(Roughly) Daily

Speaking cryptically…

Courtesy of Entropic Memes, a fascinating photo…  that surely never should have been taken.

Found in the Life archive, the info suggests that it was taken in 1941 and depicts “an agent of the FBI decoding a message that was encrypted using the anagram encryption method.”  But as EM observes:

The date is July 24th, 1940. [visible in the blow-up here] The place, the New York City Field Office of the FBI. The memo, from Director Hoover, is short and cryptic:

CLEARANCE AUTHORIZED FOR FOLLOWING MESSAGE: “DUNN SAYS FOUR BATTLESHIPS AND TEN DESTROYERS OF TEXAS CLASS GOING TO CARIBBEAN TO SCOUT FOR ENGLISH WITH SIX HUNDRED RESERVE OFFICERS AND SIX HUNDRED ENLISTED MEN.”

HOOVER

Below that appears to be the same basic message… in German. Above, a number of five-character letter groups. What’s going on here? A lot more than meets the eye, that’s what.

Students of intelligence history may know that “Dunn” was the code-name given by the Germans to Fritz Duquesne, infamous linchpin of the Duquesne spy ring in the early part of WWII. Duquesne was “played” by an American double-agent named William Sebold, who was instrumental in crushing Duquesne’s – and Germany’s – espionage operations in this country.

What you see here is a photo that never should have been allowed to be taken, and one which provides an amazing, one-of-a-kind glimpse into the world of WWII espionage and counter-espionage. As far as I can tell, what is shown in this picture is an FBI agent in New York encrypting a message, passed from “DUNN” – Duquesne – through Sebold, prior to transmitting that message to Germany via shortwave radio. Unlike yesterday’s photo, which was clearly staged, this appears to be real cryptology at work. Even the message is most likely real: it refers to the Neutrality Patrol undertaken shortly before the outbreak of war.

There’s even a blow-up of the agent’s work-sheet here…  aspiring cryptographers, have at it!

(One reckons that J. Edgar Hoover’s cultivation of the press in general, and of Luce in particular, during the run-up to the war must have taken precedence over more mundane security concerns…)

As we marvel at Hoover’s chutzpah, we might share a fond remembrance of composer, musician, director, and producer Frank “anything played wrong twice in a row is the beginning of an arrangement” Zappa; he died (of pancreatic cancer) on this date in 1993 at age 52.

“It’s better to have something to remember than nothing to regret”

Frank Zappa

Written by LW

December 4, 2008 at 1:01 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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