Psst! Follow Me and I’ll Show You the Exhibition (Review/National Cryptologic Museum/US)

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NOT far from I-95 in Maryland, halfway between Washington and Baltimore, lives an old, one-story motel that is home to the National Cryptologic Museum, an institution devoted to two contradictory human impulses: keeping secrets and telling stories.

Most museums are built from the urge to broadcast the past loud and clear, but most museums do not receive money from the National Security Agency, the arm of the intelligence network devoted to codemaking and codebreaking. The employees at the N.S.A. still joke that the initials stand for “No Such Agency” or “Never Say Anything.”

The museum opened in 1993 without notifying the news media or otherwise drawing much attention to itself. It was just as well — the motel, which is adjacent to the N.S.A.’s headquarters and had been bought by the agency several years before, was still ringed by a barbed-wire fence, and some insiders were apparently worried that someone might take pictures of the spies attending the openings. All those years of never saying anything made it hard to open up.

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