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The Legacy of Women in American Cryptology: Part 1

By The National Cryptologic Museum

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Women have played a pivotal role in American cryptologic history since the origin of the country itself.

As NSA kicks off Women’s History Month, we celebrate the achievements of women who excelled in the field of cryptology and paved the way for the women of today.

The National Cryptologic Museum features a tribute to these influential women with their “Women in American Cryptology” exhibit, which honors those whose contributions in cryptology opened doors and raised ceilings for those in the field today and into the future. Few will have heard of most of the women named, but they deserve to have their stories told.

Each week in March, we will share the stories of five influential women who have shaped the history of cryptology. Check back next Friday for the second part in our series.

Maureen Baginski

Maureen Baginski began her cryptologic career as a Russian language instructor in 1979. During her tenure, Ms. Baginski held various operational management positions, including a tour as a senior operations officer in the National Security Operations Center (NSOC) and as the Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) National Intelligence Officer for Russia.

Ms. Baginski held the position of SIGINT director during the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. She directed the Extended SIGINT Enterprise during this time to acquire, produce, and disseminate foreign SIGINT to a wide variety of government and military customers. She interacted with the Executive Branch, members of the Intelligence Community (IC), and worldwide SIGINT partners, providing crucial information during a critical time. She left NSA in 2003 to take a senior position at the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Dorothy T. Blum

Dorothy T. Blum began her cryptologic career with the Army Security Agency in 1944. During 36 years of distinguished service at NSA, Mrs. Blum significantly changed the way NSA did cryptanalysis. As a technical expert, she was a pioneer in the use of computers to manipulate and automatically process data. Later, as a manager, she showed a great deal of empathy for her subordinates and worked to enhance the careers of everyone in her organization.

Mrs. Blum was born in New York City in 1924. After earning a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College, she joined the Army’s wartime cryptologic organization and remained in the business as it moved from the Armed Forces Security Agency into NSA.

Mrs. Blum spent much of her career in the computer science field and in 1972 was appointed chief of the Computer Operations Organization, C7. At that time, she was the only woman in the C7 management chain. From 1977 until her death in 1980, she served as chief of the Requirements and Plans office of the Telecommunications and Computer Services Organization.

All that knew her respected Mrs. Blum’s wealth of experience and talents. She encouraged innovative thinking in complex management and personnel-related problems as well as technical issues. She had a sincere personal interest in people and was well known for the astute and effective career guidance and counseling she gave to many Agency employees. Mrs. Blum was a charter member of the Association for Computer Machinery and was elected as one of the 100 most outstanding women in the Federal government.

Sarah “Sally” Botsai

“Sally” Botsai, originally from Pennsylvania, attended Bucknell University studying political science. She started work at NSA in 1957 shortly after graduation. After only a year in Operations, she resigned and attended the University of Pittsburgh to earn her master’s degree. Having received her degree, she returned to NSA but continued her education, eventually earning her Ph.D. in International Relations in 1972.

Dr. Botsai spent twelve years in Operations before she was selected for a tour as the NSA representative in the White House Situation Room. She was the first NSA woman to hold this position. Her job was to select and synthesize information to be included in the morning brief for the National Security Advisor and the President. After two years, she returned to Fort Meade, but six months later she was asked to return to the White House as the deputy director of the White House Situation Room. She held this position until 1976.

Following her duty in the White House, Dr. Botsai attended the National War College, again the first NSA woman to do so. She graduated in 1977. From there she held a variety of senior-level positions, including deputy inspector general and the NSA liaison to the War College.

“Sally” Botsai received the Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1976 and the Director’s Distinguished Service Medal in 1998.

After 40 years of service, “Sally” Botsai retired in 1998.

Mary “Polly” Budenbach

Polly Budenbach, a graduate of Smith College, began her career as a novice civilian analyst in WWII with the Navy’s cryptologic organization, OP-20-G. She worked on a variety of Japanese naval systems, including JADE. She received the Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1945.

Following the war, Mrs. Budenbach remained with the Navy’s cryptologic organization until it became integrated with the Armed Forces Security Agency  and NSA. Later, in NSA, she worked the Russian problem and then directed the efforts of a group of experts in the Technical Consultants organization. This group was a think tank where organizations sent their toughest cryptanalytic problems. She was chief of the Office of Technical Projects and deputy chief of G group (target countries other than the Soviet Union and China) under Frank Raven. In 1969, she was considered one of the highest technical authorities in the U.S. Government in several specialized fields. She was, at one time, the highest paid woman in NSA and was probably the first woman supergrade (the highest ranking and highest paid positions in Civil Service at the time). Budenbach was awarded the NSA Meritorious Civilian Service Award in 1975 and the Federal Women’s Award in 1969, which she accepted “for all the very dedicated and able women at NSA.” Mrs. Budenbach retired in 1975.

Ann Caracristi

Ann Z. Caracristi came to Washington less than a week after graduating from Russell Sage College in Troy, New York, anxious “to do something for the war effort.” That “something” was to work as a cryptanalyst with the Army Signal Security Agency. Except for a brief stint in publishing immediately after World War II, this wartime job grew into a stellar career spanning almost 40 years.

Ms. Caracristi was born in 1921 in Bronx, New York. She graduated from college in 1942 with a bachelor’s degree in English and history. She was hired by the Army’s cryptologic organization that June as an assistant cryptologic specialist. Her initial assignment was sorting raw traffic for the team studying Japanese army enciphered messages. However, she quickly advanced to cryptanalysis and supervision of other cryptanalysts.

During her career she became chief of several operational and research elements in the NSA. She was a pioneer in the application of early computers and mechanized processing to cryptanalysis. She established a new laboratory facility for studying new communications phenomena. She also created the organizational infrastructure to train and make effective use of one of the largest groups of new employees ever entering into NSA.

Besides her organizational duties, Ms. Caracristi served on a wide range of special boards and committees that helped to shape national cryptologic policies and Intelligence Community (IC) relationships. She was also a member of director-level promotion boards and helped design NSA’s career development program.

Her expertise, knowledge, professionalism, and determined response to the challenge of tough intelligence problems brought her rapid advancement at NSA. Often, at each stage, Ms. Caracristi was one of the first women to attain a particular senior-level grade. In 1959, she was promoted into the ranks of the supergrades. In 1975, she became the first woman at NSA to be promoted to GS18 (the highest ranking and highest paid position in Civil Service at the time). In 1980, she was named as NSA’s first woman deputy director. That same year, she also received the Department of Defense (DOD) Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the DoD’s highest civilian honor.

After her retirement in 1982, Ms. Caracristi remained active in the IC by serving on the NSA Scientific Advisory Board, Chief of Naval Operations Executive Panel, and President Clinton’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board. On this board, she was the chairperson for the Middle East Task Force, where she led a comprehensive review of U.S. intelligence activities in that region.

Ms. Caracristi passed away at the age of 94 in January 2016.

Visit the National Cryptologic Museum to see this impressive “Women in American Cryptology” exhibit in person, among the many other exhibits that explore the expansive history of American cryptology. The National Cryptologic Museum is located at the intersection of Maryland Route 32 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway (I-295), adjacent to the headquarters of the National Security Agency. Admission and parking are free! Click here for hours, directions, and other information. You can also follow the museum on Facebook.