For Your Eyes Only
– Amy Orndorff
Love the International Spy Museum but cringe at the idea of shelling out $18 to indulge your inner 007? Convert those bills into gas, buy a couple of gallons and head north to the National Cryptologic Museum in Fort Meade.
Artifacts at the museum include a German Enigma cipher machine, left, used during World War II for encoding messages. (Visitors can even try it out.)
James Bond doesn’t have anything on National Security Agency code breakers. He might have won over the ladies, but these sleuths started wars, prevented attacks and busted criminals.
“Intelligence is not just getting good information. It’s knowing when to use it,” tour guide and retired NSA employee Howell McConnell tells a group on a recent Saturday in front of an exhibit about the World War I Zimmermann telegram.
The coded German telegram was intercepted and deciphered by the British as it traveled from the foreign minister in Berlin, Arthur Zimmermann, to the German ambassador in Mexico. It encouraged Mexico to start a war with the United States so the Americans would be too busy to join the war in Europe. Mexico would have gained land, and the Germans would have had free rein to sink ships in the Atlantic. The telegram was the push Congress needed to authorize America’s entry into the war.
The gritty authenticity of the National Cryptologic Museum beats just about anything the Spy Museum has to offer, from the docents like McConnell to the exhibits assembled by real-life code-breakers to the barbed-wire fence and guard huts that separate the museum from the NSA buildings nearby.
The museum gives an unclassified glimpse of the history of American espionage, but there’s little to be spooked about. The atmosphere is welcoming, and there is plenty for little hands to play with and older eyes to take in.
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