Making Curriculum Pop

COLLECTION: "The Women Code Breakers Who Unmasked Soviet Spies" & Project Venona

In light of the present moment, I think the first Smithsonian article is an essential read. Two fun activities are also linked (second tweet and at the bottom via @nctm) to help you do code breaking in math classes. There are too many pull quotes but I'll drop two paragraphs from the main article / book excerpt that connects this to the math, history and gender groups where I'm cross posting it. Addl. resources follow. Despite the MANY faults of Twitter - I do love how it lets me pull all this stuff together quickly through embeds!

In 1995, when Venona was declassified, the public face of the project was male. The most celebrated name was that of a man, Meredith Gardner, a linguist who deciphered names and words, working closely with FBI agent Robert J. Lamphere. But in the cryptanalytic unit—where the tough analytic math was done, where the messages were prepared and matched, where the breakthroughs happened, where the numbers were so painstakingly stripped—the face of Venona was different: “Most of the people working on it were women,” says Robert L. Benson, a retired historian for the National Security Agency.

The story of Venona’s female code breakers has never been publicly told in full. Benson interviewed some of them for a classified internal history of Venona, only portions of which have been declassified and released online. More important, while the exploits of Gardner and other men have been the focus of entire books, the women themselves did not talk about their work—not to their friends, not to their families, hardly to each other. Most took the secret to their graves. This article is based on exclusive interviews with Nanni, the last living member of the original team of Venona women; relatives of code breakers who are no longer alive; and NSA and CIA publications that detail how the project unfolded. It marks the first time that any of the female Venona code breakers has given an interview to a reporter.

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