FT. Meade, Md., Dec. 21, 2020 —
A non-traditional ceremony marked the creative way NSA hosted this year’s annual celebration, which honored five pioneers in the field of American cryptology.
Former NSA Deputy Director Barbara McNamara, Dr. David Kahn, George Cotter, Dr. Whitfield Diffie, and Lester Myers were inducted into the NSA/CSS Cryptologic Hall of Honor via video communication on Tuesday, 15 December. Their contributions to American cryptology place them among the best and brightest to ever serve in the once silent world of making and breaking codes.
“The standard for induction into the hall are high. Think about the hundreds of thousands of people who have worked at our Agency. Only 94 — and now soon to be 99 — are inducted into the Hall of Honor,” said GEN Paul M. Nakasone, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, Director, NSA/Chief CSS. “The inductees are pioneers; giants of our professions. Their cryptologic achievements, whether inside or outside the Agency, helped contribute to America’s national safety, [and helped our] Nation through times of competition, crisis, and conflict.”
The portraits of the five honorees now hang alongside the 94 other members of the Cryptologic Hall of Honor, located on the first floor of NSA-Washington’s OPS2B building.
COVID-19 restrictions prevented an in-person ceremony in 2020. However, the Director cordially invited the current recipients to attend next year’s celebration, where they will be once again recognized in a special tribute.
“I think I speak for all of us at the Agency in saying no matter whether we do it in person or it’s virtual, we want to make sure that the honorees receive the credit that’s due them,” GEN Nakasone said.
Ms. McNamara, who arrived at the Agency during the Cold War and rose to hold NSA’s highest civilian position, served as deputy director from 1997 to 2000. Her deft touch improved NSA’s relationship with the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC) and with foreign partners, while her experience enabled her to shape an operational component at the Agency for the post-Cold War era.
“I share this honor with all of the people who, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, offered their technology and their bright ideas as recommendations to deal with the new world that we were going to be dealing with,” Ms. McNamara said. “And to address customers’ requirements and provide them with the necessary insights into the new world.”
Dr. David Kahn
While he did not work for NSA, Dr. Kahn, an American historian, journalist, and writer, pioneered the study of cryptologic history as an academic field and helped practitioners understand their heritage. His 1967 book “The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing,” inspired generations of Americans to join the Agency.
“I would just like to say on behalf of my father, thank you very much for this award,” said Dr. Kahn’s son, Oliver, who attended the virtual ceremony in place of his father, who was unable to attend. “He has always held the NSA in the highest regard, and this is truly a great honor for him.”
For over half a century, Mr. Cotter fostered the adoption of advanced technology in support of NSA’s mission. He led the Agency in adopting high-performance computers and adapting them to the mission. He was also the founding director of the National Computer Security Center, whose influence on computerization extended to the entire IC and foreign partners.
“It’s extremely humbling, it really is, to go into the Hall of Honor,” Mr. Cotter said. “I have great respect for everyone in it, and I’m very grateful to the leadership of NSA who gave me the freedom and encouragement to do things that the Agency needed to have done.”
Added Mr. Cotter, “What you should know is today is also my birthday, so what a wonderful gift this is to me.”
Dr. Whitfield Diffie
Dr. Diffie’s innovative work in computer and internet security enhanced the security of all users, both Government and civilian. His research at university facilities and private labs led the way in computer security theory and in practical applications.
“Thank you again,” Dr. Diffie said, after highlighting the importance of intelligence.
Mr. Myer’s superior language skills and deep area knowledge were crucial to successful fulfillment of NSA’s missions in many crisis from the 1970s into the 21st century. In addition to his expert use of language in operational situations, he developed advanced reference materials and mentored the next generation of military and civilian linguists.
“I retired initially from the Agency in the mid 90s, and then a couple of days after 9/11, I got called back and worked another seven or eight years,” Mr. Myers said. “I enabled a lot of people to continue the work I was doing, and some of them are still [at NSA] working.”
Former Director Lt Gen Kenneth A. Minihan (ret.), who was inducted into the Hall of Honor in 2019, established the tribute to American cryptologic giants two decades ago.
“They were not only pioneers, but they were heroes,” NSA Deputy Director George Barnes said. “They set the path for us, and in every respect we follow in their footsteps. We wouldn’t do what we do today if it weren’t for their pioneering endeavors.”