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The National Cryptologic Museum

samzenpus posted more than 6 years ago | from the look-at-all-the-secrets dept.

Security 133

An anonymous reader writes "The NSA's once small National Cryptologic Museum is bigger and better, with new more immersive exhibits like a reconstruction of a listening post from the Vietnam war. The place seems to be caught between the urge to keep your mouth shut and the pleasure of telling war stories. In time, though, the story notes that the need to tell stories wins out. Has anyone visited lately?"

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I tried to visit once (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22735902)

But they required a password to get in and I didn't have time to crack it.

Re:I tried to visit once (3, Funny)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736130)


Re:I tried to visit once (4, Interesting)

morcheeba (260908) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736184)

There's more truth to that then you'd imagine. It used to be that the NSA wasn't connected to any major roads... you'd have to take the BW parkway and then, at a random unmarked point in the road, turn off the pavement and onto a dirt path through the forest.

Re:I tried to visit once (4, Interesting)

sporkme (983186) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736722)

Not doubting, but [citation needed]. Seems to me that a heavily traveled dirt road would attract both public attention and maintenance impossibilities. A surface search on Google is not coughing up the goods, so got any write-ups on this? I'm not a conspiracy wonk, but I really dig the real deal.

Re:I tried to visit once (5, Interesting)

FredThompson (183335) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737458)

I highly doubt this story. I've worked there. The buildings are massive and it's hidden...on the ground of Fort Meade close enough to hit with a golf ball from the Parkway. The exit signs and "yard sign" that say "National Security Agency" weren't always there but a dirt road onto which people exited from the parkway!?!?! No. That's crazy. Unmarked entrances to various remote listening posts, that's possible, but even then, you'd run into security. Even when Bamford wrote The Puzzle Palace, it wasn't that much of a secret. I have no idea how many people work in the main 2 buildings but you can't be in Columbia for too long without running into people who are obviously math geeks. Add in their families and support contractors (somebody has to order paper, pencils, empty the trash, etc.) and it's impossible to hide.

Methinks anyone who would believe the hidden dirt road idea doesn't know what the average NSA employee is like. The CIA has a joke: "An optimist at the NSA is someone who looks at YOUR shoes when they walk by." I've literally had NSA employees jump in surprise when I said hello to them. Most of the time, if you look them in the eye they look away. It's a weird place. A lot of the people made we wonder how Garanamils missed such a huge marketing opportunity.

I'm going to visit the museum in a week, actually. Never went there when I had the clearances but it should be fun. I live in Charlotte now, home of one of the Projector twins. IIRC, there was a post about part of it being solved a couple of years ago. Wasn't there a mistake in it? Something like that.

Re:I tried to visit once (2, Interesting)

hey! (33014) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738196)

Before government got really, really big. Too big to hide a major agency.

There used to be a kind of convention in Washington where if you said you worked for "The State Department" it was understood you meant the CIA. Normally people who worked for State would say something like "I work in the office of the Undersecretary of State for Economic, Business, and Agricultural Affairs," which would be totally comprehensible to anybody on the DC cocktail circuit. People who worked for the NSA said they worked for "The Department of Defense". Very few people would have known about the agency in the first decades of its existence, in fact in the early days its existence was a secret. But people know that the DoD had employees who didn't talk about what where they worked.

The NSA has roots that go back as far as 1949, during the height of the Red Scare. This story -- while it may well be apocryphal -- is no more odd than many things the government of the era did in the cloak-and-dagger game. And you can't start an agency like the NSA overnight. It's not like you can put an announcement in the Federal Register and have a couple of thousand employees a few months later.

Still, the best place to hide something is, as Poe observed in The Purloined Letter, in plain sight. It would make much more sense to give the early agency a small building on the site of an extremely large and busy military installation. But it doesn't mean that the people who did the initial organization necessarily had the sense to see that.

In any case, the NSA HQ building at Fort Meade is really cool; if you were wandering around looking for the NSA headquarters you'd have no trouble figuring out which one it is: it's the one that looks like a huge, shiny black box.

Re:I tried to visit once (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22738270)

An optimist at the NSA is someone who looks at YOUR shoes when they walk by.

The joke goes: How can you tell an extrovert at the NSA? They look at your shoes when you're talking to them.

Re:I tried to visit once (1)

Jeremiah Cornelius (137) | more than 6 years ago | (#22739190)

Now we will have to kill you.

Re:I tried to visit once (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22739962)

I concur. Live 5 minutes from it. Work 'there'. I call shenanigans. Also, the joke is an EXTROVERT, not an optimist. There are no optimists at least not after their first week of work. Our jokes about the boys south of the river are much funnier in my opinion.

Re:I tried to visit once (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22740480)

> Our jokes about the boys south of the river are much funnier in my opinion.

You tease us with something like that, knowing full well that none of us civilians on Slashdot are cleared to hear 'em. DAMMIT! :)

Re:I tried to visit once (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22737514)

I was skeptical too. I looked at the wikipedia entry for the NSA [] , where the NSA headquarters are described. They are in Fort Meade, Maryland, where the NSA has their own exit off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway [] , marked "NSA Employees Only". From the photo (the second link), there are plenty of trees on both sides of the road, and I don't know how far the building is set back (too lazy to look in Google Earth), but the arrangement does look like the anecdote described by the grandparent might have been possible historically.

Re:I tried to visit once (2, Funny)

moondawg14 (1058442) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737606)

Really, a random spot on the road? So at any given time (assuming proper algorithm seeding, of course!) you would have no idea where that dirt road may empty onto the parkway? Now THAT, my friends, is an accomplishment.

Re:I tried to visit once (1)

Call Me Black Cloud (616282) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737948)

Not true. Back in the day you could drive right up to the buildings, if you were dropping off or picking up an employee for example. Now, let's just say security is a bit tighter.

Re:I tried to visit once (1)

dwye (1127395) | more than 6 years ago | (#22739116)

> you'd have to take the BW parkway

Do you mean the George Washington Parkway? If so, your comment is almost redundant. I once described the directions to get there from National as "after the first sign, if you see a sign to anywhere, don't go that way."

They also have almost no signs on the road. It seems that if you don't know your way on it, you might as well get lost, as far as its controlling agency cares. That, or it is an on-ramp to The Road from Roger Zelazny's Roadmarks.

Re:I tried to visit once (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736342)

And where Bruce Schneier mummy guards the entrance...

oh yea (0, Troll)

play with my balls (1253180) | more than 6 years ago | (#22735914)

I'd let the National Cryptologic Museum nestle it's balls in my mouth.

It's a cool place. (5, Informative)

mongoose(!no) (719125) | more than 6 years ago | (#22735938)

I was there about a year ago, it's just outside of DC, near my university. Lots of neat stuff, the older stuff is better labeled, but the newer stuff (1980's) is neat to look at, but the NSA doesn't really want to tell you what it does or what it's used for, it's just kind of sitting there because someone doesn't want to throw it out. They've got a giant 2 story data tape library that's set up to randomly swap tapes around, it's pretty cool to look at. I might have to take another trip up there some time. Also, don't forget to get the kid's NSA coloring book they hand out.

Re:It's a cool place. (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736142)

I was there last Fall. They have a huge rack of interesting pamphlets. I started to get two of each, but there are literally over 30 of them so it was impossible to carry them without a bag, which I didn't have. What's funny is that the nice older ladies that worked there told me that the full sets of books go for $30-50 on eBay, but they are forbidden from taking any for themselves. Same thing with the store they have there. Everything I was interested in, the lady would say "that goes for XXX (3-5x the price) on eBay." So tempting to just buy up cases of souvenirs for gifts, but of course I didn't want to put it on a credit card. ;)

Re:It's a cool place. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736174)

Also, don't forget to get the kid's NSA coloring book they hand out.
lol, CryptoKids []

Re:It's a cool place. (1)

jd (1658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736702)

the older stuff is better labeled, but the newer stuff (1980's) is neat to look at, but the NSA doesn't really want to tell you what it does or what it's used for

That's cos the labels won't be declassified for another 30 years.

I might have to take another trip up there some time.

I don't think the NSA wants visitors picking the mushrooms.

Also, don't forget to get the kid's NSA coloring book they hand out.

Let me guess. The instructions are ROT13'ed and concealed in the image data. Outlines are drawn in invisible ink. Once completed, pages self-destruct in 5 seconds.

Re:It's a cool place. (1)

twobturtle (694352) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737534)

Let me guess. The instructions are ROT13'ed and concealed in the image data. Outlines are drawn in invisible ink. Once completed, pages self-destruct in 5 seconds. []

Re:It's a cool place. (1)

Erwos (553607) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737270)

I don't normally whore out my blog, but here we go with a post about my own trip there: []

Relevant section:

"This leads into my two biggest complaints about the museum:

        * There is basically no substantial coverage of post-Korean War crypto.
        * There is absolutely no coverage of civilian advancements and events."

I'm glad that they fixed the former, but did they finally give civilian advancements their due?

Re:It's a cool place. (1)

plover (150551) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738098)

I doubt they're likely to cover civilian advancements in cryptography any time soon.

First, the museum typically trails history by about 50 years -- the time period for automated declassification of all but the most sensitive secrets (i.e. news of cracking the German's Enigma isn't going to affect the current war.) But serious civilian work in cryptography didn't really begin to take place until 1972 with IBM's invention of Lucifer / DES. Prior to that, civilian cryptography, if it was ever considered by civilians at all, was still seen as either a code book translating words to numbers used to save money on telegrams, or as a Hagelin machine, some complicated clockwork box that ambassadors bought from Swiss gnomes. (News of the NSA's role in strengthening Lucifer was eventually revealed in 1992 after Biham and Shamir published their (re-)discovery of differential cryptanalysis.)

The other reason is: civilian cryptography is NOT the NSA's story. Civilian cryptography was developed in the vacuum remaining after NSA scooped up all the math talent they could. Bruce Schneier aptly described the NSA as "a kind of alien race, leaving behind bits of beneficial technology that we humans could use, but never fully understand."

Besides, nobody ever seriously considered the neighbor's 10-year-old kid in his mom's basement with his elementary school's copy of "Codes and Ciphers" was learning anything about actual cryptography. They still don't today.

Re:It's a cool place. (1)

dwye (1127395) | more than 6 years ago | (#22739296)

Maybe they don't cover the civilian "advancements" in the field because they consider them reinventing the wheel. Granted, it is a wheel that only they and British Intelligence (OK, and probably the KGB, whatever its new initials are, too) know about, but they probably consider it old news.

I once talked to someone who repaired an electron microscope that they used, presumably to test chips before they go into the ceramic casing, and he said that everything that he saw was at least ten years ahead of the civilian market. They had designs for spread-spectrum transmission in WWII, remember.

Re:It's a cool place. (1)

jddj (1085169) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738360)

We went during after-Christmas week in late 2006. For a geek, it's seriously cool. Highlight for me: typing on a real Enigma machine.

Make sure you get a dosant for your tour - they add a lot of context!

Re:It's a cool place. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22738518)

The calendar still said 1976.

Made a visit last summer... (3, Insightful)

ktulus cry (607800) | more than 6 years ago | (#22735972)

My brother was down at Fort Meade working for *cough cough cough* last summer, so when we went down to visit we got a tour of the museum. Really cool stuff down there, it's worth a few hours of your day if you're in the area.

With the stuff they tell you there now, about the 60s and 70s, it's almost unfathomable what they DON'T tell us about what's going on now.

Re:Made a visit last summer... (1)

zerocool^ (112121) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738928)

My brother was down at Fort Meade working for *cough cough cough*

My dad referred to it as "No Such Agency".

NSA museum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22735994)

I went to the cryptology museum last year. Good museum, I really liked the WW2 stuff. The bombe, purple, and enigma stuff was extremely cool.

Been there (5, Funny)

FooGoo (98336) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736022)

I was there a few years ago and it was worth the trip just to see all the gizmos and read the guestbook. A word of advice...never take a girl there for a date.

Re:Been there (1)

glavenoid (636808) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736102)

A word of advice...never take a girl there for a date.

Why not?

Re:Been there (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736124)

A word of advice...never take a girl there for a date.

Why not?

Because it is the Slashdot stereotype that women don't understand technology and have no care for history. Obviously they must be too busy combing their hair, painting their nails, or trying on new shoes.

Re:Been there (1)

rikkards (98006) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737174)

Tell that to my wife, we went to DC for our anniversary and pretty much visited every museum in the mall. She loved it and wants to go back again.

Did I mention she isn't a geek?

Re:Been there (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737448)

Because the security guards are really hot?

Re:Been there (1)

FredThompson (183335) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737476) CIA has the hot girls. Most of them are interrogators or field types. NSA is almost all math geeks and career government workers (I use that word loosely.) How many hot math geeks have you ever seen? How many hot girls want to sit in closed rooms all day long surrounded by math geeks. NSA is mainly older civil service slugs and active duty military GUYS. Think about it, if you're a hot military chick, do you want to be around the math geeks or the power? If they're at NSA and they're not, they're visitors or PR people.

Re:Been there (1)

digitig (1056110) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738286)

active duty military GUYS.
Who your date won't notice at all, because she only has eyes for you. Aww, sweet.

Re:Been there (1)

kbob88 (951258) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736148)

never take a girl there for a date

No worry there, this being /.

And being /., I realize that the parent post is completely fictional or hypothetical, regarding dates. But still, what exactly made the parent think that this would be a good idea?

Re:Been there (4, Funny)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736226)

You laugh, but I actually did take a girl on a date there. She was a physics major, FWIW... and it wasn't totally disastrous. Though I do think I enjoyed the visit more than she did. I liked the big bomba [] machine in particular.

Re:Been there (1)

jacquems (610184) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736780)

The last time I visited was about 10 years ago when I lived in Maryland. I didn't know that much about crypto at the time, but I still found the museum fascinating. I especially liked the fingerprint matching software exhibit, complete with a sign for paranoid nuts like me that emphasizes that the computer does not store any of the fingerprints from the reader. I was already planning a visit this summer, and knowing that there are definitely new exhibits gives me all the more reason to go!

A word of advice...never take a girl there for a date.

What if she invites you? ;)

Re:Been there (1)

braindrainbahrain (874202) | more than 6 years ago | (#22740284)

I visited there a few years ago. I could not help but notice that most of the museum visitors were young men in crew cuts (albeit in civilian clothes) and they were ALL talking in whispers.

Actually, if you can get a group tour, it is well worth it. There was one going on at the time and the guide had all kinds of stories and anecdotes to tell.

First thought (1)

esocid (946821) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736036)

was a museum dedicated to bigfoot and the lock ness monster since I thought it read cryptobiologic museum.

Re:First thought (1)

Analise (782932) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737966)

From what I understand, you wouldn't be the first. They also have people wanting to know where the crypts are, every now and again.

looks like day-old dickcheese to me (0, Troll)

Fruity McGayGay (1005769) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736094)

I have an extra Boyzilian waxing 10% off coupon if any of you bears want to use it.

"the pleasure of telling war stories" (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736098)

mwahahaha the war fetish on slashdot ... the Internet Tough Guys community (tm).

troll away, mods, show it to me.

For the Obama crowd! (-1, Flamebait)

Asshat_Nazi (946431) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736106)

Congratulations on your purchase of a brand new nigger! If handled properly, your apeman will give years of valuable, if reluctant, service.

You should install your nigger differently according to whether you have purchased the field or house model. Field niggers work best in a serial configuration, i.e. chained together. Chain your nigger to another nigger immediately after unpacking it, and don't even think about taking that chain off, ever. Many niggers start singing as soon as you put a chain on them. This habit can usually be thrashed out of them if nipped in the bud. House niggers work best as standalone units, but should be hobbled or hamstrung to prevent attempts at escape. At this stage, your nigger can also be given a name. Most owners use the same names over and over, since niggers become confused by too much data. Rufus, Rastus, Remus, Toby, Carslisle, Carlton, Hey-You!-Yes-you!, Yeller, Blackstar, and Sambo are all effective names for your new buck nigger. If your nigger is a ho, it should be called Latrelle, L'Tanya, or Jemima. Some owners call their nigger hoes Latrine for a joke. Pearl, Blossom, and Ivory are also righteous names for nigger hoes. These names go straight over your nigger's head, by the way.

Owing to a design error, your nigger comes equipped with a tongue and vocal chords. Most niggers can master only a few basic human phrases with this apparatus - "muh dick" being the most popular. However, others make barking, yelping, yapping noises and appear to be in some pain, so you should probably call a vet and have him remove your nigger's tongue. Once de-tongued your nigger will be a lot happier - at least, you won't hear it complaining anywhere near as much. Niggers have nothing interesting to say, anyway. Many owners also castrate their niggers for health reasons (yours, mine, and that of women, not the nigger's). This is strongly recommended, and frankly, it's a mystery why this is not done on the boat

Your nigger can be accommodated in cages with stout iron bars. Make sure, however, that the bars are wide enough to push pieces of nigger food through. The rule of thumb is, four niggers per square yard of cage. So a fifteen foot by thirty foot nigger cage can accommodate two hundred niggers. You can site a nigger cage anywhere, even on soft ground. Don't worry about your nigger fashioning makeshift shovels out of odd pieces of wood and digging an escape tunnel under the bars of the cage. Niggers never invented the shovel before and they're not about to now. In any case, your nigger is certainly too lazy to attempt escape. As long as the free food holds out, your nigger is living better than it did in Africa, so it will stay put. Buck niggers and hoe niggers can be safely accommodated in the same cage, as bucks never attempt sex with black hoes.

Your Nigger likes fried chicken, corn bread, and watermelon. You should therefore give it none of these things because its lazy ass almost certainly doesn't deserve it. Instead, feed it on porridge with salt, and creek water. Your nigger will supplement its diet with whatever it finds in the fields, other niggers, etc. Experienced nigger owners sometimes push watermelon slices through the bars of the nigger cage at the end of the day as a treat, but only if all niggers have worked well and nothing has been stolen that day. Mike of the Old Ranch Plantation reports that this last one is a killer, since all niggers steal something almost every single day of their lives. He reports he doesn't have to spend much on free watermelon for his niggers as a result. You should never allow your nigger meal breaks while at work, since if it stops work for more than ten minutes it will need to be retrained. You would be surprised how long it takes to teach a nigger to pick cotton. You really would. Coffee beans? Don't ask. You have no idea.

Niggers are very, very averse to work of any kind. The nigger's most prominent anatomical feature, after all, its oversized buttocks, which have evolved to make it more comfortable for your nigger to sit around all day doing nothing for its entire life. Niggers are often good runners, too, to enable them to sprint quickly in the opposite direction if they see work heading their way. The solution to this is to *dupe* your nigger into working. After installation, encourage it towards the cotton field with blows of a wooden club, fence post, baseball bat, etc., and then tell it that all that cotton belongs to a white man, who won't be back until tomorrow. Your nigger will then frantically compete with the other field niggers to steal as much of that cotton as it can before the white man returns. At the end of the day, return your nigger to its cage and laugh at its stupidity, then repeat the same trick every day indefinitely. Your nigger comes equipped with the standard nigger IQ of 75 and a memory to match, so it will forget this trick overnight. Niggers can start work at around 5am. You should then return to bed and come back at around 10am. Your niggers can then work through until around 10pm or whenever the light fades.

Your nigger enjoys play, like most animals, so you should play with it regularly. A happy smiling nigger works best. Games niggers enjoy include: 1) A good thrashing: every few days, take your nigger's pants down, hang it up by its heels, and have some of your other niggers thrash it with a club or whip. Your nigger will signal its intense enjoyment by shrieking and sobbing. 2) Lynch the nigger: niggers are cheap and there are millions more where yours came from. So every now and then, push the boat out a bit and lynch a nigger.

Lynchings are best done with a rope over the branch of a tree, and niggers just love to be lynched. It makes them feel special. Make your other niggers watch. They'll be so grateful, they'll work harder for a day or two (and then you can lynch another one). 3) Nigger dragging: Tie your nigger by one wrist to the tow bar on the back of suitable vehicle, then drive away at approximately 50mph. Your nigger's shrieks of enjoyment will be heard for miles. It will shriek until it falls apart. To prolong the fun for the nigger, do *NOT* drag him by his feet, as his head comes off too soon. This is painless for the nigger, but spoils the fun. Always wear a seatbelt and never exceed the speed limit. 4) Playing on the PNL: a variation on (2), except you can lynch your nigger out in the fields, thus saving work time. Niggers enjoy this game best if the PNL is operated by a man in a tall white hood. 5) Hunt the nigger: a variation of Hunt the Slipper, but played outdoors, with Dobermans. WARNING: do not let your Dobermans bite a nigger, as they are highly toxic.

Niggers die on average at around 40, which some might say is 40 years too late, but there you go. Most people prefer their niggers dead, in fact. When yours dies, report the license number of the car that did the drive-by shooting of your nigger. The police will collect the nigger and dispose of it for you.

Have it put down, for god's sake. Who needs an uppity nigger? What are we, short of niggers or something?

They all do this. Shorten your nigger's chain so it can't reach any white women, and arm heavily any white women who might go near it.

Not unless it outnumbers you 20 to 1, and even then, it's not likely. If niggers successfully overthrew their owners, they'd have to sort out their own food. This is probably why nigger uprisings were nonexistent (until some fool gave them rights).

Yeah, well, it would. Tell it to shut the fuck up.

A nigger's skin is actually more or less transparent. That brown color you can see is the shit your nigger is full of. This is why some models of nigger are sold as "The Shitskin".

What you have there is a "wigger". Rough crowd. WOW!

They're as common as dog shit and about as valuable. In fact, one of them was President between 1992 and 2000. Put your wigger in a cage with a few hundred genuine niggers and you'll soon find it stops acting like a nigger. However, leave it in the cage and let the niggers dispose of it. The best thing for any wigger is a dose of TNB.

And you were expecting what?

When you came in here, did you see a sign that said "Dead nigger storage"? .That's because there ain't no goddamn sign.

Re:For the Obama crowd! (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736126)

Let me guess: you are 9.

Re:For the Obama crowd! (0, Troll)

Asshat_Nazi_v2.0 (989409) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736152)

let me guess, you smoked a donkey sausage.

Re:For the Obama crowd! (1)

Cboyd0319 (763684) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736498)

This has to be the most absolutely ignorant and appalling comment I have ever seen posted on any forum I have ever been privy to be a member of. The contents of this post, having not been moded down to absolute lowest levels of "troll", bring me shame even in reading it.
I'm at a complete loss of words at this point and amazed that you, as evolution suggests, still exist. Anything you say at this point in rebuttal should be viewed as derogatory and demeaning (even in future posts).
I would also like to recommend that your account be canceled on this site. Reading your comments causes me and others nothing but negative responses. Your comments instigate and infuriate people in a non-beneficial way. You instigate negative resposes, and further, I believe that is your entire charge. I should only hope that you, one day, will come to realize that race/color/gender/creed has nothing to do with where you are in life. Perhaps if you worked a little harder earlier in life, you might be happier with where you are at.

Speaking as a veteran of TWO services I would also like to say that I've fought for your right to say these asinine comments, and while it might be your right (to be so damned stupid), no one with common sense would agree with your comments.

Use some common sense, and some good judgment. If you're lacking of either, sign up and serve with any one of the people I have. You might learn something.

Re:For the Obama crowd! (1)

moeinvt (851793) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738522)

"Use some common sense, and some good judgment. "

Don't Feed the Trolls.

Re:For the Obama crowd! (1)

stainlesssteelpat (905359) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737538)

Wow, so are you like related to GWB or are just suffering from rectal cranial inversion. I just wanna watch when karma (and not the /. kind) comes along and bites you on the ass like a 300lb african american prison inmate that aint gettin any.

cool place (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736108)

Yes, I was there in January. Long way from the Rockies, but I was in Baltimore and it was certainly worth the detour: you certainly can't beat the price (cost of gas). The collection of old supercomputers is impressive. They even have a storage silo shuffling tapes around (looked like it was in a demo mode).

Opening moment (5, Funny)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736112)

"Welcome to L4XD739LNZ8367. Please decrypt the gender signs properly before selecting a restroom."

Heh, that one' easy (2, Insightful)

patio11 (857072) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737080)

I can brute force the whole plaintext space in, like, 5 seconds. Unless they start creating an arbitrary number of wrong doors leading to distintegration chambers.

No one will answer yes (1)

Atario (673917) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736120)

Those who could say yes have, shall we say, gone on a long vacation.

Worth the trip (5, Informative)

ayden (126539) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736160)

I went to the NSA Cryptologic Museum back in 2002 while I was reading Cryptonomicon. Not only did they have Enigma machines, one exhibit had an Enigma out in the open that anyone could experiment with. The exhibits I was most impressed with were the Japanese encryption machines, Jade and Purple. These machines are quite rare and even the machines in these exhibits were incomplete.

SIGSALY was also interesting - I didn't know that voice encryption was possible during WWII.

I also found it amusing that they had a Connection Machines CM5. Sure, the CM 5's blinkin' lights are cool! But it was personally funny to me because my future brother-in-law used to work for Connection Machines and had a hand in their design and consturction. After I got home, I said to him, "Hey Sam, I saw some of your handy work in the NSA's museum".

The volunteers working at the museum were all retired NSA or military intelligence. These guys actually worked with some of the equipment on display and could expertly explain technical details.

Re:Worth the trip (2, Interesting)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736244)

Indeed, when I visited, we had a nice older gentleman explain in detail to us regarding the Engima machine on display. I also remember reading displays about a famed NSA member who knew something like 40 languages, and could go home and over the weekend learn enough of the basics of another language to decrypt messages in it.

Re:Worth the trip (1)

bkr1_2k (237627) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738764)

It's actually pretty simple to "learn" a language if you understand the basic grammar patterns of a language. That's actually how the military tests people for their language school. The test creates a language a few rules at a time and then asks questions based on those rules. It's an interesting thing to learn a completely fictitious language in 2 hours, but I enjoyed it.

Re:Worth the trip (2, Insightful)

Mox-Dragon (87528) | more than 6 years ago | (#22739416)

It's actually pretty simple to "learn" a language if you understand the basic grammar patterns of a language.

No, it's not. It's fairly easy to learn a small set of grammatical rules that are similar to your native language, or a set of incredibly simple grammatical rules.

Give anybody a massaged data set from a concatenative language and they'll figure out the morphology pretty quick - but be absolutely unable to manipulate it in any meaningful or naturalistic way until they have hundreds of hours of experience with actual instances of language use. Additionally, the basic grammar patterns of a language are rarely (read:never) very regular, let alone perfectly regular. Small irregularities can make for big differences. There's simply too much in languages that's in the lexicon for anyone to be able to "learn" a language in two hours.

Unless you're Kenneth Hale. Which none of us are.

Re:Worth the trip (1)

tkohler (806572) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736256)

It is definitely worth a visit. I visited with my dad, who is a code history nut, back in 1999. We didn't plan to go but saw the brown historical site roadsign on the way from DC to Baltimore and made an impromptu visit. On the wall, there was a framed review saying how the museum was a great visit but was not well advertised. The NSA spokesman quoted in the article said, "Well, the NSA is not big on publicity"

Another AC starting at -1... (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736188)

Fun place. Nuff said. To whoever talked about recognizing whether or not the storage system was in demo mode or not, you might have had a job opening just for recognizing it on sight. Skills like lateral thinking, and the ability to read between the lines (both of which are evinced by piecing together something you may have seen at a trade show some number of years ago, and what you saw while at a museum as a tourist), are Good Things.

Once upon a midnight fair
I pinged a host that wasn't there
It wasn't there again today
The host resolved to NSA.

NSA is still recruiting for leading figures in the fields of mathematics, cryptography, and quantum physics. To apply, simply pick up your phone, call your grandmother, and ask for one!

Heh. I'm so old, I don't just bitch about the recent change that's resulted in AC posts moderated (-1, Informative), but I remember when that last paragraph was a joke :)

Re:Another AC starting at -1... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736872)

Is the slashdot moderation system broken or has it been changed recently? From the above comment:

Starting Score: -1 points
Moderation 0
    100% Interesting
Extra 'Interesting' Modifier 0 (Edit)
Total Score: -1

Re:Another AC starting at -1... (1)

Torvaun (1040898) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738194)

Is the slashdot moderation system broken or has it been changed recently?
Yes, and yes.

Very cool and informative museum (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736216)

I was there in Sept '07 and absolutely loved it. Lots of history, and not just NSA history. They include cryptographic technology throughout time, from around the world, so you can see the progress and sophistication changes as they were needed to stay a step ahead of the curve. Some cool artifacts that seem a bit out of place, but I'm glad they are on display. Lots of old computers, crypto devices, and cracking devices for the geek in all of us. Time spent per square foot was much higher than your average museum.

Pictures speak louder than words, so check out my gallery below: []

[caching enabled NOW]

Google Earth location (2, Informative)

B5_geek (638928) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736260)

It is located here:
  39 7'2.78"N x 7646'7.85"W

Or as a link:,-76.76737&z=16&t=h&hl=en []

Re:Google Earth location (3, Informative)

SoapBox17 (1020345) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737396)

Actually, no, it's located here [] : 39.114878, -76.77414

Yes. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736270)

Yes I was there around a year ago. It's quite nice, I found the bombe and enigma machines particularly interesting to look at. They have some good geekporn -- among others, a Connection Machine CM-5. And, models of several old-school spy satellites.. it looks just like the photo of a satellite, but it's interesting to see what the scale of these things in person.

          I also spoke with the "desk jockey" at the front entrance, and it turned out he had worked on quite a few interesting machines back in the day (not for the NSA though).

          Two other miscellaneous observations:

          1) It seems..odd.. to have a what looks like 30-40 year old shell gas station right by the entrance. The large plane out there is quite a site too.

          2) The NSA is important enough to have it's own offramp with "no seriously, don't take this exit" signs all up around it..

Crypto museums (5, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736288)

It's a neat little museum. Everything there is familiar to people in the field, but it's nice to see the actual hardware.

I would have liked to see hardware from the NSA/IBM foray into cryogenic computing. NSA funded a long effort from 1960 or so to build a 1GHz computer, decades before anybody else. ("I want a thousand megacycle machine! I'll get you the money" - NSA director) IBM developed components that ran in liquid nitrogen. Apparently some special purpose hardware was built using this technology, but not a full-scale computer. The components were too big (each gate required a tiny coil) and ICs won out.

SIGSALY is a reminder of just how hard it was to do anything with WWII electronics. SIGSALY is straightforward; it's a speech encoder and digitizer fed through a one-time key system. The keys were stored on phonograph records, made in pairs and shipped in advance. This was VoIP, version 0.000001. The system thing took 40 racks at each end, and a staff of fifteen at each site to keep it running. The record turntables had to be mechanically synched; there was at that time no memory device suitable for storing even a modest portion of the of key so that the thing could be synchronized electronically. There was no clock sent on the data channel; synchronization was entirely manual. Unclear why they did it that way. The display at NSA is a mockup.

Bletchley Park in the UK is also worth a visit. Go on a weekend when the volunteers show up; the weekday guides don't know much about the technology.

NSA's current cyrogenic computing effort - 100GHz (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736550)

I did some Google searches, hoping to find some historical info on NSA's cryogenic computing efforts, and found this [] , a 2005 plan out of NSA to build a 50-100GHz computer by 2010.

They want faster CPUs, not more CPUs. The commercial world isn't even trying any more. After reading this paper, one can see why. By throwing a few hundred million, and liquid helium, at the problem, they might get a 20x performance gain over commercial microprocessors. The CPU has to run at 4 degrees Kelvin, liquid helium temperature. And it has to be kept at 4K while dissipating about a kilowatt.

The technology is totally nonstandard. The basic components are Rapid Single Flux Quantum devices running at 4K. The logic voltage power voltage is 3-5 mV. Signals are around 200 microvolts. This stuff requires custom semiconductor fabs to make.

Getting data out of the low-temperature zone is a very tough problem, and optical interconnects have to be used. The proposed memory bandwidth is huge: "For example, a particular architecture may require half a million data streams at 50 Gbps each between the superconducting processors and room-temperature SRAM." Developing devices to drive the output data links from the low temperature zone, without causing too much heating in the cold part of the system, is a big part of the problem.

The justification for all this is in Appendix E, and sounds totally bogus. Either there's some desperate need for this technology they don't mention, or it's a boondoggle. There must be something important for which parallelism won't work. It's surprising to see this from NSA, because most signal analysis and crypto problems parallelize well.

Bletchley Park rocks! (1)

Peter Simpson (112887) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737394)

Went there a few years ago, before they built the Colossus reconstruction. They were having a military collectors' flea market at the same time. Take the guided tour. There's an Enigma you can try out, and a ham radio club (GB2BP?). It's also fun just walking around the grounds. Just a 1/4 mile walk from the Bletchley railroad station on the Milton Keynes train out of London (sorry, forget which London station you leave from).

Mom worked at Nebraska Avenue during the war, so I'm really getting a kick out of this...

Re:Bletchley Park rocks! (1)

BenBenBen (249969) | more than 6 years ago | (#22739294)

Euston [] .

National Crypto Museum Field Trip Photos (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736320)

My honors Calc class went on a field trip to the Crypto museum recently. There was some Enigma stuff, some Turing stuff, some NSA Black Ops stuff. It was all really great and I hihgly recommend it. Here are some photos. [] Some cool man sh1t there. Enjoy!

I visited... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22736414)

but I couldn't figure out how to get in!

secret agent man (1)

rice_burners_suck (243660) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736422)

Dude. They'll never figure out my secret agent decoder ring.

National Cryptologic Museum sounds awful... (1)

RudeIota (1131331) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736470)

"National Cryptologic Museum -- NSA"
"National Museum of Cryptology"... There you go NSA, fixed that for you.

Sounds much better, doesn't it?

I was there two weeks ago (5, Interesting)

F00F (252082) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736516)

I had heard that the museum was "small but pretty interesting". That ended up definitely being an under-sell.

The Computer History Museum in Mountain View is cool and all, but the Cryptologic Museum struck me on an entirely different level. Instead of the "Here is how computing evolved" theme of the Mountain View museum, I really felt like this was the "Here is why computation is relevant to communications (and warfare)" counterpart. They display voice and data encryption tools of the last five decades, from STE's and STU-III's back to (as other posters mentioned) the mechanically-synchronized SIGSALY machine that used giant turning vinyl records to encrypt the traffic. There is a handset you can pick up to hear pre-recorded messages representing the voice quality of each system. The oldest were barely intelligible, the newest are (obviously) crystal clear.

The Cray XMP and YMP are impressive, and are in almost flawless condition! Rather than the exhibit at Mountain View, it felt like these machines were just recently taken out of service, and could easily be made operational again. They didn't seem like they'd been cobbled back together or had sat in closets neglected and falling apart for years. The density of some of the components on the Thinking Machines CM-5 memory and processor slices is impressive, and the descriptions of the power and cooling apparatus required (think many kilowatts and lots of Fluorinert) were equally amazing -- truly a testament to what can be done when money isn't much of an object, and a machine's value is measured solely in MIPS or MFLOPS.

There is a three-foot-tall full-relief wooden replica of the Great Seal of the U.S. on the wall, which apparently was a gift from Russian schoolchildren to the U.S. embassador in Moscow. After hanging prominently on the wall for years in the embassador's office in Moscow, in 1952 it was discovered that it contained a resonant cavity eavesdropping bug on the inside that was very difficult to detect with sensing equipment of the time, unless it was activated by radio signal (presumably by Soviet spies) from the outside. I met there three (very proud) tourists of Russian descent who chuckled heartily at that one (and who tried to teach me how to say "Medvedev" properly, thanks!)

As everyone else mentioned, the working Enigma machine was fun to encipher a message to a friend with (they have a pad and pencil for you to use), and the displays on the history of the agency and of the Korean and Vietnam conflicts were well put together. The GRAB II and Poppy ELINT satellites were especially interesting to me, and reminded me of the kind of things a senior class at the USAF Academy might build for a project these days (relics of an era when launch considerations and electronics density actually drove simplicity into designs).

If you're an electronics/history/information assurance/security/aerospace/DC trivia fan, you'll almost certainly enjoy the trip, even if the facility is kind of small and out of the way. While you're in the area, go see the Udvar-Hazy center, too! And don't forget to tip your docents...

Very cool. (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 6 years ago | (#22736866)

Definitely worth the trip, as others are saying.

One thing I wondered about when I was there: SIGABA/ECM [] was touted by our tour guide as something which still hasn't been broken, even with modern computers. This seemed unlikely to me, especially after realizing how easily Enigma can be bruteforced (given any known plaintext) -- but then I read about Solitaire/Pontifex [] in Cryptonomicon, and it makes me wonder...

Pictures (2, Informative)

Raul654 (453029) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737014)

I was there in December. As is my hobby, I took pictures of basically everything in the museum, and then put them on Wikipedia. See the gallery here [] .

Yea (1)

kaiser423 (828989) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737446)

Was there yesterday.

Really neat setup. Easily spent over two hours browsing around this small museum. Mostly on reading about the war stories. They just had a lot of neat stuff.

You could actually encode and decode your own messages with actual ENIGMA machines. They had the actual bombe's that broke it, and tons of other stuff. The people there are also extremely helpful, knowledgeable, and nice. Even if you're just one person, they'll give you a whole tour and answer whatever questions you have. I highly recommend it!

Ashamed to admit... (1)

Arancaytar (966377) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737492)

... that in spite of my interest in cryptology, most of my "knowledge" regarding the NSA stems from Dan Brown. Whose Hollywood-style description of how computers work was pretty painful.

Yeah, But It's Not the Real Deal Unless (2, Funny)

aquatone282 (905179) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737556)

. . . the guide hollers "Red Badge!" before you enter every room.

(Sorry - inside joke.)

Re:Yeah, But It's Not the Real Deal Unless (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22737932)

That's right! Unless you have your Blue Badge, you're not worth crap there. I worked in the NSA for years. It was a blast. The real secret about the NSA is how they can hire so many geeky men but also have so many beautiful women and no real problem with sexual harassment! That always blew me away.

Does anyone remember the Captain "amEricka" scandal a while back? Some friends of mine wrote in and got the DVD. That was nasty! She was one helluva shameless officer.

Re:Yeah, But It's Not the Real Deal Unless (1)

jsalbre (663115) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738598)

I miss they spinny red lights on the ceiling. That and the crazy old man that worked the short order grill on mid-shift! He made some killer pancakes.

But what really tells you that you're "home" is the vending machines with toothpaste, toothbrushes and razors...

Re:Yeah, But It's Not the Real Deal Unless (1)

bofh69 (22591) | more than 6 years ago | (#22739104)

. . . the guide hollers "Red Badge!" before you enter every room.

(Sorry - inside joke.)
I read this, and said to myself, this guy must have worked at the same place as me. Then I noticed who posted it. Mystery solved.

How Ironic (1)

argStyopa (232550) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737602)

...or maybe not: no where that I can see does that site have an address.

It says it's located "...NSA Headquarters, Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland" but nothing you can look up.

Check out the Museum's library too (2, Interesting)

frantzen (137260) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737652)

I was there in '02 or '03 and they had a small library that was open for a few hours every other Saturday. I spent more time sitting on the floor flipping through random WW2 declassified documents than I spent looking at the exhibits. One book was just old photocopies of reports about the german spies during WW2. They were dropped off on the easy coast by u-boat. And since germany couldn't pay them they were given a large quantity of cocaine that they were supposed to sell to fund their activities.

I did. (1)

Random Luck (79914) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737656)

I visited it but if I told you about it I would have to eliminate you.

"Nothing to see here, please move along..." (1)

rhartness (993048) | more than 6 years ago | (#22737678)

... never seemed more appropriate.

Listen to the docents (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22738236)

The museum is cool. But the couple of times I made it up there I ended up tagging along both times with different docents and was fascinated by the docents as much as the gadgets we were seeing.

I'd add the bits of Gary Power's U2 to the fascinating stuff there.

Another great out-of-the-way DC museum is the Navy's museum at the Washington Navy Yard. Aside from a destroyer you can go on (USS Barry) there are a wealth of exhibits from more wars and naval actions than I had ever heard of.

And, yeah, Udvar-Hazy is high geek, too.

worth a visit, if you are nearby. (1)

Greg151 (132824) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738376)

I visited a year or so ago. There was a really nice retired govie/docent, and among the many interesting things was a variety of Enigma machines, including one or two that could be played with. It was fun to mess with crypto machines of that era, and see how the drum system inside worked.

It is a bit off the beaten path, but worth a visit if you are in the area.

What was the motel's name? (1)

Roblimo (357) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738430)

For extra Maryland local knowledge points, what was the name of the motel that was once in the building now occupied by the Cryptologic Museum?

(Peter Wayner, I'm shocked that you didn't have that in the NYT article. Or did you, and it was edited out?)

- Robin

Re:What was the motel's name? (1)

jsalbre (663115) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738642)

That would be the Colony 7. :)

Definitely worth a visit (1)

plopez (54068) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738600)

Went there a few years ago. The enigma machine was cool as was the slave quilt. It also gives you a sense of how spooky the signal corps can be.

gift shop (1)

Nicky G (859089) | more than 6 years ago | (#22738730)

I was there maybe a year and a half ago or so, very cool, and they have an AWESOME gift shop. I got a really sweet lenticular NSA logo mousepad -- but I later learned that optical mice don't like to be used on lenticular surfaces. Oh well, it's still cool. They have T-shirts and pens and mugs and all that stuff. The exhibits are really interesting. Very cool place to go.

Been there, I practically lived there. (1)

NUBlackshirts (680256) | more than 6 years ago | (#22739182)

Walked out my back door and crossed the street to get to work. I was living in on-base housing. And, no, there weren't any dirt roads to the buildings. It's right off a friggin' highway! What was scary was how open Ft. Meade was at the time. We damn near had an episode of "Cops" once when 2 guys robbed a gas station just off-base and ran through our back yard during the "getaway." Helicopters, cop cars, and cops with guns out everywhere in our neighborhood. Made for some interesting late night entertainment. Of course my favorite part of the museum is the 80's section. Could tell you some stories about some of that equipment. On wait, no I can't.

True NSA computing story (2, Interesting)

rclandrum (870572) | more than 6 years ago | (#22739240)

True story:

I was a codebreaker in the Army Security Agency from 71 to 77 and for the last five years worked at NSA. Taught myself programming to help automate some of the analysis I was doing at the time and was fortunate enough to work on some of the incredible hardware they had in the basement then. In 77 I had to decide whether to stay in (and stay poor on Army pay - about 10K/yr then) or get out and do real work, and interviewed with a number of DOD contractors around DC. When I told the interviewer the CDC mainframe model I last programmed, he confidently told me that CDC didn't make that model yet. I managed to convince him they did by describing some of its attributes and got the job, thereby doubling my pay.

The VN listening post exhibit is interesting. Brought back a lot of memories from when I was stationed is SE Asia during the latter part of that war, helping to process the stuff those guys were intercepting. Fascinating work, and if it wasn't for the Carter-era hiring freeze, I'd still be solving those puzzles for a living.

My Flickr photoset with 139 pics of the NCM (1)

Lusiphur (110944) | more than 6 years ago | (#22739554)

... is here [] .

All photos CC-licensed (By-SA) so have fun!

Lived and worked there (1)

theppb (951102) | more than 6 years ago | (#22741452)

I was a 98C [] (now it's 35N) in the US Army until recently and did a tour for No Such Agency. I remember visiting the museum with my grandparents and getting hassled by the cops when grandpa took some photos of their welcome sign. It was super interesting - the Civil War wing especially. Who knew there was a signals intelligence field or cryptographic enterprise in Lincoln's era?

My trip circa 1991 (1)

quantumghost (1052586) | more than 6 years ago | (#22741526)

I remember my trip to the NSA museum. We went in the early 1990's (c 1991). Now, please remember, this was 1) pre-Google 2) at the time when the cold war was not quite over and 3) the NSA was doing a much better job of staying out of the limelight and was rarely required to submit accounts of their actions even to Congress.

Just finding the place required a few _weeks_ of detective work. We called the NSA a few times to get directions (and did we get some interesting questions from our department chair as to why we had to call the NSA in the first place), and the stock response we received was, "We don't have a museum". Very classic for "No Such Agency."

Finally packing the group up and traveling down to Ft Mead, we must have traveled up and down the road for an hour looking for the turn off. I still remember that it was a small unmarked road (not a dirt road) that ran beside a (Shell?) gas station.

Once we got there I seem to remember having to pass though a metal detector, which was very odd for a museum at that time! We then ran into two or three guys wearing dark blue blazers and khakis who inquired as to the purpose of our visit. Too young to be "veteran volunteers" and too old to be minimum wage flunkies, these guys eerily followed us around the entire museum, always hovering within earshot, but always trading off like they were practicing "trailing". The best was having to "sign" the guest log before entering. Now mind you, after the trouble to get there, the less than hospitable welcome, a minor grilling as to the purpose of our visit, we sure as in hell we're signing our real names!

I suppose that the museum branch of the NSA has mellowed in the intervening years. At least I hope so, I fear that under President Bush, a trip there today could involve some waterboarding so that they could elicit the "true" reason for your visit....
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