|The following is an article from Uncle John's Triumphant 20th Anniversary Bathroom Reader It sits just steps away from some of the most brilliant cryptographers in the country, and yet after nearly 20 years of trying no one has been able to unlock its secrets. OBJET D’ART In the late 1980’s, the General Services Administration, the federal agency responsible for building and operating government buildings, started accepting proposals for artwork to decorate a courtyard outside the cafeteria of the CIA’s new headquarters building in Langley, Virginia. One artist who submitted was James Sanborn, a sculptor from the Washington, D.C. area. Sanborn was struck by how CIA agents spend their entire lives keeping secrets from even their closest loved ones. He decided to put himself in their shoes: His sculpture, if accepted, would contain an encoded message- the CIA’s stock-in-trade—and only he’s take the secret with him to the grave, just like a CIA agent. (Photo: Elonka) OFF TO SEE THE WIZARD Sanborn pitches his concept to the GSA and won the commission. But he’s an artist, not a code expert, so he asked the CIA for assistance in coming up with a code that would be difficult for even the agency’s own cryptographers to crack. They put him in touch with Ed Scheidt, chairman of the CIA’s Cryptographic Center, and known within the agency as the “Wizard of Codes.” Scheidt coached Sanborn for four months—he was free to teach any technique that did not compromise the agency’s security—and then Sanborn spent two and a half years cutting 865 individual letters, plus some question marks in rows onto a giant sheet of copper that was to be the main part of the sculpture. He names it Kryptos, after the Greek word for “hidden.” The work was unveiled in November 1990; it consisted of a standing petrified log with a sheet of copper flowing out from it, almost like a sheet of paper rolling out of a computer printer. The work also featured several smaller elements: carved stones, smaller sheets of copper, and even a duck pond, located around the CIA campus. GOING PUBLIC Few people would have guessed that Kryptos would attract much public interest. The CIA headquarters is off-limits to anyone who doesn’t have business there, so the public never gets a chance to see the sculpture in person. Nevertheless, as CIA employees began to talk about it with outsiders—the sculpture is apparently one of the few things around the CIA that isn’t top secret—it wasn’t long before photographers, detailed descriptions, and transcriptions of the inscribed letters began circulating outside the agency. All over the country, aspiring code breakers set to work trying to unlock Kryptos’ secrets. The first person outside the intelligence community to make significant progress was James Gillogly, a computer scientist from Los Angeles. In 1999 he announced that the information on the copper scroll was actually four different encrypted passages, not just one, and that he had succeeded in cracking three of them (768 of the 865 characters) using software he had written. Gillogly’s announcement prompted the CIA to admit publicly what had already become well known within the intelligence community: A team of four National Security Agency employees had cracked the same three sections of the code in 1992 using NSA computers, and in 1998 a CIA analyst named David Stein—had been able to crack the last section of the code. AS EASY AS ONE, TWO, THREE As the code breakers discovered, Sanborn encrypted the first two sections, known as K1 and K2 to code buffs, using substitution, a classic technique in which each letter of the alphabet is switched with another. For example, if X substitutes for the letter D, R substitutes for O, and B substitutes for G, then the word DOG is encrypted as XRB. K3, the third passage, was encrypted using another classic technique called transposition. Instead of substituting one letter for another, the existing letters are rearranged according to some systematic pattern. Using transcription, DOG could be encrypted as DGO, OGD, ODG, GOD and GDO. That may sound pretty simple to crack, but is DOG appeared in a larger body of text, the hundreds of thousands of letters, making the code very difficult to solve. ADD’EM UP How do cryptographers identify these codes? One interesting feature of many languages—including English—is that no matter what the text, letters always appear in roughly the same frequency, For example, the letter E is likely to appear about 12% of the time in any passage, more often than any other letter if the alphabet. The letter Q appears least often—only 0.2% of the time. So if the letter X appears in a body of encrypted text about 12% of the time, there’s a good chance that the letter X is substituting for the letter E, and the encryption method used is substitution. But if the letters in the encrypted text appear about as often a you’d expect them to in an unencrypted text—E still appears about 12% of the time—then the encryption method used is likely to be transposition. ENCRYPTION REVEALED The first passage of Kryptos, K1, was decoded to read as follows: BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION (Sanborn deliberately misspelled illusion to make it more difficult to crack; he did the same thing with the other words in K2 and K3.: The second passage, K2, was decoded to read: IT WAS TOTALLY INVISIBLE HOWS THAT POSSIBLE ? THEY USED THE EARTHS MAGNETIC FIELD X THE INFORMATION WAS GATHERED AND TRANSMITTED UNDERGRUUND TO AN UNKNOWN LOCATION X DOES LANGLEY KNOW ABOUT THIS ? THEY SHOULD ITS BURIED OUT THERE SOMEWHERE X WHO KNOWS THE EXACT LOCATION ? ONLY WW THIS WAS HIS LAST MESSAGE X THIRTY EIGHT DEGREES FIFTY SEVEN MINUTES SIX POINT FIVE SECONDS NORTH SEVENTY SEVEN DEGREES EIGHT MINUTES FORTY FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO The graphic coordinates indicate a point on the CIA campus about 200 feet south of the sculpture. Why this point is mentioned in the text, or what the rest of the text is supposed to mean is anyone’s guess. Sanborn hasn’t given up many clues. He has revealed, however, that WW stands for William Webster, who was CIA director when Kryptos was dedicated. (According to CIA legend, Webster refused to pay for the sculpture unless Sanborn handed over a copy of the solution…which is how “WW” seem to know the “exact location” of whatever it is that is “buried out there somewhere”… if there really is something buried “out there.” The CIA’s copy of the solution—if it really does exist—is believed to remain in the CIA director’s safe to this day.) The third passage, K3, decoded: SLOWLY DESPARATLY SLOWLY THE REMAINS OF PASSAGE DEBRIS THAT ENCUMBERED THE LOWER PART OF THE DOORWAY WAS REMOVED WITH TREMBLING HANDS I MADE A TINY BREACH IN THE UPPER LEFT HAND CORNER AND THEN WIDENING THE HOLE A LITTLE I INSERTED THE CANDLE AND PEERED IN THE HOT AIR ESCAPING FROM THE CHAMBER CAUSED THE FLAME TO FLICKER BUT PRESENTLY DETAILS OF THE ROOM WITHIN EMERGED FROM THE MIST X CAN YOU SEE ANYTHING Q (?) Sanborn created this passage by paraphrasing archaeologist Howard Carter’s description of his opening of King Tut’s tomb in his 1923 book, The Tomb of Tutankhamen. The passage deals with discovery, which fits in with the sculpture’s theme of decoding encrypted texts. Sanborn included the text because it was one of his favorite passages since childhood. So how is K4, the fourth section of the sculpture , encrypted? No one but Sanborn knows. Here’s the encoded text as it appears on the sculpture. Let us know if you get anywhere with it: OBKRUOXOGHULBSOLIFBBWFLRVQQPRNGKSSOTWTQSJQSSEKZZWATJK LUDIAWINFBNYPVTTMZFPKWGDKZXTJCDIGKUHUAEKCAR CONCEALED IN PLAIN SIGHT Why is the K4 passage so much more difficult to crack than the other three? It could be that it’s not written in English—Sanborn has used Russia-language codes in other works of art—which would make statistical analysis of the characters much more difficult. He could also have used any number of “concealment” techniques to mask the text. Removing all the vowels before encoding the message is one method of concealment; another is spelling words out phonetically: If a word like”people” is spelled “peephul,” for example, the correct solution may appear to be meaningless gibberish at first glance, causing the code breakers and computer software to discard to correct solution without realizing what it is. The number of people attempting to crack the final Kryptos code grew dramatically after the references to the sculpture appeared on the dust jacket of the bestseller The Da Vinci Code. One website dedicated to solving Kryptos saw its traffic increase from a few hundred hits per month to more than 30,000…but no one has been able to crack the final code yet. There have been hints that Kryptos will be featured in the plot of the sequel to the Da Vinci Code; if so, the sculpture’s fame is just beginning. QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS, QUESTIONS There may be other clues that will aid in decoding the fourth passage. Some of the letters cut into the copper are slightly higher than others in the same row. Why? And because all 865 letters are cut all the way through the copper, sunlight slows through the sculpture to create interesting patterns of light and shadow on the ground. Do these patterns provide a clue to cracking the code? It’s a big possibility—remember, the first decoded passage reads, “Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of Iqlusion.” If the light and shadows around the sculpture do provide a clue, that will make cracking the code very difficult, at least for outsiders, since none of them have been allowed into CIA headquarters to study the sculpture in person. Adding insult to mystery, Sanborn placed a number of large stones around the base of the sculpture. This, and the fact that the copper sheet curves around to form an S Shape, makes it virtually impossible to capture all the encoded text in a single photograph. BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE Remember, the copper scroll is only the main part of Sanborn’s work—there are several other mysterious objects scattered around the CIA campus, including stone-and-copper slabs with mysterious messages like “virtually invisible” and “t is your position” engraved into the copper in Morse code. There’s also a magnetic lodestone set on the grounds that appears to be pulling a compass needle carved into a nearby rock away from due North. What does it all mean…and what about the duck pond? Are there clues hidden there, or does Sanborn just like ducks? Denied access to the genuine article, many aspiring cryptographers have visited the other code sculptures Sanborn created since Kryptos. Antipodes, one he created for the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., contains a copy of the same encrypted text that appears on Kryptos, Other code crunchers use 3D modeling software to create elaborate models of Kryptos and the CIA grounds and study those for clues. A few pesky diehards have even stooped to calling Sanborn on the phone to beg for hints…but he refuses to play ball. Which of the sculpture’s features provide clues to decoding the fourth passage…and which one hints at the solution to the final riddle within a riddle that Sanborn says can be solved only after all four passages have been decoded? Is there really something buried somewhere in the CIA campus, perhaps a prize of some kind, waiting to be discovered by the person who finally cracks the rest of the code? Only Sanborn and (perhaps) the CIA director know for sure, and they aren’t talking.|
|The article above was reprinted with permission from Uncle John's Triumphant 20th Anniversary Bathroom Reader. Proving that some things do get better with age, the latest Bathroom Reader is jam-packed with 600 pages of fascinating trivia, forgotten history, strange lawsuits and other neat articles. Since 1988, the Bathroom Reader Institute had published a series of popular books containing irresistible bits of trivia and obscure yet fascinating facts. If you like Neatorama, you'll love the Bathroom Reader Institute's books - go ahead and check 'em out!|
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