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NSA Historical Figures

David Bryant

Although born in Georgia, David Bryant attended Florida A&M until he joined the US Navy in 1942. Following the war, he came to Washington and worked as a statistical clerk for the Census Bureau. He and 14 other African-Americans transferred to ASA from the Census Bureau in 1947. They were assigned to the Russian plaintext traffic processing unit. From this small cadre of black communications, clerks grew a large, essentially all-black division in the Operations Directorate of NSA. In 1948, Russian encrypted systems went silent leaving the plaintext messages as virtually the only form of intelligence coming from the Soviet Union.

This all-black office, which became known as "the snake pit," filled a critical void in the Cold War. By 1950, Mr. Bryant had secured a transfer out of the traffic processing branch and was attending Russian language preparatory classes working as a translator/analyst in the Russian plaintext branch. Mr. Bryant was one of the first African-Americans to become a Russian linguist. After holding several analytic and staff positions, Mr. Bryant joined the newly established Equal Employment Opportunity office in 1968. While there, he helped expand agency recruitment at traditionally black universities creating opportunities for other African-Americans. Mr. Bryant retired in 1968.