NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum (NCM) is thriving and plans to keep growing as it welcomes a new Director. As the Agency’s principle gateway to the public, the museum has accelerated its virtual outreach efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic, proving you don’t have to leave home to enjoy its treasures. The new Director will continue expanding the museum’s reach. Dr. Vince Houghton, who brings a deep background in intelligence and history, joined the Agency last month after serving as historian and curator of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. Dr. Houghton said he already is impressed with the professionalism of the current staff.
“The staff of the museum has done an amazing job, and I am confident the future is bright,” he said.
Dr. Houghton joins the NCM at an exciting time. Plans for the Cyber Center for Education and Innovation (CCEI) on the campus of NSA-Washington (NSAW) are moving forward. Once complete, CCEI will serve as the museum’s new home.
The state-of-the-art CCEI will offer over 70,000 square feet of conference space and classrooms, providing a venue focused on delivering programs that encourage government, industry, and academia to share insights, knowledge, and resources to strengthen cybersecurity across the Nation.
“As a museum professional, and an intelligence historian, it would be hard to think of a better place to be,” Dr. Houghton said. “Over the years, the NCM has done such great things, but the best is yet to come. Everyone here is proud of the current museum. It’s such a great place. But the potential of this new building, and everything that comes with it, is exciting.”
The museum, founded in 1993, currently resides inside its original structure just outside NSAW’s secure fence line. It serves as the home of our Nation’s cryptologic riches, and showcases the stories, people, and events that shaped cryptologic history.
Despite the museum closing to the public in March because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCM staff has introduced new displays, equipment, programs, and services that have increased the museum’s online visibility, now reaching a global audience.
Guided tours, talks about cryptologic history, and lectures have gone virtual since the shutdown. In late July, the tours grew from three days per week to Monday through Friday. The museum began offering many of these new presentations to schools and other organizations in the country and abroad by request via video meeting platforms. Women in Cryptology, Signaling the Civil War, and Code Talkers are just some of the new presentations developed during the COVID pandemic.
The NCM also acquired a new exhibit during the shutdown: a model of the Abbottabad Complex, where Usama bin Laden was killed in May 2011, courtesy of the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency model shop. The unclassified story of that event and NSA’s contribution to the success of the mission will accompany the model to be added to the NCM’s Memorial Hallway.
In addition, the staff replaced the nearly 900-page, stagnant pdf catalog on the NCM’s web page with the new Museum Collection Database that allows visitors anywhere to research articles, books, documents, and photos through a variety of search techniques. The database was brought online just as the staff was sent home. They were able to clean up the data from home so it could go live, enabling people anywhere in the world to search for records and save them.
The museum is improving steps in preservation as well. Those improvements include repairs to the current building, improving cataloging methods, and installing temperature and humidity controls in the NCM’s storage rooms, which are already in place.
Dr. Houghton said he applied at the museum because of its solid reputation.
“We are the museum of the NSA. It’s important to create a museum the staff, workforce, and Agency can be proud of, and one that does a service to the country,” Dr. Houghton said.
Dr. Houghton began his intelligence career as a soldier in the war-torn Balkans. After being discharged from the Army in 2001, he went on to earn a doctorate in U.S. history, with a focus on U.S. intelligence.
He later served on the faculty at the University of Maryland and most recently worked for 6 1/2 years as the curator and historian of the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C. He also was the Spy Museum’s subject matter expert and played a major role in moving the Spy Museum from its original location at Penn Quarter to L’Enfant Plaza.
“We have the chance to do something really special at the National Cryptologic Museum — for the NSA, for the visitor, and for the Nation,” Dr. Houghton said.