Secret Code

Carrier Pigeon (PSF)If only Alan Turing was still alive! The story of the dead pigeon via Reuters:

A World War Two code found strapped to the leg of a dead pigeon stuck in a chimney for the last 70 years may never be broken, a British intelligence agency said on Friday.

The bird was found by a man in Surrey, southern England while he was cleaning out a disused fireplace at his home earlier this month.

The message, a series of 27 groups of five letters each, was inside a red canister attached to the pigeon’s leg bone and has stumped code-breakers from Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), Britain’s main electronic intelligence-gathering agency.

“Without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption…


FriedmanNYPL2_FINALCabinet Magazine has a fascinating and mysterious article on William F. Friedman, perhaps the greatest code-breaker in modern history. Friedman became a hero of World War II by breaking Japan’s PURPLE code and inventing the Army’s best cipher machine. He did it all using the ‘biliteral cipher’, a simple but powerful encoding technique invented in the sixteenth century, which allows for hidden messages to be conveyed by anything from flower petals to musical notes to faces in a photograph:

It is unlikely that Bacon’s cipher system was ever used for the transmission of military secrets, in the seventeenth century or in the twentieth. But for roughly a century from 1850, it set the world of literature on fire.

A passion for puzzles, codes, and conspiracies fueled a widespread suspicion that Shakespeare was not the author of his plays, and professional and amateur scholars of all sorts spent extraordinary amounts of time, energy, and money combing Renaissance texts in search of signatures and other messages that would reveal the true identity of their author. Even after the recent publication of James Shapiro’s comprehensive history of the authorship controversy, Contested Will, it is difficult for us to appreciate the depth of conviction — among writers as diverse and as distinguished as Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, Sigmund Freud, Henry James, Henry Miller, and even Helen Keller — that Shakespeare’s texts contained the secret solution to what was widely considered to be “the Greatest of Literary Problems.”…