The National Cryptologic Museum
The National Cryptologic Museum, located in Annapolis Junction, is in the shadow of the National Security Agency building. It houses the cryptologic history, which spans the history of the United States. This museum adds another dimension to the history of the United States. Admission is free. The Museum hours are 9:00am – 4:00pm, Monday – Friday. It is also open on the first and third Saturday of each month from 10:00am – 2:00pm. It is closed on Federal Holidays.[i] There is the National Vigilance Park next to the Museum that is scheduled to reopen in 2021-22.[ii]
[i] National Cryptologic Museum Hours of Operation website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/hours/, last accessed 12/8/2019.
[ii] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/, last accessed 11/4/2018
The museum illustrates governments aren’t the only ones to use cryptology. A small exhibit tells of the origin of the term “hobo” and shows the codes hobos used to use to pass on information to each other.
During the American Revolutionary War both sides used many forms of cryptology. In America Benedict Arnold is synonymous with traitor. American forces captured British Major John André and found letters, written by Benedict Arnold, that outlined how to capture West Point inside his stockings. Benedict Arnold got away but West Point stayed in American hands. The Continental army hanged Major André on October 2, 1780.
The American Civil War presented a challenge with signal flags. Signal flags are visible to both sides. Since many who joined the Confederacy were recently in the American Army both sides needed to come up with new codes. At the decisive point in the decisive Battle of Gettysburg a Union signaling post played a pivotal role in the battle. The signaling post probably didn’t play a significant role by what the soldiers at the post did. Its mere presence played a significant role. On July 2, 1863 General James Longstreet was leading an advance against a strategic point named Little Round Top. He spotted the signaling post and took a longer route to avoid being spotted by the signaling post. This delayed the advance and Union forces won the day. There were about 9,000 casualties on each side.[i]
The United States Army began using a Native American language, Choctaw, as a code in World War I. On October 26, 1918 the U.S. launched a surprise attack against the Germans. The Americans achieved complete surprise thanks to using Choctaw code talkers. In World War II the U.S. Army used code talkers of many Native American tribes including; Comanche, Choctaw, Kiowa, Winnebago, Seminole, Navajo, Hopi, and Cherokee. The Marine Corps exclusively used Navajo.[ii] As with most codes the code talkers used a code within a code. This way if a code talker was captured, one was captured during World War II, the enemy still wouldn’t know what the code talkers were talking about. For example: “hummingbird” meant “fighter plane”, “potato” meant “grenade”, “ground boiler” meant “rocket”.[iii]
German unrestricted U-Boat warfare in World War I turned the U.S. against Germany. What caused the U.S. to enter the war was the Zimmermann Telegram. German foreign minister Arthur Zimmermann sent a coded telegram through the German ambassador in Washington DC to the German ambassador in Mexico City asking Mexico to go to war against America. Mexico had no intention of starting a war with the United States. This ridiculous proposal would have been meaningless. The British intercepted and decoded the message. They showed the message to the United States. This forced President Woodrow Wilson’s hand. He asked Congress to declare war on Germany. Congress declared war on Germany and the U.S. entered The Great War. A single decoded message changed the course of history. The Museum’s World War I exhibit highlights this episode.
The United States broke the Japanese diplomatic code before World War II. From the decrypting of Japanese diplomatic messages, they learned the three Axis powers were obliged to support each other in any war regardless of circumstances. One of the messages decrypted was the 14-part message sent to the Japanese embassy in Washington DC that told the Japanese ambassador to break diplomatic relations with the United States at 1:00 p.m. Washington, DC time on December 7, 1941.[iv] Thanks to Japanese Vice Admiral Hiroaki Abe, the Japanese Naval attaché in Berlin, the allies learned much about German deployments and defenses. He sent detailed reports to Japan via a 97 Siki Inziki cryptographic machine. The allies intercepted these messages and decrypted them.[v] The allied didn’t get a copy of a 97 Siki Inziki until they found one in the ruins of the Japanese embassy in Berlin. A copy of this cryptographic machine and of the machine used to decrypt the messages is on display at the museum.
Another exhibit is about the Battle of Midway. In 1942 Japan was planning to capture Midway Island. The American Navy were able to decode some of the Japanese Fleet Code, the JN-25B code. The American Navy knew the Japanese were going to launch an attack but they didn’t know where. They suspected the target might be Midway Island. The Navy had the garrison at Midway Island send a message claiming their fresh water condenser had broken down. The message asked for a shipment of some parts and fresh water. The Japanese intelligence passed on this information. This confirmed the invasion force was going to attack Midway Island. The American Navy sent a task force that included three aircraft carriers. The U.S. Navy won decisively. This marked the turning point of the war in the Pacific.[vi]
The museum has one of the few working examples of a German Enigma machine. This cypher machine was initially intended for banks and other commercial uses. It was a commercial failure but the German military thought it would be a great way to send secure communications. On paper it seemed an impossible code to break. With mathematical genius and courage on the Allied side and with some blunders on the German side the Allies broke the code. The German Army and Air Force believed their code was unbreakable but the German Navy was suspicious. The German Navy added another rotor to their Enigma machine. The U.S. Navy added another set of rotors to their decryption machine and soon the Allies were able to track German U-Boats. The museum also has an example of the U.S. Navy decryption device on display.
One way the Germans helped the Allies in code breaking was by having a weather station in the middle of the North African desert. This weather station would dutifully report each day, “Nothing significant to report.” By assuming this was what the German station was reporting the Allied decoders’ task was much simpler.
The 2000 movie U-571 was about a group of American submariners who captured the U-Boat, U-571, to get its Enigma cipher. This movie had little to do with reality.[vii] RAF Squadron Leader James Thompson damaged and captured the U-570 on August 27, 1941.[viii] Destroyers damaged the U-559 on October 30, 1942[ix]. The submarine surfaced and the crew abandoned ship without scuttling it. Royal Navy Lieutenant Anthony Fasson, with Able Seaman Colin Grazier and NAFFI canteen assistant Tommy Brown voluntarily went into the sinking U-Boat and recovered its Enigma key setting sheets and other classified information. When the U-559 went down it took Lieutenant Fasson and Seaman Grazier with her. Fasson and Grazier were posthumously awarded the George Cross. Brown was awarded the George Medal. The information they received enabled the British to read traffic to and from the German U-Boats.
Breaking the enemy’s codes was only part of the intelligence battle. Another part is to not let the enemy know what you know. The Allies went through great efforts to successfully keep the Axis from knowing their codes had been broken. An example is when learning the Germans were sending a supply convoy to North Africa the British wouldn’t just send an attack force against the convoy. They would have one of the aircraft reconnaissance missions fly over the area of the supply convoy. The reconnaissance aircraft would return with information on the convoy and the Royal Navy and Air Force would attack the convoy. The Germans would assume it was bad luck a reconnaissance aircraft spotted them. The reconnaissance crew, if captured, wouldn’t know the patrol area was a result of a broken code.
The Enigma, as is usually the case in the intelligence community, is famous because it was a failure. It’s U.S. Army counterpart, SIGBA, was a complete success and little known. SIGBA was the only machine cipher system that was unbroken by an enemy. The Germans never broke the code and the Japanese gave up trying. Frank Rowlett developed the machine’s complex stepping motion that made it appear random.[x]
The Trojan Horse was a legend from ancient times. It gave birth to the saying, “Beware of Greeks bearing gifts.” On August 4, 1945, with the war in Europe over and with the Soviet Union obliged by treaty to enter the war against Japan, Soviet school children gave a gift to U.S. Ambassador Averell Harriman. It was a beautiful carving of the Great Seal of the United States. Ambassador Harriman hung it in the ambassador’s Moscow residential office. It remained there until 1952 when the U.S. State Department discovered it was “bugged”.[xi] A replica of this device is on display at the museum.
In February 1943 the U.S. Army’s Signal Intelligence Service started the VENONA program. The program was to examine encrypted Soviet diplomatic communications. The museum has an exhibit on the VENONA program that includes American citizens who supplied information to the Soviet KGB. These include Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who were convicted of treason and executed.[xii]
Cryptologic history rarely involves violence. There are a few incidents that involved violence. The museum highlights these incidents. On September 2, 1958 a C-130, tail number 60528, went off on a mission to fly in a “race track” pattern parallel to the Turkish-Soviet Armenian border. It flew into Soviet airspace for reasons unknown. Soviet Air Force MiG-17s shot down the C-130, killing all its 17 crew members. The Soviet Union denied shooting the C-130 down. After the fall of the Soviet Union the Russians admitted Soviet fighters shot down the aircraft. Russia also released gun camera footage of the shootdown. The museum has a colorized picture of the shootdown.[xiii]
On May 1, 1960 civilian contractor for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), Gary Powers, was flying a U-2 over Soviet airspace. His engine flamed out and he was unable to restart it. The U-2 lost 43,000 feet in altitude.[xiv] This brought Powers’ aircraft within the range of Soviet Surface to air missiles (SAMs). A SAM shot down the U-2. Powers ejected safely and was captured by the Soviets. The Soviets also recovered the U-2’s wreckage. The fallout from this incident was the cancellation of a scheduled summit between President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Premier Nikita Khrushchev. After the fall of the Soviet Union the Armed Forces Museum in Moscow gave a piece of the U-2 to the National Cryptologic Museum. This artifact is on display at the museum.[xv]
The greatest loss of life in a single event in American cryptologic history occurred on June 8, 1967. The USS Liberty was sailing in the Mediterranean Sea in international waters. It was 25 miles from the Gaza coast where Israeli and Egyptian forces were fighting in was has since been named The Six Day War. It was a clear afternoon. Without provocation Israeli fighters attacked the ship with bombs, missiles, and cannon fire. Later Israeli torpedo boats attacked the stricken vessel. When the attacks were over 34 of the USS Liberty crew were dead and 173 were wounded.[xvi] Among the wounded were the ship’s captain, Commander William McGonagle. He was awarded the Medal of Honor. Among the dead were Lieutenant Commander Philip McCutcheon Armstrong, Jr. and QM3 Francis Brown. They were both posthumously awarded the Navy Cross. The USS Liberty was the most decorated U.S. Navy ship for a single incident. The Israeli Preliminary Inquiry by Sgan-Aluf I. Yenushalmi[xvii] and a report by Israeli Colonel Ram Ron[xviii] claimed those attacking the ship saw no flag prior to attacking. Both reports claimed the attacks ceased when a “small” American flag was spotted. The reports differed on who claimed to have seen the “small” flag. The Israeli fighters shredded the American flag the USS Liberty was flying prior to their attacks. When the Israeli torpedo boats attacked the USS Liberty was flying a holiday ensign, which is larger than the flag normally flown on American ships. The museum’s web site states “…the reason for the attack has never been fully resolved…”.[xix] The United States accepted Israel’s apology. Israel paid over $6 million in restitution to the families of those killed and wounded in 1968. Israeli paid an additional $6 million in 1980 under an agreement where Israel and the United States were “not to address the issue of motive or reopen the case for any reason.”[xx] When the Cryptologic Museum opened an honor guard raised the USS Liberty’s flag on the museum’s flag pole. The museum had the USS Liberty’s flag on display.
January 23, 1968 gave evidence the U.S. Navy learned little from what happened to the USS Liberty. The USS Pueblo (AGER-2) was sailing alone off the coast of North Korea. The U.S. Navy believed sailing under the U.S. flag and in international waters was enough protection for the intelligence gathering ship. North Korean boats captured the USS Pueblo and its crew. North Korean fire killed Fireman Duane Hodges.[xxi] The North Koreans held the crew captive for 11 months. The U.S. signed a confession to secure the crew’s release. The USS Pueblo, still listed by the U.S. Navy as in commission, is on display next to North Korea’s Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum. The U.S. Navy decommissioned the other AGER ships, USS Banner and USS Palm Beach, after the USS Pueblo incident. The museum has a picture of the crew taken after the crew returned to the United States.
The National Security Agency was at the forefront of the computer age. In 1962 an IBM second-generation computer, HARVEST, went online at NSA. The computer had a number of innovative features. It had a speaker which would tap out the program it was running in Morse code. The most fascinating feature was HARVEST hung its own computer tapes. This was done by a tractor that would select the needed tape and load it to one of the computer’s two tape drives. HARVEST remained in service until 1976.
The NSA was the first customer to receive the Cray supercomputer. The museum has two Crays on display. One is an XMP-24, an upgrade to the original XMP-22. This XMP-24 was in service from 1983 to 1993. It’s replacement, the YMP, is also on display. The YMP served from 1993 to 2000.
[i] History.com, Battle of Gettysburg, https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/battle-of-gettysburg, last accessed 10/20/2018.
[ii] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits, last accessed 11/4/2018.
[iii] The Navajo Code Talkers, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=llkDsIrhY1Y, last accessed, 10/20/2018.
[iv] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits, last accessed 11/4/2018.
[v] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/center-cryptologic-history/pearl-harbor-review/early-japanese/, last accessed 10/25/2018.
[vi] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits/#battle_of_midway, last accessed 11/1/2018.
[vii] The U-571 was sunk on January 28, 1944. Axis Submarines by Anthony J. Watts, © 1977.
[viii] The Royal Navy subsequently reflagged the ship as the RN Graph. Axis Submarines by Anthony J. Watts, © 1977.
[ix] Axis Submarines by Anthony J. Watts, © 1977.
[x] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits/#bombe, last accessed 11/4/2018.
[xi] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits/#great_seal, last accessed 11/4/2018.
[xii] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits/#great_seal, last accessed 11/4/2018.
[xiii] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits/#c130, last assedded 11/11/2018.
[xiv] Arsenal of Democracy, by Tom Gervasi, © 1977 by Tom Gervasi and Bob Adelman.
[xv] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits/#u2_incident, last accessed 11/11/2018.
[xvi] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits/#uss_liberty, last accessed 11/18/2018.
[xvii] NSA Site, https://www.nsa.gov/Portals/70/documents/news-features/declassified-documents/uss-liberty/state-dept-correspondence/preliminary_inquiry.pdf, last accessed 11/17/2018.
[xviii] Colonel Ram Ron Report 6/16/1967, http://www.gtr5.com/evidence/ramron.htm, last accessed 11/17/2018.
[xix] National Cryptologic Museum website, https://www.nsa.gov/about/cryptologic-heritage/museum/exhibits/#uss_liberty, last accessed 11/18/2018.
[xx] Jewish Virtual Library, https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/quot-the-uss-liberty-case-closed-quot, last accessed 11/18/2018. Original source, U.S. Department of State Bulletin, vol. lviii, no. 1512, June 17, 1968, and vol. lx, no. 1562, June 2, 1969, and U.S. Department of State Daily News Briefing, DPC 2451.
[xxi] USS Pueblo web site, http://www.usspueblo.org/Pueblo_Incident/January_23.html, last accessed 10/26/2018.
The Museum’s gift shop is unremarkable. There were many items that had the NSA logo. It doesn’t have any of the humorous items those in the Cryptologic business sometimes sport. This is understandable. This museum is a good way to get a better understanding of history and how the intelligence business works.
© 2018 Robert Sacchi