Feeds

Museum unscrambles secret agency's past

But recent activity still matter of national security, natch

3 Big data security analytics techniques

As sanitised as the NSA's secret history arguably is for this display, this is a much better museum than the private Spy Museum in downtown DC, which we visited a day later. The Spy Museum is all flash and celebrities, using the worst of today's multimedia jazz to distract and entertain while failing to provide anything of substance outside the book section of its gift shop.

The NSA museum, by contrast, is filled with detail and history, even if it is the NSA's greatest hits: Enigma machines, the Bombe; the "CodeTalker" Navajos from World War II, SIGSALY, its first secure voice telephone system, and other such safely past triumphs. Many of the machines in question are the originals, though the SIGSALY, like the great seal the KGB used to spy on the US Embassy in Moscow, is a mock-up. A logical decision, since the original weighed 55 tons, was made up of 40 racks of equipment, and took 13 people to operate for a single call between the Pentagon and the machine's London home, the basement of Selfridge's (it didn't fit in Churchill's office, so they ran a wire).

The Spy Museum also, being private, does not allow photography. The NSA museum, despite its owner's secrecy, is public, so except for the rarest 16th century books, you can photograph anything you like and admission is free. Everything in the museum is unclassified.

"We hope," the curator said, "that the successes of the past will help people understand the role cryptology has played in protecting national security throughout history and that they will be able extrapolate to the present day." In other words, they hope we will believe that they are doing just as great, important stuff right now even if they can't tell us about it. The museum, he added, also provides NSA staff with a way of explaining their jobs to their friends and family.

Vietnam is probably the best example of the museum's dual nature. The curator freely admitted it was a losing battle, citing a story told on a recent trip to the country by Daniel Ellsberg (time has gone by; people who used to face off angrily on opposite sides can be nostalgic together now) listing the number of nations the Vietnamese have fended off. Even so, he says, the NSA's work enabled them to predict the biggest offensives. Like Tom Lehrer in Folk Song Army: "They may have won all the battles - but we had all the good songs!"

Where the NSA's intelligence efforts failed them is in the gift shop, where the choice of T-shirts had narrowed to Small and XXL. ®

You can read more of Wendy's secrets at pelicancrossing.net.

3 Big data security analytics techniques

More from The Register

next story
Obama allows NSA to exploit 0-days: report
If the spooks say they need it, they get it
Samsung Galaxy S5 fingerprint scanner hacked in just 4 DAYS
Sammy's newbie cooked slower than iPhone, also costs more to build
Putin tells Snowden: Russia conducts no US-style mass surveillance
Gov't is too broke for that, Russian prez says
Snowden-inspired crypto-email service Lavaboom launches
German service pays tribute to Lavabit
Mounties always get their man: Heartbleed 'hacker', 19, CUFFED
Canadian teen accused of raiding tax computers using OpenSSL bug
One year on: diplomatic fail as Chinese APT gangs get back to work
Mandiant says past 12 months shows Beijing won't call off its hackers
Call of Duty 'fragged using OpenSSL's Heartbleed exploit'
So it begins ... or maybe not, says one analyst
Heartbleed exploit, inoculation, both released
File under 'this is going to hurt you more than it hurts me'
prev story

Whitepapers

Securing web applications made simple and scalable
In this whitepaper learn how automated security testing can provide a simple and scalable way to protect your web applications.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.