Rear Admiral Joseph N. Wenger played a leading role in the development of both the Naval Security Group Command and the National Security Agency, and was one of the most influential figures in American cryptologic history. He was a pioneer in the development of machines for use in cryptanalysis, and was among the first to recognize the need for centralization within the naval Communications Intelligence (COMINT) establishment. More than anyone else, he was responsible for establishing a Navy-wide cryptologic organization.
After graduating from the Naval Academy in 1923, he rotated between sea duty and OP-20-G, the Navy's cryptologic element. As a radio intelligence officer for the Asiatic Fleet from 1932 to 1934, his reports on Japanese Imperial Fleet maneuvers demonstrated the importance of traffic analysis. Later, he helped create OP-20-G's Pacific Ocean collection network, and also played an important role in launching the Navy's effort in machine processing.
After Pearl Harbor, Rear Admiral Wenger assisted in designing the reorganization of the Navy's COMINT structure, changing OP-20-G from decentralized to centralized operations. After the war ended, he served as a Deputy Director for COMINT at the Armed Forces Security Agency, and in 1952 became Vice Director of NSA. In 1953, Rear Admiral Wenger received the National Security Medal from President Eisenhower for his planning and organizational work in communications research. After his retirement from the Navy in 1958, he continued to serve as a member of NSA's Scientific Advisory Board.
Rear Admiral Wenger's professional involvement in cryptology ended only with his death in 1970.