Declassified Photos Give An Inside Look At The Ultra-Secret NSA

Last year, in celebration of its 60th anniversary, the National Security Agency published a digital memory book of declassified photos, audio tapes, and documents from its archives.

The multi-billion dollar agency first took shape in the 1930s, but its existence was kept a deep secret until a Senate investigation in the mid-70s.

Below are some of the most interesting from the NSA’s archives:

The original members of the NSA are seen below in this photograph from 1935. At the time the organisation was called the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service and was responsible for Army communications security.

The main responsibilities of NSA forerunners included decoding messages from foreign agents. A strip cipher device, such as the M-138 shown here, was used to by sliding a metal bar slid across a tablet of two scrambled alphabets.

President FDR’s authorization of women to take noncombatant military roles during WWII led to a heightened role of female cryptologists. Women were expected to type at least 100 words per minute with extreme accuracy since one mistake would mislead the message.

In this rare photo of a segregated office during World War II, William Coffee (standing) was the first African American supervisor in the Army’s cryptologic organisation.

Typing Pool nsa


An electromechanical device, known as a bombe, was developed to break German Enigma-machine-encrypted secret messages. Here is a photo of a bombe operator in the 1950s.

Nsa vintage 1940s


Throughout the 1960s, the NSA held an annual Miss NSA beauty pageant among its employees. In this undated photo, five NSA employees and contestants line up after participating in the pageant. The NSA also sponsored a yearly fall festival complete with pony rides.

Two men read from “hot line,” which was a direct communication link between Washington D.C., and Moscow in 1963. The first message sent by the United States was, “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog’s back 1234567890” to test that all of the keys were functioning correctly.

This undated photograph shows NSA employees at a supercomputer in the 1970s. The agency began incorporating desktop computers in the mid-1970s.

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