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Decoding the Great War

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National Cryptologic Museum

8290 Colony Seven Road

Annapolis Junction, MD 20701

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Cryptology is a field seldom studied by historians and military history enthusiasts. However, the study of codes and ciphers has played a crucial part in shaping world history. Key decisions made on battlefields throughout time and around the world were frequently the result of intelligence collected by those who served in silence. World War I was no different. The advent of the telephone and radio as a means of communication brought new challenges to commanders and political leaders to disseminate and protect information.

This panel discussion by three experts in Intelligence and Cryptology of World War I will discuss unique aspects of Intelligence and Cryptology from the war:

World War I as an Intelligence Revolution, Michael Warner, Command Historian, U.S. Cyber Command

The war altered many aspects of intelligence profoundly, and added new fields of the intelligence craft that had not existed before 1914. By the war’s end, none of the major combatants ran their intelligence functions as they had at the conflict’s beginning. No other conflict changed intelligence as much in so few years. Author and historian Michael Warner presents the evolution of intelligence collection on the battlefield from something virtually discounted to a major part of tactical and strategic decision making.


An Ear to the Air and an Ear to the Ground: Radio Intelligence in the American Expeditionary Forces, Betsy Rohaly Smoot, Historian, Center for Cryptologic History, National Security Agency

This overview by the top World War I expert at the Agency's Center for Cryptologic History will cover cryptologic work in the American Expeditionary Forces. The presentation, supported by photographs and illustrations, will include stories of COMINT (communications intelligence) work and code making during The Great War. This presentation will be suitable for the general public and people who are interested in WWI but who have no specific cryptologic background.

Native American Code Talkers: The Secret Weapon of World War I, Dr. Steve Huffman, Retired Research Analyst, National Security Agency

The extraordinary story of Native American Code Talkers began in the trenches of France in World War I. The advent of telephone and radio gave military commanders a powerful new tool for command and control on the massive battlefields of that war, but also made their communications uniquely vulnerable to enemy eavesdropping. Native American Code Talkers in the U.S. Army provided perhaps the only truly secure method of voice communication used in that war, shortening battles and saving lives. This talk will tell the story of those first code talkers.

Q&A will follow and then Ms. Smoot will present a detailed explanation of the Zimmermann Telegram and a World War I Intercept Station at the museum's World War I exhibit.

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National Cryptologic Museum

8290 Colony Seven Road

Annapolis Junction, MD 20701

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