FORT MEADE, Md. — Partnership, collaboration, and creative innovation was a common thread for the latest pioneers recently inducted into the Cryptologic Hall of Honor at the National Security Agency (NSA).
Clifford Cocks, James Ellis, Malcolm Williamson, Joseph Gilligan Jr., and Jack Mortick were commended by GEN Paul M. Nakasone, Commander, U.S. Cyber Command, Director, NSA/Chief CSS, and George Barnes, Deputy Director, NSA, for their pioneering accomplishments in the field of American cryptology — and as the first class to be awarded the NSA Public Service Medallion.
The Hall of Honor was created in 1999 and pays tribute to innovators who rendered distinguished service to American cryptology and its related fields. The National Cryptologic Foundation makes nominations to the NSA Center for Cryptologic History for induction into the Hall of Honor.
“Of the hundreds of thousands of extraordinary cryptologists who have walked these halls, only 99 have been inducted into the Hall, and today, that number increases to 104,” GEN Nakasone said. “I want to thank these inductees and their families for their contributions to the field of cryptology.”
Clifford Cocks, James Ellis, and Malcolm Williamson
The collaborative work of this Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) team resulted in the discovery of public key cryptography (PKC), which now secures many components of modern global communication infrastructure — including banking, e-commerce, and encrypted messaging.
Witnessing the benefits of PKC technology, American cryptologists began deploying it, which strengthened the NSA-GCHQ partnership and forever changed the future of American cryptology.
“For this award, principal recognition should go to James Ellis for his truly original mind, and for having the idea that secure communication is possible without any primary exchange,” Mr. Cocks said. “At the time, this idea was so outrageous, but he showed how it might be done.”
The trio was inducted into the Cryptologic Hall of Honor on the heels of last year’s celebration of 75 years of partnership between the United States and the United Kingdom.
During the induction ceremony, GCHQ Director Sir Jeremy Fleming paid tribute to the GCHQ group and expressed the importance of the partnership.
“Because of [this groups] brilliant effort, we can see the unseeable, know the unknowable, and safeguard our most secret secrets,” Sir Jeremy said. “Through the [NSA-GCHQ] partnership, we keep each other safe. That’s been the case for 75 years, and that is still the case today.”
Mr. Cocks, Mr. Ellis, and Mr. Williamson are the second group to ever be inducted into the Cryptologic Hall of Honor — following in the footsteps of the Native American Code Talkers, who were inducted in 2013.
Joseph Gilligan Jr.
A pioneer in signals intelligence collection and exploitation capabilities, Mr. Gilligan led NSA through the communications revolution of the 1980s with his impressive ability to establish unprecedented high-tech programs.
Those who worked alongside Mr. Gilligan admired how he trusted his people and managed to get the job done — no matter how impossible it may have seemed.
“Joe always felt he was working for peace in this world, so hopefully his work will bring about some peace,” said Elisabeth Gilligan, who accepted the honor on behalf of her husband. “I would like to thank the people who remember him.”
During his 41-year career, Mr. Mortick became a leader in crypto-mathematics — shaping the mathematics research workforce to meet future challenges through strategic recruitment and development.
Mr. Mortick developed various mathematical theories and algorithms needed to confront the most critical issues at NSA. He also offered a course on analysis that has been the basis for multiple Agency courses for more than three decades — leaving a lasting impression on the advancement and invigoration of mathematics at NSA.
“Although we don’t know many details, we know our dad’s efforts were part of a team effort and not an individual one,” Mr. Mortick’s three daughters said. “We know he feels joy, satisfaction, and privilege for doing what he loved.”
Mr. Barnes further honored the accomplishments and contributions of this year’s honorees, emphasizing how their innovations have shaped the future of cryptology.
“You are the ones whose shoulders we stand upon,” he said.