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NSA Adds Kahn Collection To Cryptologic Museum 34

Hugh Pickens writes "The Baltimore Sun reports that as recently as the late 1960s, the very existence of the National Security Agency was a closely held secret until a New York newspaper reporter named David Kahn published The Codebreakers, a 1,200-page blockbuster that would establish Kahn as the world's leading expert on the history of cryptology, the art and science of making and breaking codes. 'According to my editor, the NSA director flew up to New York to say it would be dangerous to national security, and unpatriotic, to publish it,' says Kahn. Fast forward 43 years and now the NSA has announced it has added the David Kahn Collection to the library of its public anteroom, the National Cryptologic Museum — complete with more than 130,000 pages of original interview notes and 2,800 books. 'For those who care about cryptology — what it is, how it works, where it fits into world history and culture — at some point, [they'd] want to look at the Kahn collection,' says curator Patrick Weadon. 'It's an eclectic cornucopia of all things cryptological.'"
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NSA Adds Kahn Collection To Cryptologic Museum

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  • Unbreakable (Score:4, Funny)

    by History's Coming To ( 1059484 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @12:27PM (#34222856) Journal
    uibu't sfbmmz rvjuf dppm.
  • An eclectic cornucopia of all things cryptological

    A quintessential archival arranged in alphabetical.

  • No thanks, I'll stick the the Cryptonomicon! ;)
  • Cryptologic Museum (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward

    FWIW, the Cryptologic Museum is excellent, and worth a visit if you're in the Baltimore-Washington area. Even the tin-foil hat crowd will find something to like.

  • Obligatory (Score:1, Funny)

    by kbrasee ( 1379057 )


    This text provided to offset the ridiculous amount of capital letters.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @02:06PM (#34223620) Homepage

    It's amazing how far ahead NSA was technologically in the 1950s and 1960s. Magnetic digital recording was first developed for NSA. They had their own custom supercomputers, mostly built by IBM. A big chunk of IBM's R&D effort went into machines for NSA. NSA was grinding through Western Union traffic with computers when Western Union itself was still running on paper tape. They had huge tape drives (the "Tractor" system) with an robotic tape library, years before anybody else had technology. They put a lot of effort into cryogenic computing. (Eventually, that worked, but it lost out to ordinary ICs, That technology could be made very fast, and gigahertz clocks were achieved in the early 1960s. But it didn't scale down, because it was partly magnetic, like core memory. Moore's Law didn't help.) NSA did lots of work on RF reception of things nobody thought could be received at long range. They used big dishes and moonbounce to listen in on the USSR, and enormous ground-based antennas for HF.

    Also, back then the underlying theory of modern cryptanalysis wasn't publicly known. Friedman's work wasn't known. Before Friedman, cryptanalysis was mostly about counting and guessing. After Friedman, cryptanalysis was about statistical number-crunching. NSA's early years were based mostly on Friedman's work, and he was chief cryptanalyst. The real secret of WWII cryptanalysis was that, with the right theory, you could attack the problem with hardware. The Germans and Japanese were still in the "clever guessing" era of cryptanalysis, while the US was filling up buildings with hardware built by IBM, National Cash Register, and Western Electric. This continued into the NSA era.

    By the mid-1980s, though, NSA was falling behind. Too much traffic, somewhat antiquated technology, and no interest from the big computer companies in doing custom one-offs. The 1980s were a frustrating period for military R&D. Up until then, military hardware had been well ahead of civilian technology. When the civilian market became far bigger than the military market, that all changed. Not just in electronics, either. One USAF general complained "My golf clubs have more advanced materials than my airplanes." Today, the military struggles to get the attention of the electronics industry, which doesn't want to make tiny quantities of specialized components.

    Then the USSR went down, and the world changed. No need to struggle to find out how many subs the Russians had; you could go and look. On the other hand, all the little wars the superpowers had been keeping under control started to flare up. The Balkans and the Middle East became intelligence targets. The targets were now much smaller. Trying to figure out what a small tribe is up to requires completely different approaches than monitoring a huge country. There are some new books out on how NSA is trying to deal with that.

  • From The Fine Article:

    Then there's the rarer stuff, like the original edition of Johannes Trithemius' 1518 book "Polygraphie," the first work ever published on cryptology, and a framed letter from Napoleon to his son, Eugene, that asks the prince in June 1806 to continue "sending me letters [by] the archbishop of Silesia from Rome to Dresden" because "the [deciphering] key has been found so that they can be read just like ordinary writing."

    Wow! I hope all these rare works eventually become freely available on Project Gutenberg (for instance).

  • To the last bit, I will grapple with thee... from Diffie-Hellman's heart, I stab at thee! For PGP's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!

  • The NSA's objections to the publication of "The Codebreakers", would not, by any chance, refer to some less than flattering comments on the performance of this semi-mythical organization? The bitter irony of all that is that, despite all the precautions, NSA has been involved in security breaches more spectacular and more damaging to the free world than any others in the Cold War except those of the atomic spies.

    And on NSA's relations with Congress, This stratagem plays upon Congress' fear and ignorance.,

  • by sgage ( 109086 ) on Sunday November 14, 2010 @10:00PM (#34227160)

    The crypto museum is very worth a visit if you're ever in the area. I went down to the DC area last year to visit my brother (ex-DARPA project manager), and he had the museum on our itinerary. I was thinking OK, whatever. It turned out to be very interesting and engaging. They have the history of cryptography presented very nicely, with lots of actual artifacts and machines. Including an actual Enigma that you can use. As you move along the displays the panels above have newspaper headlines and such from the appropriate time period to really bring it home.

    Anyway, I was surprised how interesting and informative it was. Plus, just on the other side of the razor-wire fence and check-point, is the black cube-like NSA building... somehow it adds spice to the whole thing. I do highly recommend it...

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