Code Breaking in Law Enforcement: A 400-Year History

By Samuel, Dorn Vernessa | Forensic Science Communications, April 2006 | Go to article overview

Code Breaking in Law Enforcement: A 400-Year History


Samuel, Dorn Vernessa, Forensic Science Communications


Introduction

In February 2004, 11-year-old Carlie Brucia was abducted and murdered in Sarasota, Florida. While in a county jail awaiting trial, the suspect in the case, Joseph Peter Smith, wrote an enciphered message to his brother (Figure 1). The seemingly random series of symbols and numbers was sent to the FBI for analysis. The FBI determined that Smith enciphered the message by replacing letters of the alphabet with a series of one- or two-character combinations of numerals and symbols. To further complicate decryption, he wrote the message from right to left, starting at the bottom of the page and working his way up. Despite these obstacles, FBI cryptanalysts were able to quickly decipher the message, which contained incriminating references to hiding evidence and moving the body. On November 17, 2005, the jury convicted Smith in the abduction and murder of Carlie Brucia.

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Cryptanalysis is the art of solving secret codes and ciphers. In courtrooms throughout history, cryptanalysis has played a key role in bringing criminals to justice. This article provides a historical overview of the role cryptanalysis has played in major cases over the past 400 years.

The Unabomber, 1978-1996

It is well known that criminals use codes and ciphers to communicate to others. However, when the Unabomber, Theodore Kaczynski (Figure 2), documented his deeds, it was not intended for anyone but himself. Kaczynski kept notebooks in which he logged his crimes, his feelings about them, and detailed plans for future crimes. These notes were found in a handwritten numerical code that he used to disguise his writing, which was in both English and Spanish (Birch, personal communication, 2005; Gibson 2000). His attempts at secrecy proved futile, however. When he was finally identified, the case against him was sealed by the decryption and translation of the content of those notebooks.

[FIGURE 2 OMITTED]

The Zodiac Killer, 1966-?

Unlike the Unabomber, who did not want his cryptic notations to be made public, the notorious Zodiac killer demanded that his ciphers be published in public newspapers. He thrived on the notoriety that the messages brought and even boasted of the strength of his ciphers. Despite his claims, Zodiac's most famous cipher (Figure 3) was broken within a few hours by a husband and wife team of amateur code breakers. Other Zodiac ciphers remain unsolved, and the Zodiac killer has never been brought to justice.

[FIGURE 3 OMITTED]

The Hollow Nickel Case, 1953-1957

The inner workings of a Soviet spy ring were uncovered with the crack of a nickel by a Brooklyn newspaper delivery boy. When the unsuspecting boy dropped the nickel on the sidewalk, it split apart to reveal a microphotograph with a series of numbers (Figure 4). The numbered code, the product of a Soviet one-time pad encryption system, was not broken until 1957, after Soviet KGB officer Reino Hayhanen defected to the United States. The information he provided on Soviet codes and cryptosystems helped the FBI Laboratory break the code. The discovery of the hollow nickel and its contents eventually led to the conviction of a Soviet spy best known by his alias Rudolf Abel. In 1962 Abel was exchanged for American pilot Francis Gary Powers, whose U-2 spy plane had been shot down over the Soviet Union two years earlier (Federal Bureau of Investigation n.d.; Federal Bureau of Investigation 2004).

[FIGURE 4 OMITTED]

A Family of Cryptanalysts: William and Elizebeth Friedman

In 1937 the Canadian government requested the services of an American cryptanalyst to decipher messages written in Chinese by members of a suspected opium-smuggling ring. Five suspects from Vancouver, British Columbia, were found guilty of trading ammunition and guns for opium (National Security Agency n.d.; U.S. Coast Guard 2002). The cryptanalyst that the Canadians sought was Elizebeth Friedman.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Code Breaking in Law Enforcement: A 400-Year History
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.