National Cryptologic Museum – Fort Meade, Maryland

Have you always been interested in codemakers and codebreakers?  Here is a chance to get to know the story behind the closed doors of the world of Cryptology.  The National Security Agency/Central Security Service (NSA/CSS) is home to America’s codemakers and codebreakers. The National Security Agency has provided timely information to U.S. decision makers and military leaders for more than half a century. Even in the days of the Civil War era and before, there have been codes to communicate messages that others will not understand, such as the slave quilt.  You will be able to see many examples of the communication systems used at the Museum.  Docents will be able to answer your questions as they give you a tour.

What does the agency do?  Why are they in existence?  By its very nature, what NSA/CSS does as a key member of the Intelligence Community requires a high degree of confidentiality. Our Information Assurance mission confronts the formidable challenge of preventing foreign adversaries from gaining access to sensitive or classified national security information. Our Signals Intelligence mission collects, processes, and disseminates intelligence information from foreign signals for intelligence and counterintelligence purposes and to support military operations. This Agency also enables Network Warfare operations to defeat terrorists and their organizations at home and abroad, consistent with U.S. laws and the protection of privacy and civil liberties.

The National Cryptologic Museum is the National Security Agency’s principal gateway to the public. It shares the Nation’s, as well as NSA’s, cryptologic legacy and place in world history. Located adjacent to NSA Headquarters, Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland, the Museum houses a collection of thousands of artifacts that collectively serve to sustain the history of the cryptologic profession. Here visitors can catch a glimpse of some of the most dramatic moments in the history of American cryptology: the people who devoted their lives to cryptology and national defense, the machines and devices they developed, the techniques they used, and the places where they worked. For the visitor, some events in American and world history will take on a new meaning. For the cryptologic professional, it is an opportunity to absorb the heritage of the profession.

Originally designed to house artifacts from the Agency and to give employees a place to reflect on past successes and failures, the Museum quickly developed into a priceless collection of the Nation’s cryptologic history. The Museum opened to the public in December 1993 and quickly became a highlight of the area.

Being the first and only public museum in the Intelligence Community, the Museum hosts approximately 50,000 visitors annually from all over the country and all over the world, allowing them a peek into the secret world of codemaking and codebreaking.

Museum Library
The National Cryptologic Museum has had an adjunct reference library since it opened in 1993. The library not only supports the exhibits, but also encourages visitors to research various areas of cryptologic history. Over the years, the library has become an important resource to students, scholars, and those with an interest in this once secret world.

The Museum Library maintains a collection of unclassified and declassified books and documents relating to every aspect of cryptology. The books and records complement the museum exhibits and artifacts, but also offer unique and in-depth sources of information for researchers.

The library has a very large collection of commercial codebooks. These codebooks were used by all manner of businesses to reduce the costs of cable communications as well as to provide a measure of security for trade secrets. Modern communications and encryption methods have made these books obsolete and they are mainly of historical interest. Some of the most sought after items in the library include the declassified documents.

There are guided tours available for retiree groups, college classes, or those adults looking for something a little different.  The tour covers cryptologic history and the role that making and breaking codes has had in American/world history. You’ll hear how messages were sent in the Civil War, how the U.S. entered WWI due to a broken coded German message, touch a real working German Enigma from WWII, see the machine that decrypted the Japanese “Dec. 7, 1941″ message, learn about the Native American Code Talkers, see some of the earliest supercomputers and secure telephones, and much more. Special emphasis can be placed on any of these areas upon request.

Groups should schedule in advance (301-688-5849) , but walk-ins are welcome if a docent is available.

Tours last approximately 1.5 hours. (Shorter or longer tours can be accommodated upon request).

If it is a school field trip you are looking for, they offer them. 

General Information
Hours: The museum is open to the public Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Field trips may be scheduled to begin anytime between 9 and 2 p.m. Most field trips are scheduled for the morning hours so book early to reserve the desired date and time.