[SIGCIS-Members] David Kahn obit

Brian Randell brian.randell at newcastle.ac.uk
Sun Feb 11 15:48:31 PST 2024

Hi Jonathan:

Many thanks for posting the David Kahn obituary. He and I had been friends for over fifty years, and I owe him a particular debt for the great help he gave me by interviewing I.J. Good for me when I was researching the Colossus in the 1970s. So I feel his loss very personally.

I will always remember the time, many years ago, when David invited me to his home on Long Island for the weekend. At the last moment he apologetically asked me if I minded spending the night at his parent’s house, because David and his wife had another unexpected guest and had no room for me. When I arrived he took me to a splendid huge house fairly near to his, and I met his father – an impressive and forceful lawyer. His father was very friendly and hospitable to me, though he made it clear that he thought David ought to be pursuing a more lucrative career than journalism (and cryptology).

David showed me his cryptology library in his parents’ home on the evening of my arrival – he had no room for it in his own house. He urged me to explore it the next morning while I was awaiting his coming to collect me, which I of course did. One of the items I found on the many yards of shelving was a large old-fashioned book-shaped metal ledger box. On opening it I found a pile of bound reports, on top of which was a typed letter to David, from William Friedman, the famous cryptologist. It evidently dated from when David was a schoolboy and was a reply to a request from David. The letter congratulated David on his evident enthusiasm for cryptology and told him that he didn’t need to spend the money he’d been given for a bicycle on the cost of purchasing one of Riverbank Reports. Instead he, Friedman, was sending David a complete set of these reports! (I’ve just checked and found – predictably – that these famed reports are detailed in a Wikipedia entry - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Riverbank_Publications.)

With this sort of encouragement, from such a source, it is no wonder that David spent much of the rest of his life authoring a set of splendid books on cryptology. And it is great to learn, from the obituary, that David’s library is now housed at the NSA’s National Cryptologic Museum.


Brian Randell


School of Computing, Newcastle University, 1 Science Square, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE4 5TG
EMAIL = Brian.Randell at ncl.ac.uk   PHONE = +44 191 208 7923
URL =  https://www.ncl.ac.uk/computing/staff/profile/brianrandell.html

On 11/02/2024, 19:13, "Members" members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org<mailto:members-bounces at lists.sigcis.org> wrote:
https://www.washingtonpost.com/obituaries/2024/02/01/david-kahn-codebreakers-nsa-dead/ <https://www.washingtonpost.com/obituaries/2024/02/01/david-kahn-codebreakers-nsa-dead/><https://www.washingtonpost.com/obituaries/2024/02/01/david-kahn-codebreakers-nsa-dead/%3e>

Stay sane,


Jonathan Coopersmith

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

Professor Emeritus
Department of History
Texas A&M University
College Station, TX 77843-4236
979.739.4708 (cell)

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