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News | May 15, 2015

NSA Observes Armed Forces Week - Coast Guard

The men and women of the United States Armed Forces work tirelessly to protect and uphold the safety and freedom of the country and its citizens. Each service has uniquely contributed to the fields of intelligence and cryptology through technologic advancements, critical breakthroughs, and amazing discoveries.

Each day this week, NSA/CSS will honor one of the services by highlighting significant cryptologic events of that service throughout our nation's history.


While not a direct member of the United States Coast Guard (USCG), Elizebeth Friedman was the Treasury Department's cryptanalyst, hired in 1924, and assisted the Department of the Treasury with code breaking. She began working with the Coast Guard after passage of the Volstead Act, better known as the National Prohibition Act. Liquor smugglers frequently made use of radios to coordinate their activities and began to encode their messages. Friedman worked on breaking these illicit codes. She is credited with "breaking" the code of more than 12,000 different encoded radio messages and was the star government witness at a number of smugglers' trials.

During World War II, USCG Unit 387 (later OP-20-G) was augmented as part of the Navy, which happens during wartime, and served as a major cryptologic contributor to the nation. The unit worked to break Japanese merchant vessel codes to assist intelligence activities.

The Coast Guard Cryptologic Group was officially commissioned in 2007. This command oversees Coast Guardsmen assigned to NSA/CSS headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, and coordinates the efforts of subordinate Coast Guard units in Hawaii, Texas, and Colorado. Today, the U.S. Coast Guard, currently part of the Department of Homeland Security, uses cryptology to support its unique present-day missions, which include countering drug smugglers, human traffickers, and large-scale illegal fishing operations, and performing other military and homeland security operations.