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NSA and the National Cryptologic Museum

CmdrTaco posted more than 3 years ago | from the secrets-unkept dept.

Encryption 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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122 comments

Went there last year (5, Interesting)

otis wildflower (4889) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149238)

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..

http://www.thoughtcrime.com/NSA%20Museum/Site/NSA%20Museum%20visit.html [thoughtcrime.com]

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)..

Re:Went there last year (5, Informative)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149272)

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.

Re:Went there last year (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149338)

The Canadian signals corps (don't recall the official name) is based in Kingston despite having a significant number of their staff posted to Ottawa.

Re:Went there last year (1)

plcurechax (247883) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149894)

The military group (Communications and Electronics Branch) is based in Kingston, and is sometimes called the forth element (in addition to Navy, Army, Air Force) as they are a combined cross-element branch, while the Communications Security Establishment [cse-cst.gc.ca] (CSE), which is the civilian SIGINT group, is based in Ottawa (Leitrim near airport). While they are civilian, often military personnel serve within the CSE.

I'm not sure if they C&E Branch are now the CF Joint Signal Regiment (CFJSR), which falls under Canadian Operational Support Command (CANOSCOM) or not.

Re:Went there last year (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149904)

The Canadian signals corps (don't recall the official name) is based in Kingston despite having a significant number of their staff posted to Ottawa.

CSE [wikipedia.org] (or CSEC) is the Canadian version of NSA (eh?).

For all we gripe out our omnipresent watchdogs, their museums are awesome, and I'm glad they're able to disclose as much as they can. (Deep down inside, I think I just envy them for having (and building!) really cool tech for years before any of us mere mortals see it :)

Re:Went there last year (1)

failedlogic (627314) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149550)

To my surprise, since I went to the link, "The Museum: 10,000 square feet of display area with over 5,000 items to view". It seems well worth the visit.

That is really cool. I think on my next trip in the area, I'll go take a peek. Nice of you to make a donation, that would be my first thought as well. I woulda thought that NSA has a slightly larger budget for their museum than the CF so, the Canadian museum would be much smaller.

Re:Went there last year (2, Interesting)

Shakrai (717556) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149768)

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.

Re:Went there last year (1)

MikeBabcock (65886) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149742)

Somehow I've managed to miss that one despite visiting Kingston several times. I'll have to make it a stop next time I'm there.

Re:Went there last year (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33150280)

Somehow I've managed to miss that one despite visiting Kingston several times. I'll have to make it a stop next time I'm there.

ay ya rude boy at be comin ere an not seein da spyyyy museum ya

Ya do be thinkin af Kingston Jamaica does ya, bumbaclart? Ya don't be comin ta dis ere island wi'out missin da prime attractin's

Re:Went there last year (1)

grandpa-geek (981017) | more than 3 years ago | (#33154080)

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.

The National Cryptologic Museum is near the Baltimore-Washington Parkway and MD-32. If you take the B&W Parkway a few more miles to BWI Marshall airport, there is a military electronics museum near the hotels adjacent to BWI Marshall. I visited that museum once. They have old radars and communications equipment on display.

Re:Went there last year (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149330)

The only thing what was driving me nuts a a foreigner was the wording they used to describe everything:
The Russians where always "spying" on America, the Americans where always doing "reconaisance" on Russia.

Re:Went there last year (1, Flamebait)

v1 (525388) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149490)

And in school, it's called "cheating", but in the military it's referred to as "gathering intelligence".

Love those dichotomies. Usually caused by a prejudiced perspective by the people describing the action. Assign the exact same description to both actions, but at the end tack on " that helps us" or "that hurts us", and poof, you need to pick between different words despite the actions being identical. That bit on the end doesn't have any bearing on the action when taken from a neutral perspective.

Re:Went there last year (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33150260)

I think you need that non-neutral perspective. In school, cheating hurts the child's ability to learn the material, in the military gathering intelligence helps the military operate. From the child's perspective, he or she is helping himself/herself operate, from a foreign government's perspective, the military is hindering their ability to operate. Using different words lets you recognize that the same action isn't appropriate (or beneficial) in different circumstances.

The simplest example I have is the difference between fermentation and rotting. Fermentation is beneficial, rotting isn't, but they're basically the same process. Something to think about the next time you eat blue cheese.

Re:Went there last year (1)

Tarsir (1175373) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150438)

Those dishonest bastards! Differentiating between similar activities with different motivations and results! Next thing you know they'll try claiming that 'murdering', and 'killing in self defense', actually describe different things! Clearly this is just one step away from double-plus-ungood mind-control through language engineering.

Re:Went there last year (1)

nomorecwrd (1193329) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149500)

You know what they say, history is written by the winners.

Or in this case, clearly depends on the beholder.

Re:Went there last year (1)

capnchicken (664317) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149414)

Really cool pictures, glad I got to scroll through them all before probably gets slashdotted, I'm definitely going to visit now. Seems like a lot of Museums have enigma machines it's cool to see that they have three different types there, along with a lot of cool 80's type spy gear.

Re:Went there last year (1)

dhiraz (19763) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149816)

I went there a few years ago. It is very cool. I was expecting it to be kind of lame, but quite the opposite. They have an enigma and a purple machine. I am into WWII stuff and at the time worked with ONI/NSA, so I was into it, but I think even if you aren't it's cool.

We were there in 2006, I think (1)

jddj (1085169) | more than 3 years ago | (#33152590)

It's a great idea to get a tour from a dosant. Ours was ex-NSA, and the commentary is was fantastic. There's more than one Enigma there, and also the American version of the Cryptographic Bombe, which broke the 4-wheeled Enigma code. Brings a whole new meaning to "brute force computing".

I know it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149256)

As a foreigner I know this museum.
I was actually detained by de NSA for fotographing the NSA building itself.

I'm still waiting for them to send back my CF card...

Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (1)

capnchicken (664317) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149258)

There is also an Enigma Machine at the museum of science and industry in Chicago right next to the sub, I don't know of any other displays off the top of my head that could by at a museum solely dedicated to cryptography.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (2, Informative)

Sovetskysoyuz (1832938) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149296)

Canadian War Museum has one too, for those who are closer to Ottawa than Maryland.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (1)

jmcharry (608079) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149312)

I think the Smithsonian has one on display also. What I found interesting at the NSA museum was that they had a prewar commercial model that was marketed in England. It had fewer rotors than the later military versions.

Most of the stuff in the museum when I was there was WW2 era, notably excepting part of an old Cray computer. I don't think there is much danger of any of it being reclassified.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (1)

Chrisq (894406) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149316)

There is also an Enigma Machine at the museum of science and industry in Chicago right next to the sub, I don't know of any other displays off the top of my head that could by at a museum solely dedicated to cryptography.

In the UK there's Bletchley Park [bletchleypark.org.uk]

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149382)

The Naval Academy Museum in Annapolis has one as well.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (1)

colfer (619105) | more than 3 years ago | (#33153474)

The Military Aviation Museum in Virginia Beach has an Enigma, along with a misinformed computer demo. There must have been thousands of Enigma machines captured. Wikipedia says 100,000 manufactured, including commercial ones. It also has a picture of the Enigma display at the Natl Cryptologic Museum: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Enigmas.jpg [wikipedia.org]

The machine was cool - no numbers, no punctuation - the narrated explanation was perfect, up until the demo, which was a simple substitution cipher: the same letter always meant the same other letter! Somebody's Dilbert boss took over in the media shop! The program had already explained the cipher did not repeat.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (1)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149512)

They also have a big Polish "bomba" (Enigma decrypting device) IIRC. Also, when I went, the place was empty and one of the guys working there encouraged me and my friend to play with the Enigma machine, so that was pretty cool.

They have examples of phones that did voice encryption from the 1960s or 1970s... you can listen to decrypted audio and it's all garbled but still intelligible.

Neat little museum - not well known, but definitely worth checking out if you happen to be in that part of Maryland or you're in the DC metro area.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149566)

There is an enigma machine YOU CAN USE. At least there was several years ago when I was there.

I've seen several other enigma machines (e.g., at the Computer History Museum), but they have been strictly hands off.

There are also several very early cipher machines such as a bit of the Colossus (arguably the earliest digital computer), decoding machines for the Japanese Purple code, and so on. It's an astonishing museum, very much worth the 20 minute drive from DC.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (2, Informative)

cslax (1215816) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (1)

oodaloop (1229816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149602)

There's also one at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (1)

Jonathan_S (25407) | more than 3 years ago | (#33153262)

There's also one at the International Spy Museum in Washington DC.

However it's just on display behind glass. At the crypto museum the enigma is accessable and they let you use it. Much cooler, IMHO.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149638)

A Cherokee to Japanese dictionary?

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149980)

Navajo [wikipedia.org] code talkers are usually associated with the Pacific Theater in WWII. Cherokee were used in WWI. Conflating the two doesn't help the joke...

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (3, Interesting)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150346)

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).

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (1)

cslax (1215816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150484)

As well as the fact that there was language gaps, such as there being no word for plane in Navajo. So they used "big eagle flying" or something to that effect.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (1)

vxice (1690200) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149700)

"Is it part of the NSA, or is it a separate organization? Can the NSA reclassify things in its archives?" slashdot now brings you fox news. It is a very interesting place, I have been several times. There is no cost to go and it has many items about the history of cryptology. Such as the mentioned enigma as well as a Japanese world war two encryption machine. Mostly however it is just posters explaining various things, it is worth a visit if you are in the area but I would not expect more than an hour out of the visit. They do have a gift shop, who doesn't these days, with NSA branded items such as shot glasses, shirts and my personal favorite a magic eight ball. And please if you are going to put something on slashdot editors please have useful information, I'm sure you could have googled a quick description of the place.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (2, Interesting)

grikdog (697841) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149830)

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?

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (2, Informative)

isaac (2852) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

-Isaac

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (4, Informative)

rapiddescent (572442) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (3, Insightful)

overThruster (58843) | more than 3 years ago | (#33153456)

I don't know what the rules are at the museum but the NSA had a booth at the RSA conference this year and they brought an Enigma with them. They allowed me to use it and it seemed to be in full working order. Dials rotated and the keys made the lights come on. You could even open it up and see the internal mechanism. It was an amazing experience to physically touch a piece of history like that--one of the highlights of the conference for me. A colleague of mine who is fluent in German was reading the instructions which mentioned that there was a printer that could be used with the device--something I hadn't heard before.

We owe a great debt to the code breakers at Bletchley Park like Alan Turing and Gordon Welchman and the Poles like Marian Rejewski who paved the way for them. Not only did they help win WWII and save countless lives, but they also planted the seeds for modern computer science in the process.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33154098)

Not banks, embassies. Countries not rich enough to enjoy a substantial independent crypto capability were encouraged to use surplus Enigma units because the British could crack them if necessary.

The replacement rotors are intended as a security feature. The setup for a particular period of time (often a day) specifies which of the labelled rotors should be used and they behave differently so this functions as part of the key. Unfortunately this part of the system in fact opened a vulnerability.

Re:Ok, Enigma machine ... what else (3, Interesting)

leenks (906881) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 (http://www.bletchleypark.org.uk/)

There's a reason... (2, Interesting)

Leebert (1694) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:There's a reason... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149378)

I've got a semi right now, thinking about buttsex

Re:There's a reason... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149506)

Didn't they fixed the road to the shell station (somewhat after the scary gate)? I suppose there might still be potholes after that. Apparently it is more important to buy gas than to go see history.

Re:There's a reason... (1)

Leebert (1694) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149560)

To be honest, I haven't gone all the way back there in years, but I do know that coming out of the Shell Station on my motorcycle and navigating around the potholes always makes me nervous. :)

But yes, they realigned the road a couple of years ago, so it's in pretty good shape from the middle of the Shell to the NSA gate.

I was trying to make a (humorous) point that it's a museum that's really tucked away, and you have to know it's there. So it's no surprise that its existence isn't widely known. Though I *think* there's actually a sign on the B/W Parkway now.

Re:There's a reason... (1)

cslax (1215816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150536)

I believe the sign is only one direction though (North). Maybe it is because I never come south to pass Ft. Meade, but I haven't seen a sign on the southbound parkway.

Re:There's a reason... (3, Funny)

bleh-of-the-huns (17740) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150916)

To get to the museum, you have to take the Route 32 exit towards Fort Meade, which actually ends at the employee entrance, if you accidentally miss the turn (to either the museum or the visitor entrance), you end up at the scary gates to the base, who then make you pull into a special area, where you are then surrounded by scary looking Chevy suburbans (atleast that was the case for me, I missed the exit...) who then search you vehicle, get all your information and run a background check, and if all goes well, escort you to the correct exit and send you on your way...

Moral of the story.. don't miss the exit...

Re:There's a reason... (1)

ushering05401 (1086795) | more than 3 years ago | (#33152604)

Moral of the story.. don't miss the exit...

So a background check, physical inspection, and the reason you are there (interest in cryptography).

This is a clear case of miss the exit and get a job interview ;)

Virtual Tour (1)

bsDaemon (87307) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149334)

The NSA has a virtual tour [nsa.gov] of the place on their website. Not exactly an immersible VRML experience or anything, but pretty nice none the less. There are also some nice videos in the flash frame on the main page, including a pretty cool overview of the 2009 CDX contest between the various military academies. The Press release for 2010 notes that Navy won this year (apparently in 2009, NSA Red Cell hacked Navy's website to say "we heart army" as one of their first actions, which probably had them motivated a little bit more this year).

They actually have a lot of publicly available information and seem to be making great steps towards demystifying their image and trying to un-do some recent damage. They're not anything like 'Enemy of the State'.

Can the NSA reclassify things in its archives? (4, Informative)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:Can the NSA reclassify things in its archives? (1)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150416)

Beyond that, NSA is the classifying authority in and of themselves. They can declassify documents on their own authority if they feel the documents no longer require the protection. Of course they rarely chose to do this, but they legally can. Mostly you're right though, the automatic declassification after 25 years is probably how 99.9% of declassification happen.

Great museum... (1)

Rod Chapman (781256) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149412)

It's a great museum. They have lots of historically significant crypto devices, including 5 or 6 enigmas machines of various types. They also have several "used" supercomputers, including a Cray Y-MP, and a the wonderful-looking Connection Machine CM5.

1000 times better than the lame spy museum (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Re:1000 times better than the lame spy museum (1)

Verdatum (1257828) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149482)

I couldn't agree more. I laughed pretty hard when I first heard about the Spy Museum. "We've already got something far better than that in this area, and it's free."

It certainly used to be NSA (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149432)

About 15 years ago the NSA guys on exchange would brag that they has an Enigma on display and all the CSE had was the Cray loveseat [regmedia.co.uk] .

No suprises here (1)

krzysz00 (1842280) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149466)

The NSA has one of the largest cryptographic collections in the world IMHO. So, it's not much of a surprise that some of the "old stuff" is in a museum.

My cousin works there (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33149492)

They have a live family of bigfoots living in cages in the basement.

Museums (4, Informative)

thoth (7907) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149502)

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] .

Re:Museums (1)

smooth wombat (796938) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150100)

Ha! The National Electronics Museum is where I've gone with my dad a few times for a gathering of hams. While he's listening to the speakers, I wander around the exhibits. The addition of the thermal imaging is neat, as well as a few of the (limited) hands on exhibits in the beginning.

Not a great place as far as things go, but certainly interesting to visit for an hour or two.

Re:Museums (1)

Coren22 (1625475) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150250)

I second the National Electronics Museum, it is a very interesting museum with some very cool displays. My kids love to play with the IR camera setup there.

Re:Museums (1)

jd (1658) | more than 3 years ago | (#33153934)

My main objection is that the curator was interviewed by Slashdot many years ago but the interview results were never published. Damn bastards probably classified it.

Re:Museums (1)

metamatic (202216) | more than 3 years ago | (#33153034)

Geocaching outside the NSA? Oh, yeah, that sounds like a fabulous idea. I'll jump right on that next time I want the inside of my ass examined with a flashlight.

Opening hours are not very friendly (1)

azgard (461476) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149576)

I would like to get there with a colleague during our upcoming business trip (if it will be approved - we are Czechs working for American company with office near Washington). However, the opening hours in the museum are quite unfriendly - basically only during the week (we will be at work), plus 1st and 3rd Saturday in month for 4 hours. We hope we will get on Saturday there, will have to plan accordingly.

Re:Opening hours are not very friendly (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33150414)

Hmm - two guys from the Czech republic. My suggestions would be to NOT go in together. NSA has already recorded all your cell phone calls, emails, SMS, Facebook and Twitter posts. If they suspect ANYTHING about either of you, you'll be whisked off to some foreign intelligence center for "further interrogation". So, I'd go in one at a time, and if the first guy comes out OK, the second guy should go in.

Also, try to stay with a fairly big crowd inside. It'll make it more difficult to snatch you when no one is looking.

- G.O.

Re:Opening hours are not very friendly (2, Insightful)

azgard (461476) | more than 3 years ago | (#33151068)

I think you are joking.

I doubt U.S. government would want something from us. First, we have already been to U.S. 2 years ago (on a similar business trip). Second, most of the U.S. secrets (I mean industrial) have been already outsourced to other countries, including mine (consider our company). So, all in all, I think two foreigners visiting a museum are pretty harmless to U.S. national security.

BTW. The U.S. is actually a nice place. There is more corruption in our country anyway. I think most Americans are overreacting to government powers, even though I agree that the situation is getting worse there (especially the class divide).

There's great stuff there!!! Go see it! (5, Informative)

vsigma (154562) | more than 3 years ago | (#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!

Re:There's great stuff there!!! Go see it! (1)

joedoc (441972) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150120)

1>> Well, one should expect this when one is within shouting distance of one of the most secure buildings in the world. The same thing sometimes occurs near other buildings in the DC region. But Fort Meade? You're lucky you get stuff on your car radio.

2>> I work at that big five-sided building a few miles up the road from the NSA site. I was working a recent Saturday and on my way into the building, I spotted a small contingent of tourists from a friendly foreign nation (at least I hope they're still friendly) happily snapping away at group shots with the building in the background (including an entrance area). Also being captured in the photo was a large sign that said "Photography Prohibited", along with an image of a camera with the circled red line (I thought that was the international symbol for "NO"). I noticed one of the building's uniformed security personnel approaching, and helpfully pointed out the sign to the photographer. One of the group spoke a little English, at least enough to explain what was up...apparently, they just didn't see the sign.

What's ironic about this is that there's a heavily-visited memorial park right outside the building, and photos are permitted there...even if you're facing the building itself. My guess is that those signs have been there for a long time (the memorial only opened in 2008), and they're still itchy about people photographing entrances and access point to the building.

3>> Don't porn sites do this as well? Their gift shop management is likely contracted out.

4>> Subsidized with your tax dollars. I worked in a secure building with access restricted to certain people, and the soda machines in there sold canned brand-name drinks for fifty cents. In the "open" building across the parking lot, they were a buck.

Re:There's great stuff there!!! Go see it! (2, Funny)

Firemouth (1360899) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150436)

Klinger: "The what-a-gon?"

Col. Potter: "The PENTAGON! Weird looking building. Four walls and a spare. Monument to Murphy's Law."

Re:There's great stuff there!!! Go see it! (1)

DragonWriter (970822) | more than 3 years ago | (#33151650)

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

Subsidized with your tax dollars.

Are you sure? I've known places to have soda/snack machines that were "totally cheap and reasonable" compared to usual costs that weren't subsidized at all, they just were priced to cover maintenance on the machine plus the bulk purchase cost of the goods sold, rather than priced to make a profit.

Re:There's great stuff there!!! Go see it! (1)

ShadowRangerRIT (1301549) | more than 3 years ago | (#33152494)

4>> Subsidized with your tax dollars. I worked in a secure building with access restricted to certain people, and the soda machines in there sold canned brand-name drinks for fifty cents. In the "open" building across the parking lot, they were a buck.

Not necessarily subsidized. They may simply be declining to mark it up all that much. Typical retail prices are 50% over wholesale, give or take. Running a soda machine at-cost to keep the workers happy makes sense. But you can't do that in the "open" area without increasing costs substantially; if the people working in the area are constantly dropping by to buy discount soda, you'll get a lot of complaints from area retailers (you're hitting their bottom line), and you now need to refill the machine far more frequently or let it go empty, which means you need to pay for refills more often, or you don't provide the benefit to your workers.

Beyond that, referring to it as "subsidized" makes it sound like the government is unusually wasteful with money in this instance. Compared to private industry, they're actually being fairly cheap. I'm a software developer (as are a lot of NSA employees). I'm private sector, and every job I've worked in has provided free drinks (including name brand soda) at the very least, and they often provide snacks, candy, and the occasional after work get together with free wine or beer. The federal government pays less than most software development jobs in the private sector (from talking with friends that have had offers from private sector and the feds, the feds always offer about 15-30% less, even when the fed job might actually require more skills), the benefits are less generous (my last two private sector jobs came with automatic health care where my co-pay for just about everything was $5-10 with no deductible, while fed employees have to pay a percentage of their health care and usually have higher co-pays and/or deductibles), and in the case of a jobs requiring clearance, you don't even get public acknowledgment of your contributions. There are three major benefits to working for the federal government:

  1. It's harder to get fired (but by no means impossible)
  2. Their education benefits are more generous (private sector often pays for night classes, but the feds will give you time off with full pay for a limited amount of graduate work)
  3. Pay raises are more reliable (a bad year for a private company might mean stingy 2% or less raises all around, but the feds give guaranteed cost of living adjustment, and step promotions are automatic every few years)

Yes, the feds are less flexible, so sometimes they'll have more people working for them than they need and will have a hard time trimming (though that's what contractors are for; pick up more when you need 'em, drop 'em when you don't). But the cost per software developer to the feds is far less than most reasonable private sectors companies (Microsoft, financial firms, etc.) pay. Even if the feds *were* losing a few cents a can on soda (and I doubt it; soda is cheap, people have just been duped into thinking it should cost $0.75-$1.00 a can), they're still making out like bandits.

Re:There's great stuff there!!! Go see it! (1)

LanMan04 (790429) | more than 3 years ago | (#33152612)

1>> Well, one should expect this when one is within shouting distance of one of the most secure buildings in the world. The same thing sometimes occurs near other buildings in the DC region. But Fort Meade? You're lucky you get stuff on your car radio.

Why do they need to do active jamming? If the entire building is essentially a SCIF [wikipedia.org] , what the risk? Nothing can leak out.

Re:There's great stuff there!!! Go see it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33153476)

I'm working in a secured building right now and they want to charge a buck and a quarter for bottled water. :P

Re:There's great stuff there!!! Go see it! (1)

DrgnDancer (137700) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150460)

If the stories further up are true, it looks like converted Motel because it is ;-)

great place (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#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.

Been there done that... (1)

BobBoring (18422) | more than 3 years ago | (#33149740)

I have the tee shirt to prove it.

Lots of interesting cold war information there too. Most Americans don't know how many service men died collecting sigint during period from after WWII until the late 1980's

Enigma... (2, Interesting)

MojoRilla (591502) | more than 3 years ago | (#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 [wikipedia.org] for more locations.

Re:Enigma... (2, Insightful)

cslax (1215816) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150636)

The difference is you can play with the one in the NSA museum, and they encourage it.

Worked at NSA... (3, Interesting)

rclandrum (870572) | more than 3 years ago | (#33150400)

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.

Re:Worked at NSA... (1)

lemur3 (997863) | more than 3 years ago | (#33151182)

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.

Clearly we either know or we don't... but does this mean you aren't gonna tell us?

If not.... why mention it?

Re:Worked at NSA... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33151810)

Mr. Callimahos was a very interesting character.

I'm confused (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33150544)

Where's the typical "NSA is evil, make sure to wear your tinfoil hat, go there and get put on their most wanted list" rants?

It's the Twilight Zone (3, Funny)

kurt555gs (309278) | more than 3 years ago | (#33151070)

I have been there twice. Really interesting to any geek that likes computer history. One time I got into the museum and remembered I forgot to lock the doors on my truck. I mentioned it to an employee there and he said, "Oh, I wouldn't worry. It's being watched".

Get a group together (1)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | more than 3 years ago | (#33151096)

The day I went, a few years ago, I was fortunate because there was a busload of visitors there the same day (Daughters of the Revolution? Young Republicans? I don't know who they were). They had an official museum tour guide who gave a lot of history and details about what was in the exhibits, way more than was available on the displays alone. I was able to tag along and listen to it all. If at all possible, I urge you to see about getting a group together (through your workplace, school, boy scout troop, whatever) and getting such a guided tour.

On another note, before the group got there, the museum had a few visitors. All of them with haircuts which leads me to believe they were military in civvies, and all of them discussing the exhibits in whispers!

I broke the museum once (2, Funny)

goltz20707 (902338) | more than 3 years ago | (#33151524)

No, I didn't break *in* -- I broke the museum. I was standing near an exhibit of a tape library robot, busily moving tapes around, and the control panel was right out there where anyone could fiddle with it. I pushed a button -- I don't remember which one -- and the robot arm reset to its rest position and stopped. I moved away from the exhibit before anyone saw me. A week later the museum closed and didn't reopen for almost a year. So that must have been one important tape library. Sorry.

Made in the USA? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33152062)

I went there. My wife tried to find a shirt with the NSA logo that was made in the US. They don't sell them.

I guess I when I was there in 2001 it was before they put an Enigma in for folks to play with.

Part of the NSA? (1)

Groo Wanderer (180806) | more than 3 years ago | (#33152848)

"Is it part of the NSA, or is it a separate organization?"

If you don't know the answer to the simple puzzles, why would you bother to go and look at the complex ones? :)

          -Charlie

I'm not really a crypto geek, but... (1)

sgage (109086) | more than 3 years ago | (#33153308)

... when I visited my brother (he lives in Arlington, VA) last year he insisted we visit the museum. I said "sure, why not". I was really glad we did. Lots of great history there, and lots of hardware, too. As a previous poster said, you are able to and encouraged to play with an Enigma machine. Great photos and artifacts and whatnot. I was surprised just how interesting and informative it was - highly recommended to anyone visiting the area.

They are at MathFest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#33154674)

I am at MathFest 2010 in Pittsburgh right now, and there is an NSA / Cryptological Museum booth. They brought an Enigma machine from 1943 and let us play with it. Also: free pencils. Yay!

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