The museum reaches far back into the history of cryptology, displaying a collection of rare books dating back to 1526. But the museum really comes to life when it highlights World War II intelligence coups. Key artifacts are the German "Enigma" cipher and the machine we used to read the Japanese "Purple" cipher.
Along with this complex technology comes a story about human resourcefulness. Our tour guide, a retired NSA analyst, told us that the idea for using Navajo code talkers in World War II actually came from our World War I experience. It was then that an Army colonel thought of using Choctaw Indians in his unit to encrypt voice communications using their native language, thus confounding the eavesdropping attempts of nearby German soldiers. The NSA museum also pays homage to our Cold War struggles. On display are transcripts from recently declassified VENONA intercepts, a tribute to the crew of the USS Pueblo, the intelligence ship captured by North Korea in 1968, and models of the secure hot-line phones that linked the White House and Kremlin over the years.
Adjacent to the museum is the National Vigilance Park, a memorial honoring the aerial reconnaissance crews who lost their lives in the Cold War. The memorial contains a refurbished C-130 aircraft resembling the reconnaissance C-130A that was downed by Soviet fighters over Soviet Armenia in 1958 and an RU-8D U.S. Army aircraft used in reconnaissance operations during the Vietnam War.
National Cryptologic Museum
Open weekdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m.
Saturday, 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
Maryland Rt. 32 and Baltimore/Washington Pkwy.
(Maryland Rt. 295)