Spy agency celebrates its work at its cryptologic museum
By David Wood
November 30, 2008
OUTSIDE FORT MEADE – God bless ‘em, but the nation’s secret code-breakers and eavesdroppers aren’t exactly the most sociable folks you’ll ever meet.
Many of them are hidden away here, behind the National Security Agency’s bunkered fortifications, which are so foreboding they’d make Dick Cheney’s eyes glisten with envy. Others work in uniform on dusty battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan, and man austere listening posts across the Middle East and Asia.
They are descendants of an early generation of code-breakers recruited on the eve of World War II, a group of Navy women who were told if they breathed a word to civilians about their work, they’d be shot.
That pretty much sums up the agency’s attitude toward public outreach. “It does not pay to advertise your successes,” says Patrick D. Weadon, a senior NSA official. “There is always a danger when you lift the curtain ever so slightly.”
You could blow an operation. You could be shot.
But even this agency, secretive for good reason, is under pressure to loosen up. And so it is, ever so slightly, lifting the curtain.
The NSA’s public Web site, jazzy but not exactly newsy, grudgingly offers information, including the names of more than 150 American cryptologists who died in action. The modest National Cryptologic Museum just outside the gates offers a look at the agency’s past, which it can talk about.
The NSA needs public support. The agency relies on the public for its $8 billion budget. It needs good relations with Congress to maintain operating authorities. And it must recruit talented linguists, mathematicians, analysts and technicians
Those folks aren’t going to volunteer “if you get people convinced that this is an agency doing things to them rather than for them,” says Bill Nolte, a former NSA and CIA official who is a research professor at the University of Maryland.
“If you don’t have the confidence of the public, you’re going to have a very difficult time,” Weadon says. The work of the NSA “is critical to the survival of the country. What if we hadn’t had this capability prior to the Battle of Midway?” (Answer below)
Read the rest here –> NSA opens the curtain, just a little — baltimoresun.com