News | Sept. 30, 2015

Symposium for Cryptologic History has its own rich history

Historians from NSA's Center for Cryptologic History (CCH), other parts of the Intelligence Community, and the Department of Defense, as well as distinguished scholars from American and foreign academic institutions, veterans of the profession, and the interested public, will gather at the end of October for two days of reflection and debate on the cryptologic past.

The CCH Symposium on Cryptologic History has been held in October since the first symposium in 1990. From 1990 to 1995 the nation was marking the fiftieth anniversary of World War II, and the themes of the then annual symposiums were keyed to the events of half a century before. After 1995, the symposium schedule moved to a biennial basis.

These sessions attract the best outside scholars in the field, as well as cryptologic veterans who participate in many of the events discussed.

The symposiums were held in the NSA's Friedman Auditorium until 1999. This was a big draw for many outside visitors. Although they had to be escorted through the hallways, conference attendees were permitted to enter the NSA complex and get at least a glimpse of what the Agency looked like.

The 2001 symposium, scheduled for just six weeks after the terrorist strikes, was canceled. Under new security policies, subsequent programs were held in different venues outside the NSA complex. They have grown in size and number of presentations, and have attracted scholars from around the world.

The symposiums between 2005 and 2013 were managed by Dr. Kent Sieg, a historian with the CCH. He had the vision to bring in many newer scholars in the field and expand the range of topics covered at each symposium.

CCH Historian Dave Hatch, who has attended all of the symposiums since 1990, told his favorite symposium story.

In 1994 the symposium starred two Navajo codetalkers, who spoke of their experiences in World War II and gave a demonstration of codetalking. Not only was every seat in the auditorium occupied, but both aisles were filled with people standing and sitting.

Hatch recalled, "This was the only time in four decades of attending functions in the Friedman that I can remember seeing a spontaneous standing ovation at the end of the presentation."

The CCH will host the 2015 Symposium on Cryptologic History at Johns Hopkins University, Applied Physics Lab, Kossiakoff Center in Laurel, Md., October 22-23, 2015, with the goal of being as memorable as all its predecessors.

View the agenda and schedule for the symposium here.

Learn more about NSA and cryptologic history here.