Those who served in silence NSA memorial: Casualties of Cold War eavesdropping remembered near Fort Meade.

September 08, 1997

AN AC-130 AIRCRAFT, refurbished to resemble an electronic spy plane shot down over the Soviet Union in 1958, is the centerpiece of Maryland's newest memorial -- near the headquarters of the National Security Agency. It is dedicated to the employees of that super-secret, code-breaking agency who lost their lives in Cold War eavesdropping operations.

The Central Intelligence Agency has a memorial wall for its fallen heroes at its Langley headquarters in Northern Virginia. But like the whole compound, that marble monument is off-limits to visitors.

In contrast, the NSA memorial, off Route 32, east of the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, is open to the public -- even though the agency's headquarters are not.

NSA officials estimate that 152 intelligence specialists, from all branches of the armed services, died in clandestine operations during the Cold War. Until recently, relatives often had only fabricated information about the deaths of their loved ones. But with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, most have now been told the true circumstances.

In the days before sophisticated satellites and the Internet, the best way to get information about an enemy was to put cryptologists on airplanes and fly them as close to espionage targets as possible. This is what the 17 men aboard the unarmed C-130 were doing on a routine reconnaissance flight originating from Turkey, when the plane was shot down by four Soviet MiG-17 fighters in 1958.

During much of its history, NSA has been so secretive that some said its initials meant "No Such Agency." That veil of mystery has been raised a bit in recent years. At the National Cryptologic Museum, near NSA's Fort Meade headquarters, the agency tells some of its story.

The adjoining NSA memorial serves as a well-deserved recognition to "those who served in silence" and gave their lives for their country.

Pub Date: 9/08/97

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