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Code Warriors

Cover of Code Warriors

Code Warriors

NSA's Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union
Borrow Borrow
A sweeping, in-depth history of NSA, whose famous "cult of silence" has left the agency shrouded in mystery for decades

The National Security Agency was born out of the legendary codebreaking programs of World War II that cracked the famed Enigma machine and other German and Japanese codes, thereby turning the tide of Allied victory. In the postwar years, as the United States developed a new enemy in the Soviet Union, our intelligence community found itself targeting not soldiers on the battlefield, but suspected spies, foreign leaders, and even American citizens. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, NSA played a vital, often fraught and controversial role in the major events of the Cold War, from the Korean War to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Vietnam and beyond.
In Code Warriors, Stephen Budiansky—a longtime expert in cryptology—tells the fascinating story of how NSA came to be, from its roots in World War II through the fall of the Berlin Wall. Along the way, he guides us through the fascinating challenges faced by cryptanalysts, and how they broke some of the most complicated codes of the twentieth century. With access to new documents, Budiansky shows where the agency succeeded and failed during the Cold War, but his account also offers crucial perspective for assessing NSA today in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations. Budiansky shows how NSA's obsession with recording every bit of data and decoding every signal is far from a new development; throughout its history the depth and breadth of the agency's reach has resulted in both remarkable successes and destructive failures.
Featuring a series of appendixes that explain the technical details of Soviet codes and how they were broken, this is a rich and riveting history of the underbelly of the Cold War, and an essential and timely read for all who seek to understand the origins of the modern NSA.
From the Hardcover edition.
A sweeping, in-depth history of NSA, whose famous "cult of silence" has left the agency shrouded in mystery for decades

The National Security Agency was born out of the legendary codebreaking programs of World War II that cracked the famed Enigma machine and other German and Japanese codes, thereby turning the tide of Allied victory. In the postwar years, as the United States developed a new enemy in the Soviet Union, our intelligence community found itself targeting not soldiers on the battlefield, but suspected spies, foreign leaders, and even American citizens. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, NSA played a vital, often fraught and controversial role in the major events of the Cold War, from the Korean War to the Cuban Missile Crisis to Vietnam and beyond.
In Code Warriors, Stephen Budiansky—a longtime expert in cryptology—tells the fascinating story of how NSA came to be, from its roots in World War II through the fall of the Berlin Wall. Along the way, he guides us through the fascinating challenges faced by cryptanalysts, and how they broke some of the most complicated codes of the twentieth century. With access to new documents, Budiansky shows where the agency succeeded and failed during the Cold War, but his account also offers crucial perspective for assessing NSA today in the wake of the Edward Snowden revelations. Budiansky shows how NSA's obsession with recording every bit of data and decoding every signal is far from a new development; throughout its history the depth and breadth of the agency's reach has resulted in both remarkable successes and destructive failures.
Featuring a series of appendixes that explain the technical details of Soviet codes and how they were broken, this is a rich and riveting history of the underbelly of the Cold War, and an essential and timely read for all who seek to understand the origins of the modern NSA.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the cover 1

    The Russian Problem

    The men and women who aimed to supplant Mata Hari with the steady, efficient, reliable, and ever so much safer methods of science and technology began their first tentative foray into what they would always call, with a certain clinical detachment, "the Russian problem" on February 1, 1943. Almost all of the codebreakers who would work over the next several years to achieve the first breaks into the labyrinth of Russian communications secrets were newcomers to the business—which made them no different from the other thirteen thousand new recruits, military and civilian, who would by the war's end swell the explosively growing ranks of the U.S. Army and Navy signals intelligence headquarters in Washington.1 The variety of their backgrounds was extraordinary: career officers and new draftees, young women math majors just out of Smith or Vassar, partners of white-shoe New York law firms, electrical engineers from MIT, the entire ship's band from the battleship California after it was torpedoed by the Japanese in the attack on Pearl Harbor, winners of puzzle competitions, radio hobbyists, farm boys from Wisconsin, world-traveling ex-missionaries, and one of the world's foremost experts on the cuneiform tablets of ancient Assyria.

    In June 1943, Cecil Phillips was an eighteen-year-old chemistry student at the University of North Carolina who had just been rejected for the draft because of flat feet ("to my great pleasure and surprise," he later admitted); with no plans for the summer, he wandered into the U.S. Employment Service office in his hometown of Asheville, in the Blue Ridge Mountains, to see if he could get a job. The person there told him there was a lieutenant from the Army Signal Corps over at the town post office who had a large quota of clerk positions to fill.

    "How would you like to go to Washington and be a cryptographer?" the lieutenant asked him.

    "That sounds interesting," Phillips answered.

    The lieutenant, clearly surprised that someone actually knew what he was talking about, blurted out, "You mean you know what that means?"

    Phillips did, having once owned a Little Orphan Annie decoder ring, though that was about as far as his knowledge went. But it was good enough for the lieutenant, who administered him a general aptitude test on the spot, signed him up as a $1,440-a-year GS-2 junior clerk, and told him to report in a week to an address in Arlington, Virginia.2

    Brought in under nearly identical circumstances was a young home economics instructor, Gene Grabeel, who was teaching high school near Lynchburg in central Virginia and dissatisfied with her job when she met a young Army officer in the post office who was looking for college graduates to go to work at an undisclosed location near Washington, to do a job he could not offer any details about. (The officer, an infantry lieutenant who just days earlier had been posted with the First Army at Governors Island, New York, did not know himself what the work involved. Driven largely by the need to process volumes of Japanese army traffic that had suddenly become readable due to breakthroughs in several systems, the Army would hire four thousand new civilian employees for its signals intelligence operation in 1943 alone. In the rush to meet such burgeoning manpower requirements, the recruiters were as green as everyone else. The lieutenant had been ordered to report to Arlington Hall on Monday the week of Thanksgiving in November 1942; he spent the next day filling out administrative paperwork; Wednesday he was given a crash course on recruiting procedures; and on Thanksgiving morning he found himself at the post office in Lynchburg...
About the Author-
  • STEPHEN BUDIANSKY was the national security correspondent and foreign editor of U.S. News & World Report, Washington editor of Nature, and editor of World War II magazine. He is the author of six books of military and intelligence history, including Blackett's War, a Washington Post Notable Book. He has served as a Congressional Fellow, he frequently lectures on intelligence and military history, and his articles have appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic, The Economist, and other publications. He is a member of the editorial board of Cryptologia, the leading academic journal of codes, codebreaking, and cryptologic history.
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Code Warriors
Code Warriors
NSA's Codebreakers and the Secret Intelligence War Against the Soviet Union
Stephen Budiansky
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