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NSA Historical Figures

Dr. Richard A. Leibler

2002 Hall of Honor Inductee

Dr. Richard Leibler's contributions to mathematical practice and theory were crucial to America's national security. His technical knowledge and managerial abilities helped transform an NSA-related "think tank" into an institution that kept NSA in the forefront of mathematical and cryptologic capability in the 1960s and 1970s.

Richard Leibler was born in March 1914. He received his A.M. in mathematics from Northwestern University and his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois in 1939. After a short stint in teaching, he entered the Navy in World War II - as an aviation ordnance officer, he saw action on carriers in the Iwo Jima and Okinawa invasions. After the war, he worked for the Department of the Navy and in private industry, and he spent a year at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University.

Dr. Leibler came to NSA in 1953, with assignment to the Research and Development Organization. In the early years, he joined pioneer computer scientists in developing programs and practical applications for newly developed computers. Some of his theoretical work enabled NSA cryptolinguists to solve previously unexploitable Soviet espionage messages in the project codenamed VENONA. Working together, Dr. Solomon Kullback and Dr. Leibler devised a new method of measuring similarity between populations; this statistical function bears their names and is still widely used.

In 1957, Dr. Leibler became chief of the Mathematical Research Division in R&D.

In 1958, Dr. Leibler was appointed Deputy Director of the Communications Research Division (CRD) of the Institute for Defense Analysis at Princeton and became CRD's director in 1962.

CRD had been founded as an NSA-related "think tank" for mathematics and cryptology as the result of a presidential study, but initially it was given little to do by NSA.

Dr. Leibler, using knowledge and contacts gained during his years in R&D, successfully lobbied NSA for important research projects to be sent to CRD. Under his guidance, CRD successfully solved "real world" questions, and it took on the challenge of theoretical exercises in advanced mathematical problems.

The practical and theoretical work done under his direction at CRD was a crucial factor in maintaining mathematical and cryptologic excellence at NSA for at least the following two decades.

Dr. Leibler returned to NSA in 1977 to head the Office of Research in the Research and Engineering Organization, and he retired in 1980. The Exceptional Civilian Service Award presented at his retirement noted that his accomplishments were of the "highest order" and "profoundly influenced" cryptologic research for three decades.

Dr. Leibler passed away 25 October 2003.

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