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Spy Treks: Part 3 National Cryptologic Museum

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No sir! I didn’t take no pictures!

Located adjacent to NSA Headquarters, Ft. George G. Meade, Maryland, the National Cryptologic Museum (NCM) houses a collection of thousands of artifacts that collectively serves to sustain the history of the cryptologic profession. I found it amusing when I first learned the museum was located in a former motel. It felt somewhat covert, like the NSA was hiding something in plain sight

Then I heard the rumor that an NSA employee worked too late one night, and opted to stay the night in the motel. When he awoke the next morning, he looked out the window of his room, and realized his NSA office was in his direct line of sight. Major security issue and serious faux pas!

Apparently, the motel operators were made “an offer they couldn’t refuse,” sold the motel, and disappeared. Eventually, the building was turned into a museum to hold the NSA’s extensive collection.

I imagine like most people, I laughed the story off until I decided to make a visit. While not a secret, (there are signs on the roadway) the National Cryptologic Museum is hardly well known. I called in advance to set up interviews, and find out if there were any photography restrictions for the media. After jumping through the appropriate hoops, I set out on my way.

I knew this wasn’t going to be my usual museum visit as soon as I pulled my car off Rt. 32 onto Canine Road. There was an NSA Security car sitting on the top of the hill, watching all of the cars approach the turn-off. Traffic stopped for a short while, and when it resumed, I eventually passed two more security cars at the bottom of the off ramp.

After parking in the guest lot, I walked through National Vigilance Park to the museum. National Vigilance Park and its Aerial Reconnaissance Memorial honors those “silent warriors” who risked, and often lost, their lives performing airborne signals intelligence missions during the Cold War. The backdrop for the park is a semicircle of trees, each representing the various types of aircraft downed during U.S. aerial reconnaissance missions.

Since I had called in advance, I had been specifically warned where to stand to shoot any images, and fortunately, I followed the instructions to the letter for I hadn’t been out of my car more that two or three minutes when a helpful security agent pulled up, strolled over and asked to see my camera. After a quick check, chat and call up to the museum to verify my credentials I was allowed to go on my way. I you visit, make very, very sure you don’t point your cameras toward the NSA complex.

Still, over 500,000 visitors from around the world visit the museum each year, and they manage to get in and out fine.

The NCM collection contains thousands of artifacts, including numerous working World War II German Enigma machines (two of them are available for visitors to try out), and a Navy Bomb used to break it.

Kriegsmarine Enigma
Photo Courtesy of Wikipedia: RadioFan

Displays discuss the history of American cryptology and the people, machines, techniques, and locations concerned. Initially housing NSA artifacts for viewing by employees, the museum quickly developed into a collection of U.S. cryptologic history, with some artifacts dating back to pre-American Revolutionary War times.

Click here if you’d like to take a Virtual Tour of The National Cryptologic Museum

National Cryptologic Museum

9900 Colony Seven Road,

Fort Meade, MD 20701

(301) 688-5849

Monday-Friday 9:00am – 4:00pm

Saturdays 10:00am – 2:00pm (1st and 3rd of the month)

Closed Sundays and Federal Holidays

Admission is free.

Donations to the NCM Foundation are accepted.

Photography is allowed inside the museum; however, flash photography is prohibited in certain areas of the museum due to the age of some of the artifacts.

Group tours should be scheduled in advance.

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