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Reviewed by:
  • A Brief History of Cryptology
  • Jacques Stern
J. V. Boone , A Brief History of Cryptology. Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2005. 193 pp.

Among the many books devoted to cryptology and its history, A Brief History of Cryptology has several distinctive features. First, the author, J. V. Boone, a former U.S. Air Force officer who has worked at the National Security Agency (NSA) for many years, has chosen to view cryptology as an element in a triad that also includes the closely associated fields of communications and computers, and to show how new developments in each field have had dramatic consequences for the others' progress, finally resulting in a tight integration of all three technologies. Even to those familiar with the history of cryptology, the book appears novel in revealing or at least reminding us of many facts pertaining to such things as the introduction of radio and the advent of solid-state electronics and satellites. Also, the approach adopted by Boone restores the complexity of cryptography, which is not only a matter of mathematics but a subtle combination of mathematics, technology, and brain power. A particularly inspiring example of this complexity is provided by the history of voice encryption (cryptophony), which is discussed at several places in the book.

Boone's main goal of presenting facts is a strength that allows him to give a concise overview of cryptology through the centuries, covering major achievements and activities across the field. Concise does not mean dull. On the contrary, all milestone accomplishments in the three fields are described together with an introduction to the talented people who spearheaded developments and applications. The book also includes many illustrations of the equipment and systems as well as the people involved, something that is often missing in other works on this topic, especially for the last hundred years, which the book emphasizes. These features allow Boone to tell an exciting story, despite the book's surface appearance as little more than a diary. His background assists him in this respect. In addition to his Air Force and intelligence work, he served as deputy director for research and engineering at the U.S. Department of Defense. Besides his perfect knowledge of the technical developments of the field, he has had access to the excellent iconography at the National Cryptologic Museum and of course, to many secrets. However, a warning to the reader is in order: The book itself [End Page 144] reveals no secrets. Boone does no more than hint at even recently declassified matters. He provides facts, names, dates, and pictures, but gives no intricate explanations of the inner workings of pieces of equipment and no precise descriptions of cryptological algorithms in either the text or a brief appendix. Boone also avoids entering into the controversies that have surrounded cryptology. He mentions public debate over secrecy and export controls only in the summary that appears as chapter 8, and he expresses no position on these matters.

Boone writes primarily from an intelligence and command-and-control viewpoint, which readers from a different environment might find biased toward technology over people. In many areas, such as academic research or patent law, the date of an invention given in the book is the date of its disclosure. For example, we learn about the alleged discovery of public-key cryptography at the British General Communications Headquarters (a fact that has been declassified only recently) six pages before reading the names of Whitfield Diffie and Martin Hellman, unanimously acknowledged as the inventors. But Boone's perspective also has positive effects. Nowhere in the academic literature can we find such a clear account of the difficulties and progresses of cryptophony, from SIGSALY to STU-III, obviously because these pieces of equipment were developed and produced under classified programs.

Boone's book not only is worth reading but is useful to keep close at hand for the numerous references it provides. A Brief History of Cryptology does not supersede other books on the history of cryptology (e.g., those by David Kahn) but supplements them with a different viewpoint. Unfortunately, the book does not thoroughly discuss the most recent history, notably the post–Cold War era, which...


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pp. 144-145
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