History of Secret Codes

28 Mar

Attack on Admiral Yamamoto

Early on April 18, 1943, at 7:45 AM, Japanese Admiral Yamamoto’s plane was approaching Ballale for a scheduled 8 o’clock inspection of units on that island. Suddenly, from 20,000 feet, high above his six fighter plane escort, a sortie of 18 P-38 fighters attacked. One P-38, in the first group of four, shot the wing off the bomber in which Yamamoto was riding. Before his escorts could even react, Yamamoto’s aircraft went spiralling down and crashed into the sea. The Japanese had lost the naval officer that had planned and led the attack on Pearl Harbor just 16 months before. Many historians believe that his loss ended any hopes by the Japanese of winning the war.

Attack on Admiral Yamamoto Map

How was it possible for a flight of P-38 Lightnings from a base in Guadalcanal to achieve such an improbable feat? For the twin engine Lightnings, Ballale was almost two hours flying time from Guadalcanal and within 10 minutes of the limit of their range. They wouldn’t be able to hang around very long waiting for their target. In addition, Admiral Yamamoto was flying from his headquarters on Rabaul only 1 1/2 hours from Ballale, so the P-38′s would have had to leave Henderson field on Guadalcanal 30 minutes BEFORE Admiral Yamamoto took off! How could they have known?

Page 1 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook “

Spy the Codebreakers Caught

Pablo Waberski crossed the border from Mexico at Nogales, Arizona on February 1, 1918. His passport indicated he was a Russian citizen. Mexico was a neutral country during the First World War (1916-1919) and, like Portugal during the Second World War, it was a favorite hangout for spies. It was particularly convenient for German spies intent on entering the United States undetected. For that reason, the U.S. had a large number of undercover agents operating in Mexico, trying to identify foreign agents. A warning had been relayed to U.S. border officials to be on the lookout for Pablo Waberski. American undercover agents in Mexico suspected he was a German spy whose real name was Lather Witcke! Because of the warning, Waberski was arrested at Nogales and taken to a nearby military base and searched. Military Intelligence officers found nothing of interest except a sheet of paper with a series of 10-letter codegroups written on it. Without being able to read the code, or even prove that it was a code, they would not be able to hold Waberski for more than 24 hours.

Here is what the first few lines of the actual code that Waberski was carrying looked like:

Waberski Code

A copy of the paper with the 10-letter groups was sent to Washington and turned over to Herbert O. Yardley. Yardley was the head of a small but effective group of cryptanalysts in a secret department called simply MI-8. Among the secret agencies of the world it was also called “The American Black Chamber.” Yardley was given the task of “cracking” the apparent code and producing the proof that Pablo Waberski was not a tourist from Russian visiting the United States, but a German spy named Lather Witcke. Yardley and his team of cryptanalysts had less than 24 hours in which to do it.

Page 33 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook

Family of Spies

John Walker lay on his bed in the Rockville, Maryland, motel and tried to figure out what went wrong. Had he made a mistake on the date? Were the Russians trying to pull a double cross? Was the KGB making him pay for his having given them some photographs in a previous drop that were too blurred to be of any use? He couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong. This was the first time in the 20 years he had been selling secrets to the KGB that he hadn’t received his money.

Map Given to Walker by KGB

Map the KGB had given Walker with instructions for finding and using dead drop.

He thought back to 1970, when he had been transferred to a training unit and lost his access to key lists and could not keep supplying the Russians with what they wanted most. At that time, the KGB staff in Moscow had become suspicious that he might be an FBI plant and threatened to kill him if he tried to end his spying activities. It was a shock to him at the time; but over the years, he had adjusted to life as a spy and threats from his Russian handlers no longer bothered him. He hadn’t been this worried about what was going on since his scare in January, 1978, when the KGB insisted that he go to Vienna to deliver the envelope full of miniature camera film cartridges. At that time, he had been afraid he was going to be killed in some Vienna back street after turning over the pictures he had taken of U.S. Navy cipher machine key lists. The Russians had insisted that he stay at a cheap hotel, and the fact that he couldn’t speak a foreign language had made him rather conspicuous. He was sure that his communication problems with the hotel people had alerted every espionage agent in the entire city and if the KGB didn’t eliminate him, the CIA would probably grab him. But he had finally made contact, turned over the film, waited around until he was paid and then left without incident.

Page 79 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER III – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook “

Caesar Cipher History

The Roman ruler Julius Caesar (100 B.C. – 44 B.C.) used a very simple cipher for secret communication. He substituted each letter of the alphabet with a letter three positions further along. Later, any cipher that used this “displacement” concept for the creation of a cipher alphabet, was referred to as a Caesar cipher. Of all the substitution type ciphers, this Caesar cipher is the simplest to solve, since there are only 25 possible combinations.

Caesar Cipher

Often this type of cipher is implemented on a wheel device. A disk or wheel has the alphabet printed on it and then a movable smaller disk or wheel with the same alphabet printed on it is mounted forming an inner wheel. The inner wheel then can be rotated so that any letter on one wheel can be aligned with any letter on the other wheel.

For example, if the inner wheel is rotated so that the letter M is placed under the letter A on the outer wheel, the Caesar cipher will have a displacement of 12. To encipher the letter P, locate it on the outer wheel and then write down the corresponding letter from the inner wheel, which in this case is B. The same can be accomplished by placing alphabets on two pieces of paper and sliding them back and forth to create a displacement.

Page 51 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook “

From Where, Will the Attack Come?

It was midnight, June 9, 1918. The French forces along the defensive line running in a north-south direction from Montdidier to Compiegne had been braced for two days, following a warning that an attack was imminent. The 62 divisions of the German army under the command of General Ludendorff had been advancing steadily since March 21, which marked the beginning of the German spring offensive. That advance had started with a German victory at the second battle of the Somme.

Map of German Attack in France

The German army had attacked a weak point in the British lines between the Oise River and Cambrai with devastating results. Then a second attack, on April 9, had driven a wedge in the lines just north of Soissons.

After a long pause to regroup and supply the front line units, a third attack from the left was launched on May 27 between Soissons and Reims. It pushed the entire front line considerably further to the south. They were now poised to strike Paris, the French capital. In a little over two months, the German forces had rapidly thrust forward along a 100 mile front and were now only 30 miles from Paris, at Chateau-Thiery, in the east and 50 miles, at Montdidier, in the north.

The German forces paused again to consolidate their gains and they prepared for the final thrust. The French command knew that the only chance they had of stopping this advance was by concentrating their outnumbered forces at the exact point of the next German attack. But where would that be?

Page 23 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER II – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook “

Cipher in a Hollow Nickel

It was a pleasant evening in Brooklyn that summer of 1953 and Jimmy Bozart, a delivery boy for the ‘Brooklyn Eagle’ newspaper, was collecting from his customers. One lady had only a one dollar bill and Jimmy didn’t have enough change. He went across the hall and found two ladies that together were able to give him change for the dollar. After he finished collecting, he noticed that one of the coins seemed to be different from the others. The coin, a nickel, felt lighter than usual. He dropped it on the sidewalk and it split apart. Inside the hollow nickel was a piece of microfilm about one-half inch square. The small square of film was filled with rows of numbers.

Hollow Nickel Cipher

Jimmy, realizing it was probably a secret code of some sort, turned it over to the police. The police suspected that the small piece of film with numbers on it had something to do with spies, so they sent it to the FBI, the government agency whose job it is to catch spies. The film was turned over to FBI cryptographers in Washington and agents began interviewing people in Jimmy’s neighborhood to see if they could find out where the hollow nickel had come from. Neither the cryptographers in Washington, nor the agents conducting the search in New York, were able to make any headway in determining what message had been placed on the microfilm or the origin of the hollow nickel. On and off from 1953 to 1957, many worked on the case but could make no headway. The only fact that could be determined was that the numbers had probably been typed using a typewriter of foreign manufacture. Several foreign intelligence agents, who had defected to the United States and other free countries were contacted. Not one had any idea about the microfilm or the nickel.

Page 17 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER II – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook “

Russian Spymaster Rudolph Abel – Covername Goldfus

After establishing himself in the New York neighborhood, Goldfus began to locate various places in the New York city area such as isolated park benches, that could be used to leave messages (dead-drops) and to use as potential meeting sites for future spy activities. Among the many places Colonel Abel found for exchange of information was a bridge over a footpath in Central Park, a lamppost in Fort Tyron Park and a hole in a wall on Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. Also, the theater called Symphony Space, one of the neighborhood favorites for plays and musicals, was designated a drop point by Abel. Messages were placed upstairs in the balcony on the east side under the carpet. He also used a waste basket in Central Park, at Tavern on the Green.

Rudolph Abel

Russian spy Rudolph Abel, covername – “Goldfus”

One signal point for a drop/pickup indication (where a green thumbtack was placed) was a sign on the parkside entrance to Tavern on the Green and another sign point was under the hand rail at an elevated train stop in Queens. After all these years, many of these dead drops and signal points can still be identified in the New York area.

Then, in December, 1952, he rented the studio space in the Brooklyn warehouse, called the Ovington building, on Fulton street. He pretended to be a retired photo finisher, which gave him a perfect cover for the photo equipment he used to prepare the microfilm of documents and messages.

Page 61 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER III – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook “

Capturing a British Spy

He had been given a ‘pass,’ signed by the American officer from whom he had received the information about West Point. It was a written order allowing ‘Mr. John Anderson’ to pass safety through American lines. Confident that this pass would see him through any challenge from American forces, he started his trip south across the ‘no man’s land’ between opposing armies.

What the British major hadn’t considered was the presence of free booting marauders that wandered the areas between the two armies and robbed and plundered anyone they came upon. When he sighted one such trio of ruffians, he noticed one was wearing a Hessian (German) soldier’s jacket. Major André mistakenly thought he had reached the British lines. He immediately identified himself to this armed threesome as a British officer. That turned out to be a fatal mistake.

The Capture of Major André

Early American painting, attributed to A. B. Durand, 1845
(Notice André’s boots have been removed)

They were renegade Americans, not Hessians in the pay of the British. Quickly, he tried to recover by presenting his ‘pass.’ That only made them very suspicious and they forced him from his horse and searched him. Finding little money, they assumed it had been hidden in his boots. When they ordered him to remove his boots, they found no money, but they discovered the plans he was carrying. Unable to read very well, they did not completely understand the nature of their find, but decided that maybe there would be a reward for turning André over to the Continental Army.

When the military took him into custody, they quickly realized what André was up to and why he had these plans and information hidden in his boot. Then they noticed the ‘pass.’ It had been signed by an American officer, who up until this moment was considered by all to be a hero of the Revolutionary War. He had saved the day three years earlier in October, 1777, at Saratoga by turning back the entire British advance from Canada down the Hudson river. The Commander-in-Chief of all the American forces, General George Washington, considered the signer to be one of his most valuable leaders. The ‘pass’ that British Major André held was signed by American General Benedict Arnold, commanding officer of the fort at West Point!

Page 19 from “SECRET CODE BREAKER III – A Cryptanalyst’s Handbook “

Source: http://www.secretcodebreaker.com/history.html

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