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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!).
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NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum

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  • Went there last year (Score:5, Interesting)

    by otis wildflower ( 4889 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:38AM (#33149238) Homepage

    Very cool museum, I think I even saw Brian Kernighan there talking to what looked like young VC types.. Here's some pics I snapped.. []

    We had a Storagetek silo like the one on display at my current corp, but spec'd out with LTO3 or LTO4.. I'm thinking NSA had one just like it but 10+ years earlier (and with older tape tech of course)..

  • There's a reason... (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Leebert ( 1694 ) * on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:47AM (#33149310)

    Most people might not be aware of it

    Yes, because it's hidden down a road with potholes large enough to lose a small semi in. And to get to it, you need to all but drive up to the scary looking gates of the NSA before turning down said hidden road.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @09:59AM (#33149420)

    You know you are in the right place when the receptionist informs you that you can use the Enigma machine while you wait for the next tour group to start. Dig around in their library and look for books printed on line paper, that's the stuff you won't find anywhere else. Oh yea, the tour guides are also recruiters if you think you got what it takes.

  • great place (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:30AM (#33149708)

    i went there in 2000, on a trip from the UK. was driving though MD and saw signs to Fort Meade. got lost and ended up rocking up at the main NSA entrance. halfway through security i said "christ, im only here for the museum". at which point the friendly guards laughed and pointed me in the right way.

    of course, this was before "the accident". had i been doing that a year later i'm guessing my stay at the NSA would have been considerably longer....

    how times change. i genuinely long for the old days before the U.S got broken and chose to take the world down with it.

  • by Shakrai ( 717556 ) * on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:34AM (#33149768) Journal

    They got a sizable donation from us because it was our last stop before crossing the border back into New York and we opted to give them all of our Canadian money rather than go to a currency exchange to get it changed back. I gave them $35 and change, my buddy did almost as much. Also spent some money in the gift shop.

    I always walk away with a better feeling when I give my money to a museum than the usual tourist traps that one visits when on vacation.

  • by grikdog ( 697841 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:39AM (#33149830) Homepage
    They should add a Blackberry banned from the United Arab Emirates. Presumably just a fast streaming cipher of some kind? AES is pretty fast, so that just leaves the key generation. More to the point, why would UAE presume the Blackberry was crackable? Because the NSA insists on half-baked security in older phones?
  • Enigma... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MojoRilla ( 591502 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @10:55AM (#33150036)
    It is cool that they have Enigma machines, but they aren't the only place, even in the US. I recently saw two Enigma machines at The Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, that were captured on the U505 sub. See wikipedia [] for more locations.
  • by DrgnDancer ( 137700 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:15AM (#33150346) Homepage

    Also interesting and relevant is that a Navajo to Japanese dictionary wouldn't help. The Code Talkers used a code within a code, with their language being only the first layer. They also used a combination of standard military/intelligence community "talking code" (basically obscuring the meaning of phrases by referring to code words instead of places, people, or operations), and the simple fact that they had to reinterpret the language to include all the modern warfare technology and techniques they were imparting, to make most of the Code Talk incomprehensible to even native Navajo speakers. While not Code Talkers were ever captured alive, a number of regular Navajo troops were, and none could ever decode the signals Japanese intelligence forced them to listen to.

    The Navajo that originally developed the Code Talk were clever on a number of levels. It really was a nearly perfect code. The only way to decode it would be to find a fluent speaker of the language (rare as Hell outside the tribe) who also happened to be an expert on codes and decoding messages (practically unheard of outside of the Code Talkers themselves).

  • Worked at NSA... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rclandrum ( 870572 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @11:20AM (#33150400) Homepage

    The absolute best job I ever had was a codebreaker at NSA in the mid 70's when I was with the Army Security Agency. Critical mission, challenging brain-straining job, and the most advanced computers on the planet to play with. Have never been to the museum but imagine it would bring back some memories. Most people immediately think "Oh boy, Enigma!", but that is only the most public of the items, and not necessarily the most interesting. My proudest possession is the Dundee Orange Marmalade jar that I still keep on my desk. You either know what that means, or you don't.

  • by leenks ( 906881 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @04:49PM (#33154620)

    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?)

    Collossus wasn't used to crack Enigma - it was used to crack messages from Lorenz machines, which were more complicated than Enigma. The amazing thing is that the cryptologists at Bletchley were able to figure out the way the machine worked having never seen one (indeed, they didn't see one for over 2 years after cracking it) due to an error by a machine operator. But yes, I do believe it was really shut down and evidence destroyed - that's why it took so many years of painstaking reconstruction from photographs and human memory to rebuild one of the things...

    The dials on an Engima rotate btw rather than parts inside of them. Each rotation of the wheels causes different pathways through the rotors to be used, thus changing the output - IIRC you can see the wiring inside some of the rotors at both the NSA museum, and the equally amazing Bletchley Park Museum in the UK (

  • by DCFusor ( 1763438 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @05:37PM (#33155170) Homepage
    Enough to take a 3/8" thick book to show the pictures of. My Dad, who worked for NRL, did a lot of the early development work on vocoders. Not the crypto parts, just the parts that render speech into fewer bits for later encryption. So if you go there, look for the vocoders, and the EVA (electronic voice analog) which I myself had a part in developing -- long before there were IC computers things like this were a little tricky. It ran in the family, I wound up writing codecs and protocols that are now used in cel phones and online. The EVA played from a chart we drew on with conductive ink -- a multichannel analog memory on velum we played back by rolling a wirewound power resistor over it. The traces had information on pitch, noise, formant frequencies and Q's and so on -- this thing played back speech that sounded like the original speaker and only needed a few hundred bits/second to work (making the crypto a lot easer for obvious reasons). If you needed to edit the chart, you'd just take an exacto knife, knock off the silver paint, re paint, and good to go. It was fun playing with chart speed and direction to make the speaker talk fast, slow or backwards without changing anything else about the sound. The analyzer that produced the bits in the first place took two large racks of boards based on Ge transistor my Dad designed and built -- and he was a good tech too, it's purty. We really didn't have opamps then, other than Philbrick tube types (not suitable for airplanes or tanks) so for making formant filters for speech generation, we used some special inductors that could be tuned with a current, made by UTC. By varying the current, you could change the inductance via a non linear u in the special core material, without changing Q too much, they were cool, and I still have a mini vocoder that runs off a joystick and switch/pot input we used on some of our early rock and roll recordings. (we didn't give NSA all the good stuff...) Some of the other cool stuff is miniature radios, some things we found we don't even know what they are, some special navy comm system things, signal analyzers and so forth. Only a geek could love some of this. We had so much when Dad died (plenty to keep my busy for the rest of my own life if I only played with just that, which I don't) we gave it to NSA so other people could admire it. Enjoy! Now I do other things --
  • by FullBandwidth ( 1445095 ) on Thursday August 05, 2010 @05:40PM (#33155192)
    They have more than one Enigma - in fact they have several working machines out in the open (no pun) that you can operate yourself which is way cool. Several varieties in cases, including a Japanese model. Some displays about the Navaho code talkers; African-American code quilt; some antique books on cryptology; bunch of common networking cryptos (KG-46s and the like, including remnants of a space-based one that was recovered from a launch vehicle failure); crypto-enabled cell phones. And of course an instance of the Cryptologic Bombe - the enormous electromechanical WWII machine that was used for brute-force Enigma cracking (based on the work of Rejewski, Turing, and the others at Bletchley Park). And, in the gift shop, you can get some cool stuff with the NSA logo on it ... walk into your next meeting with all your notes in a nice NSA folder and see what kind of comments you get!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 05, 2010 @06:48PM (#33155710)

    I wonder if they have any of the devices I repaired in the '80s. KY-3, STU-III, KW-26, KG-13. I'd love to get documents on the KY-3 and emulate it using a DSP and FPGA. Yes it would be easily possible to do that securely but it has a aurally interesting startup sound when synchronizing and the audio quality is good but there is an added component which makes it unique.

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