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NSA Historical Figures

Mary H. "Polly" Budenbach

2017 Hall of Honor Inductee

Women in American Cryptology Honoree

Mary Budenbach, a graduate of Smith College and known to all as "Polly," joined the Navy's cryptologic organization, OP-20-G, in 1943. Trained as a cryptanalyst, she worked against Japanese naval ciphers during World War II. Ms. Budenbach's team was successful in exploiting the machine-generated cipher, known as JADE, used by Japanese naval attachés worldwide. After the war, she worked for the Armed Forces Security Agency and then NSA.

Throughout her career, Ms. Budenbach was recognized as an innovative technical expert in cryptanalysis. She worked with Arthur Levenson and Frank Raven in an early and successful effort to computerize analytic techniques. Widely recognized for her expertise and leadership, Ms. Budenbach was appointed to a number of senior positions within the Production Organization (predecessor of the Signals Intelligence Directorate). In 1975, she became chief of an internal NSA "think tank" that undertook specialized research and developed groundbreaking analytic techniques in several disciplines.

As NSA restructured its promotion and assignment processes to ensure fairness for minorities and women, Ms. Budenbach chaired a select committee that recommended actions to correct problems in these processes for female employees. Her leadership on this issue played a key role in breaking the "glass ceiling" for women at NSA.

For her outstanding service to the nation, Mary H. Budenbach was named Federal Woman of the Year in 1969. She retired from NSA in 1975, and passed away in June 2005.