Codes, Ciphers & Mysteries: NSA Treasures Tell Their Secrets

Emergency Transmission at (redacted) - Unassigned Clone Troopers - Gateway  Gaming

Dear Human,
Ever heard an object speak? We each have a story to tell. We are unique objects from the collection of the National Security Agency—firsts, onlys, and breakthroughs of covert communications. Once upon a time, we made the difference between war and peace, life and death. We helped shape the world you live in. Today, we’re stepping out of the shadows. Listen to our stories.

                                                    —Sincerely,

                                                      Artifacts of the National Cryptologic Museum, NSA

 

 

 


Cypher Cylinder, US, late 1700s/early 1800s

Age is just a number. I may be the oldest true cipher device in the world—200 years give-or-take—so don’t expect me to remember everything. I’m very similar to a ‘wheel cypher’ Thomas Jefferson designed in the 1800s.

Wicker Basket, Japan, 1930s–1940s

Yes, me—a plain old basket. You see, random numbers make for secure codes. And nothing’s more random than pulling numbers out of a basket, right?

Enigma No. B207 Cipher Machine, Germany, 1937

I am the only one of my kind left. A secret version of Germany’s renowned World War II encryption machine. There were once 24 of us. Now it's only me.

PURPLE Analog #1 Decryption Device, US, 1940

I live in Infamy. I’m the most important artifact in this exhibition. U.S. Army codebreakers built me to replicate PURPLE, the Japanese Type B cipher machine, and break its code.

“Tunny”/ Lorenz SZ-40 Cipher Machine, Germany, 1941

I'm fast. How fast, you ask?

JN-25 Depth Analyzers, US, 1942

I turned the tide. I’ve been deep under cover. In fact, the public has never seen me before, though maybe you’ve heard about what I did. I’m good at analyzing number patterns. During WWII, I helped US codebreakers crack JN-25, Japan’s main naval code. No mean feat.

Stepping Switch from Colossus Mark II, UK, 1944

I hooked the big tuna. I may be small, but I was once part of a giant: Colossus, the first programmable, electronic, digital computer. In the early 1940s, British engineer Tommy Flowers designed Colossus to crack the cipher of that fishy machine, the “Tunny." Thanks to me and Tommy, the Allies read German war plans in almost real time.

Notebook of Comanche Codewords, US, 1945

No machine could have invented me. Maybe that’s why I’m a code that was never broken.

PACE TR-10 Analog Computer, US, 1960

Who’s Your PC’s Daddy-O? Like my classy chassis? Back in the '60s, I was one cool cat—the first desktop analog computer used at the NSA: “Eliminates drudgery...stimulates creativity...” My owner’s manual said it all. Solves math equations in under a minute.

ETCRRM-II Cipher Machine, Norway, 1950s

After the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, I stepped in to enable direct communications between the White House and the Kremlin, to help the two superpowers avoid another crisis. I did the encryption. You thought the “hotline” was a red telephone? Don’t believe everything you see on TV.

T63-SU12 Teleprinter, East Germany, 1962

I was a hotline in a Cold War. That you humans almost brought annihilation upon yourselves is hard for us machines to compute: 1962 + Cuba + Missiles = Armageddon? Almost. After that near miss, the US and Soviets sent each other teleprinters. My Russian language was used in Washington, DC, to send and receive messages directly to and from Moscow.

Challenger’s KG-46 Encryption Device, US, 1979

Seventy three seconds into flight, the ship broke apart. My crew lost their lives. I was rescued from the debris and am here to tell their story.

CipherTAC 2000, US, late 1990s

Security comes in all shapes and sizes. Sure, now you have more stylish models. But back in the ‘90s, I was right on trend as the NSA’s first secure cell phone.

Explore the Codes Exhibit

Permanent Exhibit

Get an inside view on the key WWII code-breaking stories of Enigma, Purple (the Japanese diplomatic code) and Midway (JN25), see rare code-related artifacts, and try their hand at a variety of interactives, such as the Caesar Cipher and Cardano Grille.