And this is Steve Ember with the VOA
Special English program EXPLORATIONS.
Today we visit a small museum in the state of Maryland. It is called the National Cryptologic
Museum. It is filled with information
that was once very secret.
little National Cryptologic Museum is on the Fort George G. Meade military base
near Washington, D.C. It tells the
story of cryptology and the men and women who have worked in this unusual
profession. The word cryptology comes
from the Greek "kryptos logos." It
means "hidden word." Cryptology is
writing or communicating using secret methods to hide the meaning of your
museum shows many pieces of equipment that were once used to make information
secret. It also has equipment that was
used in an effort to read secret information. One unusual example is a kind of
bed covering called a quilt. Quilts are
made by hand. They usually have a
colorful design sewn on them. One
special kind of quilt was used to pass on secret information.
early history of the United States, black people from Africa were used as
slaves in the southern states. Slaves
sewed quilts that had very unusual designs.
These quilts really told stories.
The quilts were made with designs that told slaves how to escape to
freedom in the northern states.
The museum has an example that shows a design
that represents the North Star. Slaves
knew they had to travel from the South to the North to escape to freedom. The quilt tells a slave to follow the North
Star. Other designs in the quilt
represent roads and a small house.
experts say about sixty thousand slaves escaped to freedom during the period of
slavery. The experts do not know how
much the quilts really helped, but they did provide needed information for
those trying to escape.
Cryptologic Museum has several examples that show the importance of creating secret
information, or trying to read secret information written by foreign
nations. Secret information is also
One of the most important displays at the
museum shows American attempts to read Japanese military information codes
during World War Two. The Japanese Navy used special machines to change their
written information into secret codes.
This coded information was then transmitted by radio to ships and
bases. Much of this information
contained secret military plans and orders.
of the Japanese Navy believed no one could read or understand the secret
codes. They were wrong. An American Naval officer named Joseph
Rochefort worked very hard to break the Japanese code. He did this in an effort to learn what the
Japanese Navy was planning.
Rochefort did his work in a small building on the American naval base at Pearl
Harbor, Hawaii. It was early in
nineteen forty-two. The American naval commander in the Pacific Ocean was
Admiral Chester Nimitz. His forces were
much smaller than the Japanese Naval forces.
And the Japanese had been winning many victories.
Rochefort had worked for several months to read the secret Japanese Naval code
called J-N-Twenty-Five. If he could
read enough of the code, Mister Rochefort would be able to provide Admiral
Nimitz with very valuable information.
Admiral Nimitz could use this information to make the necessary
decisions to plan for battle. By the
early part of the year, Mister Rochefort and the men who worked with him could
read a little less than twenty percent of the Japanese J-N-Twenty-Five code.
beginning of nineteen forty-two, the Japanese code carried information that
discussed a place called "A-F." Mister Rochefort felt the Japanese were
planning an important battle aimed at "A-F."
where was "A-F"? After several weeks,
Mister Rochefort and other naval experts told Admiral Nimitz that their best
idea was that the "A-F" in the Japanese code was the American-held island of
Admiral Nimitz said he could not plan an
attack or a defense based on only an idea.
He needed more information.
experts decided to try a trick. They
told the American military force on Midway to broadcast a false message. The message would say the island was having
problems with its water-processing equipment.
The message asked that fresh water be sent immediately to the
island. This message was not sent in
Several days later, a Japanese radio broadcast in the J-N-Twenty-Five code said
that "A-F" had little water.
Mister Rochefort had the evidence he
needed. "A-F" was now known to be the island of Midway. He also told Admiral Nimitz the Japanese
would attack Midway on June third.
Nimitz used this information to secretly move his small force to an area near
Midway and wait for the Japanese Navy.
The battle that followed was a huge American victory. History experts now say the Battle of Midway
was the beginning of the American victory in the Pacific. That victory was possible because Joseph
Rochefort learned to read enough of the Japanese code to discover the meaning
of the two letters "A-F."
American code has never been broken. Perhaps it never will. It was used in the Pacific during World War
Two. For many years the government
would not discuss this secret code.
Listen for a moment to this very unusual code. Then you may understand
why the Japanese military forces were never able to understand any of it.
have guessed that the code is in the voice of a Native American. The man you just heard is singing a simple
song in the Navajo language. Very few
people outside the Navajo nation are able to speak any of their very difficult
beginning of World War Two, the United States Marine Corps asked members of the
Navajo tribe to train as Code Talkers.
Cryptologic Museum says about four hundred Navajos served as Marine Corps Code
Talkers during the war. They could take
a sentence in English and change it into their language in about twenty
seconds. A code machine at that time
took about thirty minutes to do the same work.
The Navajo Code Talkers took part in every
battle the Marines entered in the Pacific during World War Two. The Japanese
were very skilled at breaking codes.
But they were never able to understand any of what they called "The
years after the war, the American public did not know about the valuable work
done by the Marine Navajo Code Talkers.
The United States government kept their work a secret and their language
continued to be a valuable method of passing secret information.
Cryptologic Museum has many pieces of mechanical and electric equipment used to
change words into code. It also has
almost as many examples of machines used to try to change code back into useful
Perhaps the most famous is a World War Two
German code machine called the Enigma.
The word "enigma" means a puzzle or a problem that is difficult to
German Enigma machine was used by the German military to pass orders and
plans. The United States, Britain, and
the government of Poland were all successful in learning to read information
transmitted by the Enigma. It took
thousands of people and cost millions of dollars to read the Enigma
information. However, the time, effort
and money resulted in a quicker end to the war against Nazi Germany.
National Cryptologic Museum belongs to the United States National Security
Agency. The agency is usually called
the N.S.A. One of the N.S.A.'s many jobs is cryptography for the United States
government. The work of the N.S.A. is
not open to the public. However, the
National Cryptologic Museum tells the story of the men and women who work at
the N.S.A. long after their work is no longer secret.
part of the museum shows the value of this secret, difficult and demanding
work. Visitors say it is really fun to
see equipment and read documents that were once very important and very, very
program was written by Paul Thompson.
It was produced by Cynthia Kirk.
I'm Steve Ember.
Mary Tillotson. Join us again next week
for EXPLORATIONS, a program in Special English on the Voice of America.