Friday, July 2, 2010
Kryptos is a sculpture by American artist Jim Sanborn located on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia. Since its dedication on November 3, 1990, there has been much speculation about the meaning of the encrypted messages it bears. Of the four sections, three have been solved, with the fourth remaining one of the most famous unsolved codes in the world. The sculpture continues to provide a diversion for some employees of the CIA and other cryptanalysts attempting to decrypt the messages.
The main sculpture is made of red and green slate, white quartz, petrified wood, lodestone, and copper, and is located in the northwest corner of the New Headquarters Building courtyard, outside of the Agency cafeteria.
The name Kryptos comes from the Greek word for "hidden", and the theme of the sculpture is "intelligence gathering." The most prominent feature is a large vertical S-shaped copper screen resembling a scroll, or piece of paper emerging from a computer printer, covered with characters comprising encrypted text. The characters consist of the 26 letters of the standard Roman alphabet and question marks cut out of the copper. This "inscription" contains four separate enigmatic messages, three of which have been solved.
At the same time as the main sculpture was installed, sculptor Sanborn also placed several other pieces around CIA grounds, such as several large granite slabs with sandwiched copper sheets outside the entrance to the New Headquarters Building. Several morse code messages are engraved in the copper, and one of the slabs has an engraved compass rose. Other elements of Sanborn's installation include a landscaped area, a duck pond, and several other seemingly unmarked slabs.
The cost of the sculpture was $250,000.
The ciphertext on one half of the main sculpture contains 869 characters in total — in April 2006, however, Sanborn released information stating that an intended letter on the main half of Kryptos was missing. This would bring the total number of characters to 870 on the main portion. The other half of the sculpture comprises a Vigenère encryption tableau, comprising 869 characters, if spaces are counted.
Sanborn worked with a retiring CIA employee named Ed Scheidt, Chairman of the CIA Cryptographic Center, to come up with the cryptographic systems used on the sculpture. Sanborn has revealed that the sculpture contains a riddle within a riddle, which will be solvable only after the four encrypted passages have been decrypted. He said that he gave the complete solution at the time of the sculpture's dedication to then-CIA director William H. Webster. Sanborn said, however, that he had not given Webster the entire solution. He did, however, confirm that where in part 2 it says "Who knows the exact location? Only WW," that "WW" was intended to refer to William Webster. Sanborn also confirmed that should he die before the entire sculpture becomes deciphered that there will be someone able to confirm the solution.
The first person to publicly announce solving the first three sections, in 1999, was James Gillogly, a computer scientist from southern California, who deciphered 760 of the characters (772 less 3 question marks and XLAYERTWO). The portion that he couldn't solve, the remaining 97 or 98 characters, is the same part which has stumped the government's own cryptanalysts. After Gillogly's announcement, the CIA revealed that their analyst David Stein had also solved the same sections in 1998, using pencil and paper techniques, though at the time of his solution the information was only disseminated within the intelligence community, and no public announcement was made. The NSA also claimed at that time that they had solvers, but would not reveal names or dates until 2005, when it was learned that an NSA team led by Ken Miller, along with Dennis McDaniels and two other unnamed individuals, had solved parts 1–3 using a computer in late 1992, but that they too had been stumped by the fourth section.
Keywords: Kryptos, Palimpsest
BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION.
Keywords: Kryptos, Abscissa
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
On April 19, 2006, Sanborn contacted the Kryptos Group (an online community dedicated to the Kryptos puzzle) to inform them that the accepted solution to part 2 was wrong. He said that he made an error in the sculpture by omitting an "X" used to indicate a break for aesthetic reasons, and that the decrypted text which ended "...FOUR SECONDS WEST ID BY ROW S" should actually be "...FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO".
Note: The coordinates mentioned in the plaintext: 38°57′6.5″N 77°8′44″W; on Google Maps; analysis of the cited location. The point is about 200 feet southeast of the sculpture itself.
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 (?)
This is a paraphrased and misspelled quotation from Howard Carter's account of the opening of the tomb of Tutankhamun on November 26, 1922, as described in his 1923 book The Tomb of Tutankhamun. The question with which it ends is that posed by Lord Carnarvon, to which Carter (in the book) famously replied "wonderful things". In the actual November 26, 1922 field notes, his reply was, "Yes, it is wonderful."
Part 4 remains publicly unsolved, though there is an active Yahoo! Group (formed in 2003) that coordinates the work of over 1000 members toward decryption of the code.
To solve it, it is crucial to have the first three sections correct, since when commenting on his error in section 2, Sanborn said they contain the clues to the last section.