While in self-imposed quarantine, I have been enjoying Liza Mundy’s wonderful book, Code Girls: The Untold Story of the American Women Codebreakers of World War II. The book has particular relevance for me. From 1971-1993 I served as a US Navy cryptologist, and two of my tours were at the National Security Agency, where I had the privilege of meeting one of the ladies featured in the book: Ann Z. Caracristi.
Ms. Caracristi had been an English and History major in college, and during World War II she joined the Army Intelligence Service (which would later become the Army Security Agency) and was a standout at breaking Japanese codes. After the war she remained “in the business” and when the National Security Agency was created she joined its ranks. By the end of the 1950s she was already a “supergrade” civilian official. I first met Ms. Caracristi in 1978 when I was taking US Navy cryptologic direct support teams to sea on combatants of the Atlantic Fleet. I was a young Lieutenant at the time and she was the Chief of what was known as “A Group”: the offices directly involved with the former Soviet Union. There were a couple of occasions, following particularly significant patrols, where my crew and I would be asked to brief Ms. Caracristi on the operation. It was always an honor and a bit intimidating to do this, given her staggering intelligence and experience. We were also always struck by her genuine concern for our own safety and welfare on patrol.
By the time of my second tour at NSA, this time as a Navy Commander, Ms. Caracristi had retired, having finished her career serving as the Deputy Director of the entire National Security Agency. Her name was still whispered with respect throughout the Agency.
So, if you’re looking for something out of the ordinary, I highly recommend Code Girls. Who knows? You may find someone you know in its pages!