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A Home for Espionage Relics

History: Museum houses spy technology and methods that have helped the U.S. and its allies stay a step ahead of adversaries.


ANNAPOLIS JUNCTION, Md. — Raymond Moran spent half a century wondering how his outnumbered Army unit in South Korea was able to hold off North Korean troops around the southern coastal city of Pusan. He found his answer at the National Cryptologic Museum.

"I didn't know about all the great intelligence and what they used to get it," said Moran, 73. "The intelligence people provided us information to set up defenses at the right places. They saved us at the Pusan perimeter."

The Ft. Meade museum features equipment that has helped keep the United States and its allies a step ahead of adversaries. More than two dozen exhibits showcase how spy technology and spy methods were used from the early 1800s through Vietnam.

The museum is funded by the National Security Agency -- located a few blocks away -- and is free to the public. Most of its volunteers are former NSA employees.

"People are routinely surprised at how nice the exhibits are, how much we have out and how good the docents are," said Jack Ingram, the curator. "Some people read every sign and look at every picture in the place and soak it all up."

The espionage relics include the American "Purple" code system for cracking encrypted Japanese messages and the Navy Cryptanalytic Bombe used by the Navy's WAVES service--an all-female group of code breakers--to decipher German Enigma codes. Both systems were used during World War II.

Several Enigma machines are encased in glass displays with plaques explaining how they originated and evolved. The sophisticated machines--which used thousands of permutations to try to fool Allied cryptologists--allowed German U-boats to communicate with commanders in Berlin during their battle to control Atlantic shipping channels.

"The favorite exhibit, the most known ... that people come to see is the Enigma," Ingram said.

The machine, which looks like a typewriter with three metal wheels on top, was featured in the 2000 movie "U-571," a fictional story about American submariners who steal an Enigma from a German U-boat.

Another exhibit shows how American code breaking allowed the Navy to surprise the Japanese in June 1942 at the Battle of Midway. The United States turned the tide of the war in the Pacific after sinking four of Japan's main aircraft carriers.

A Korean War section explains how cryptology allowed the Allies to intercept North Korean radio transmissions between pilots and their ground commanders, helping give Allied pilots a 7-to-1 kill ratio.

The small force around Pusan held out long enough to allow United Nations reinforcements to arrive and drive the North Koreans past the border between the two countries at the 38th Parallel. Code breakers helped defenders at the Pusan perimeter by learning where and when the enemy was going to attack.

Jack Kaufman, an 82-year-old retired Army captain, said he wishes that he had known how much intelligence was being gathered by the Allies.

"The intelligence I got was from the front lines," said Kaufman, who along with Moran paid a visit to the museum on the 52nd anniversary of the start of the Korean War. "I'm surprised as hell to see all this."

A replica of a bugged Great Seal of the United States pulled from the American Embassy in Moscow in 1960 hangs on a wall.

Another wall displays a Hall of Honor, a list of great intelligence workers that includes the "Father of American Cryptology," William Friedman. He cracked the Purple code and is credited with establishing the field of code breaking in the United States.

A room that borders the camouflage-painted Vietnam War section holds giant computers used by the U.S. government for espionage during the Cold War.

The Vietnam area contains radios and other devices used for snooping on the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army.

Ingram said the museum has grown from the eight or nine small exhibits since it opened in 1994. Because most of today's intelligence-gathering equipment is classified, there is no technology on display resembling what U.S. forces are using in the war on terrorism.

However, Ingram said, the role intelligence plays in winning wars is clear.

"I think people can see how important it's been in the past, and they certainly can realize how dangerous the world is today," he said.

"This type of work is still important, just as important as it ever was. I think that's the underlying message people get out of here."

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