you believe that collossus was really shut down?)

    Typical german quality though, the woodwork on the case was fabulous and even 70 years later the lid shuts perfectly. The woodwork had inlaid coloured wood in it not unlike an ornate coffee table; I can only suppose that later enigma were a bit more rushed into production. The wee light bulbs had frosted ends so that cold russian front fingers can unscrew and change the bulbs. Although, if a bulb did go then some poor operator would have to carefully unscrew each bulb and test it in a little tester bulb slot. The operator would then have to do the crypto exercise again because the dials would have to be reset. Every key on the keyboard worked with a smooth action, not unlike a well oiled 1970's typewriter but they had quite a large depression so you could never have touch typed on this. I imagine soldiers on the front lines would have been trained for accuracy rather than efficiency so they probably typed with 1 finger and recorded each lit up character with a pencil and pad one at a time.

    It was really heavy. Given that this was a Kommando unit then it probably was lugged about in comms vehicle (I wasn't told the back story) but I doubt that these were used in a ditch on a battlefield.

    In my excitement, I can't remember of each dial rotated, or parts of the dial rotated on each keypress - there was a solid clunk and the sound of mechanical movement on each keypress; I would imagine that this would rotate the cipher on each keypress to make it harder to crack. The box had different dials in it - presumably from other machines or replacement units. Each had gears on it and neat wiring - and weighed about 2 lbs.

Recent investments will yield a slight profit.