Dr. David Kahn received his bachelor of arts in political science from Bucknell in 1951. On campus, he was editor of the Bucknellian his junior year, sports editor of L'Agenda in his senior year, and a member of Hillel and the French Club. He was a member of Sigma Alpha Mu fraternity and was awarded membership in four honor societies. Today, he is an historian of cryptology, or codemaking-and -breaking, arguably the premier form of intelligence in the world today. He has written four books and many articles on that subject in publications ranging from The New York Times to the Encyclopedia Americana. He lectures widely on political and military intelligence and appears on television and radio to offer the historical background of current events in his area of expertise. Kahn has taught courses on intelligence at Yale and Columbia and has testified before Congress.
His lifelong love affair with codes and cryptography began when, as a boy in Great Neck, NY, he read Fletcher Pratt's Secret and Urgent, a 1939 history of codes, ciphers, and cryptography.
In 1960, while working as a reporter for Newsday (the Long Island daily) Kahn wrote an article for The New York Times Magazine backgrounding the revelations of two defectors from the National Security Agency. This led to a contract to write a book on cryptology, some of which was written during his two years as an editor on the International Herald Tribune in Paris. This, his most famous book, The Codebreakers, was published in September 1967. It was a Book of the Month Club alternate selection and a History Book Club main selection. The Codebreakers has remained in print continuously, including e-book versions, with many translations. A second edition appeared in 1995 and a revision of the book into a paperback is contemplated.
Kahn then decided to investigate German military intelligence in World War II, since it lay at the intersection of German scholarship and German military. He learned German, researched for a year at the Militärarchiv, and interviewed more than 100 of the country's intelligence specialists. After writing in New York for a couple of years, Kahn became a senior associate member at St. Antony's College in Oxford University. He was awarded the D. Phil. (the Oxonian designation) in 1974. The book, Hitler's Spies, was published in 1978.
After teaching journalism for a few years at New York University, Kahn returned to Newsday as an op-ed editor. While there, he wrote Seizing the Enigma (1991), the story of how the British could not break the messages in German naval Enigma cipher machine until they captured some essential documents in daring naval raids. In 1995, he was selected as the scholar in residence at the National Security Agency. At NSA's suggestion, Kahn wrote the biography of Herbert O. Yardley, the most colorful cryptologist in American history and founder of the first permanent American codebreaking agency. That book is titled The Reader of Gentlemen's Mail. Kahn retired from Newsday in 1998.
He continues to write articles and sits on the boards of trustees of the National Cryptologic Museum Foundation, the International Intelligence History Association, and the International Spy Museum. He recently donated much of his collection of interview notes, books, and journals to the National Cryptologic Museum Foundation at Fort Meade, MD. Kahn is now writing a one-volume study of American intelligence in World War II for Viking Penguin.
He continues to assist Bucknell's Career Development Center by speaking with students about careers in his field. He has two sons, Oliver and Michael.
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