The National Cryptologic Museum is the National Security Agency's principal gateway to the public. It shares the Nation's, as well as NSA's, cryptologic legacy and place in world history. Located adjacent to NSA Headquarters at Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland, the Museum houses thousands of artifacts that collectively serve to sustain the history of the cryptologic profession. Here visitors can catch a glimpse of some of the most dramatic moments in the history of American cryptology: the people who devoted their lives to cryptology and national defense, the machines and devices they developed, the techniques they used, and the places where they worked. For the visitor, some events in American and world history will take on a new meaning. For the cryptologic professional, it is an opportunity to absorb the heritage of the profession.
Originally designed to house artifacts from the Agency and to give employees a place to reflect on past successes and failures, the Museum quickly developed into a priceless collection of the Nation's cryptologic history. The Museum opened to the public in December 1993 and immediately became a highlight of the area, being called, "America's Hidden Treasure."
Being one of the first public museums in the Intelligence Community, the Museum hosts approximately 70,000 visitors annually from all over the country and throughout the world, allowing them a peek into the secret world of codemaking and codebreaking.
The Museum is also an invaluable educational tool, benefiting thousands of students and teachers every year. Staff and docents provide that allow students of all ages the chance to learn about cryptology's impact on history and the possibility of exciting jobs in an area they may not have thought possible.
The Museum has been featured in a plethora of international TV, print, and radio media and has hosted visitors and dignitaries from around the world.
National Vigilance Park, which stood adjacent to the Museum, is temporarily closed. Its three aircraft are in storage. The park showcased Army, Navy, and Air Force reconnaissance aircraft used for secret missions. The Museum anticipates returning them for display in the 2021-22 timeframe as part of the future upgrades to the Museum and National Vigilance Park.
The National Cryptologic Museum has had an adjunct reference library since it opened in 1993. The library not only supports the exhibits, but also encourages visitors to research various areas of cryptologic history. Over the years, the library has become an important resource to students, scholars, and those with an interest in this once secret world.
The Museum Library maintains a collection of unclassified and declassified books and documents relating to every aspect of cryptology. The books and records complement the museum exhibits and artifacts, but also offer unique and in-depth sources of information for researchers. A listing of those sources can be found here.
The library has a very large collection of commercial codebooks. These codebooks were used by all manner of businesses to reduce the costs of cable communications as well as to provide a measure of security for trade secrets. Modern communications and encryption methods have made these books obsolete and they are mainly of historical interest. Some of the most sought after items in the library include the declassified documents. The Museum Library holds all of the released VENONA documents. NSA's Special Research Histories (SRH) provide documentation of NSA's predecessor organizations in the U.S. Army and Navy's cryptologic services. The SRH collection (available in its entirety at the National Archives in Record Group 457) consists of declassified reports dating predominantly to World War II. The library also holds some of the oral histories taken by NSA's Center for Cryptologic History.
A few select, unclassified monographs are also available to the public from the Museum Library. They cover a wide range of cryptologic subjects from early American ciphers to the Vietnam War. Most of the monographs were written and published by NSA's Center for Cryptologic History. These monographs go into greater depth than the museum exhibits or museum pamphlets and help to provide a greater understanding of the events in which cryptology played a role in world history.
The collection nearly doubled by the gift of the leading historian of cryptology, David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers. The works range from the first printed book on cryptology, the 1518 Polygraphiae Libri Sex by the German mystic Johannes Trithemius, to Kahn's notes of his interviews with modern cryptologists.
In June 2010, the library received another gift of the archives of the late John Byrne who invented what he called "Chaocipher" in 1918. Among these papers are an enciphered excerpt from a speech by General Douglas MacArthur, Chaocipher - The Ultimate Elusion, worksheets for Chaocipher Exhibit 2, blueprints of the Chaocipher, Preliminary Instructions for Chaocipher II (a computerized version of the Chaocipher developed by Byrne's son John Jr.), correspondence between Byrne and the RD Development Company, and letters from Byrne to U.S. Navy Capt. J.M. Irish and Greg Mellen.
The Museum Library is open to the public; however, the hours vary. Please call ahead to ensure that a staff member will be present to assist you (301-688-2145). The library is non-circulating, but photocopying is permitted.
Museum Gift Shop
The NSA Civilian Welfare Fund Gift Shop, located within the National Cryptologic Museum, offers a variety of merchandise ranging from unique NSA logo items to books and videos relating to the art and science of cryptology. Gift Shop hours are 10:00 a.m. - 3:30 p.m., Monday through Friday; and 10:30 a.m. - 1:30 p.m., the 1st and 3rd Saturdays of each month.
Adjacent to the Museum, is the National Vigilance Park. The park showcases two reconnaissance aircraft used for secret missions. The RU-8D serves to represent the Army Airborne Signal Intelligence contribution in Vietnam and the C-130 memorializes an Air Force aircraft that was shot down over Soviet Armenia during the Cold War.