[ISN] Velva Klaessy, government code breaker, dies at 88
isn at c4i.org
Mon Nov 8 05:32:09 EST 2004
November 7, 2004
Velva Klaessy, a government cryptanalyst who accomplished some firsts
for female code breakers -- with accompanying problems in the
male-dominated field -- died Sept. 16 in Golden Valley. She was 88.
"She could never talk about it," said her brother Dale Klaessy of
Minnetonka. "It was a lonely, lonely job."
Born to a farm couple in 1915 in Renwick, Iowa, Klaessy got a
scholarship during the Depression to attend what is now Northern Iowa
University. With no money to buy clothes, her father bought her 500
baby chicks to raise. When she sold them, she bought fabric and made
She received her degree in math in 1937 and took her first job in a
small town dominated by a Protestant congregation. It decreed that the
public-school teachers weren't allowed to play cards or go to the
movies. After the town protested that she was insulting its sons by
dating a young man from a different town, she left at the end of the
In 1944, she was teaching high school math and science in Cherokee,
Iowa, when a government recruiter came to ask if she had any students
good in math who might want to join the war effort as a cryptologist
in the Army Signal Corps. Her best students were all headed for
college, so she didn't want to recommend them, but she took the job
After World War II she stayed in the field as the Armed Forces
Security Agency and the National Security Agency (NSA) were formed.
Although much of her work remains classified, information from the
National Cryptologic Museum of the NSA, based at Fort Meade, Md.,
states that she was a member for many years of the highly respected
Technical Consultants group, which assisted other analytic offices
with their most difficult problems.
In the summer of 1953, she and a male officer were posted temporarily
to the Far East to train military personnel. According to oral
tradition, the museum said, female NSA employees had never gotten
temporary posts in that part of the world.
Before she left the consultants group, she was posted temporarily to
the United Kingdom. Her British counterpart threw a welcoming party --
in a men's club from which women were barred, her brother said.
Female NSA employees battled for recognition at home, too. At one
point a supervisor told her that she had earned a promotion but he was
giving it to a male co-worker "because he had a family," her brother
From 1958 to 1967, Klaessy finally received positions of high
responsibility in sectors dealing with cutting-edge technology, the
museum said, including being named chief in 1964 of the New and
Unidentified Signals Division.
She returned in 1967 to what is now called the extended enterprise
when she was named deputy senior U.S. liaison officer in Ottawa,
Canada. In 1970 she was named senior liaison officer in Ottawa,
becoming the first woman to hold the senior post anywhere in the
world. As senior officer, she represented the U.S. Intelligence Board
and the NSA with appropriate organizations in Canada in all matters
about signal intelligence and communications security.
She returned to Fort Meade in 1975 but retired shortly afterward to
care for ill relatives, her brother said. She was found to have
Parkinson's disease about 1987 and moved to the Twin Cities to be
close to relatives. In addition to her brother Dale, survivors include
another brother, Earl of Spencer, Iowa. Services have been held in
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