Mrs. Mary E. Surratt was executed in 1865, an innocent woman,convicted of a crime she did not commit. The murder, for whichshe was sentenced to death, had occurred only a few weeks beforeshe was hanged. She was not present at the scene when themurder took place, nor was she involved in a conspiracy with thereal criminal. She was convicted to die with little evidenceother than she had once rented a room to the murderer. However,an overzealous Federal Prosecutor, armed with a confusing pieceof paper, and a blood thirsty Court, sent her to the gallows.That evidence was a Vigenere cipher pad found in the rented roomat her boarding house.

Example: sample Vigenere Cipher Pad

. . . . columns . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P . + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +R + A + A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O PO + B + B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P QW + C + C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q RS + D + D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S. + E + E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T. + F + F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U. + G + G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V

This cipher would encrypt the message "HELP", using a code wordof "BEAD", as: IILS

Where row B column H = IWhere row E column E = IWhere row A column L = LWhere row D column P = S

This type of cipher pad system had been used by spies from thesouth against the Union forces, during the Civil War. Thesystem proved so effective that webs of spy networks were set upnorth of the Mason Dixon, carrying the war into the heartland ofUnion territory. At first, it was thought to be unbreakable,but Union cryptanalysts, using a newly discovered form of math,called "probability and statistics", were able to crack theVigenere cipher. Thus, the Union smashed the southern spynetwork, ending the threat against the north. The Union wouldlater send their armies south, and on to final victory atAppamattox Courthouse.

However, Mrs. Surratt was no Confederate spy. In fact, the warwas over when the murder took place. She could barely read orwrite. She did not understand the puzzle found in the room ofthe recent resident in her boarding house. All she did wascook, clean and care for paying customers. Yet, herprotestations fell on deaf ears. She was sentenced to death.She was not the only one to suffer from such injustice. A localdoctor, Samual Mudd, was also accused of treating the murderersbroken leg. The fact that Dr. Mudd did not know that a crimehad been committed seemed unimportant to a blood thirsty Court,calling for revenge. He was sentenced to life in prison.

The real murderer had been killed on April 26, 1865, by Federaltroops, in a barn at Bowling Green, Virginia. Some twelve daysearlier, on the night of April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth put abullet in the back of President Lincoln's head, and leaped ontothe stage of Ford's Theatre, breaking his leg in the fall.Lincoln died the next day, on April 15, 1865. In Booth's rentedroom waited a cipher pad, with which it was presumed he wouldhave sent an encrypted message of his success. Booth never madeit back to Mary Surratt's boarding house. Yet, that scrap ofpaper, a puzzle of alphabetic characters, would send the womanwho didn't shoot Lincoln on to a date with the hangman.


In 1942, war-time Britain was on the edge of starvation anddefeat. Nazi U-boats were sinking ships faster than they couldbe filled with cargo. In fact, the U-boats sank nearly 2,000ships during the first two years of the war. Worse, during thefirst six months of 1942, over 1,000 ships were sent to thebottom. The Nazis had broken the code system used by the RoyalNavy. Not only did they know the time of departure of everyconvoy but they also knew the ships, cargo and even the assignedescorts. This break allowed the Nazis to develop a new tactic:The WOLF PACK. Large numbers of U-boats would ambush a singleconvoy and attack in force. Scores of ships were sunk in amatter of minutes. It seemed that nothing could save Britain.

Then, in late 1942, the Royal Navy switched codes to theone-time pad system. The Nazi tap was lost forever because thepad system is unbreakable in both theory as well as practice.U-boats could no longer ambush helpless ships like wolves onsheep. Convoy after convoy arrived safe and intact, protectedin the armor of an unbreakable code system. The U-boats had tochange tactics. They could no longer hunt in roaming packs butinstead had to spread out, searching alone, scanning the vastAtlantic for their prey. The odds were now stacked againstthem. Even when they could find a convoy, a single U-boat stoodlittle chance of survival against five or six destroyer escorts.By May, 1943, Churchill declared victory over the WOLF PACK.When he made that declaration he also had a secret. An ancientcode system was the key to victory.



On April 18th, 1943, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto's luck ran out.The mastermind of Japan's war of conquest, and the planner ofthe attack on Pearl Harbor, died. Shot down while inspecting afront line base. The Admiral's death was no random act ofaerial dogfighting but a pre-planned attack, with the Admiralhimself the primary target. The americans had bugged Yamamoto'scommunications and knew precisely where he would be. One stop onhis schedule brought him in range to attack. The coded messagescontaining Yamamoto's schedule and flight were decrypted by U.S.teams and sent to the USAAF 339th Fighter Squadron, based onGuadalcanal. On that misty April morning, P-38s from the 339th,intercepted Yamamoto and killed him.

This was not the first time the U.S. hacker team, led by Capt.Rochefort USN, had burned the Imperial Navy with broken codes.Admiral Chester Nimitz, Commander of the Pacific Fleet, armedwith information provided by Rochefort's team on Japanese battleplans, ambushed the Japanese Navy at Coral Sea and later,defeated them at the battle of Midway. There is no questionthat the breaking of Japan's war codes led, ultimately, to herdefeat. Ironically, the broken codes would also prove fatal toYamamoto himself.


In the early summer of 1944 the Nazis sat behind Hitler'sFORTRESS EUROPE, waiting for the Allies to attack. France,occupied since 1940, was defended by small groups of the FreeFrench Resistance. These tiny bands of fighters raided, andstruck at their Nazi occupiers on almost a nightly basis.Transportation, communication, supply and even Nazi troopssuffered under the withering blows of Free France. In 1944these groups had grown to such strength that they formed almosta second front by themselves. Aid from Great Britain could beheard nightly on the BBC.

"Attention! Attention! Now for some personal messages..."

The personal messages that followed were coded signals,pre-arranged phrases, which gave important orders to the FrenchResistance. Strikes, supply air-drops, and even a codedwarning. An alarm that would indicate the coming invasion.Yet, the Nazis also possessed that particular coded signal.Their use of phone taps, radio direction finders, informants,torture, concentration camps and murder had paid off. To becaught with any code or crypto pads meant instant arrest andtorture at the hands of the Gestapo. Many were caught and manydied before they yielded that secret warning to their captors.

However, where and exactly when the Allies would invade wasstill a mystery. The Nazis did not possess a way to crack thetop Allied cipher. If they could read the secret Alliedmessages then they could obtain that place and time to destroythe invasion. Their early successes in cryptography had turnedto dust as more and more of the Allied signals switched to theun-decipherable system. Finally, in desperation, the Naziscalled upon their best agent, code named CICERO, to help crackthe Allied cipher. CICERO was actually the Albanian footman forthe British ambassador to Turkey. His mission was to photographthe plain text of a message that Berlin already possessed incipher form. The Nazi scientists felt that by comparing theplain text to the cipher they could crack the Allied code.CICERO succeeded, snapping the image of the signal, using aspecial, miniature, infared camera. It was flown to Berlinthat same night. Yet, even after the text was analyzed, theNazis could still make no headway against the Allied cipher.Even the possession of the plain text to one message gave nosolution to the next.

D-DAY took place, as planned, on June 6th, 1944. The invasionof Normandy came as a complete surprise to the Nazi Generals.The Luffwaffe and the U-boats were out of place. In fact, onlytwo Nazi planes made a single pass on the first day. EvenHitler refused to believe it, keeping the entire 5th ARMY atCalais to fend off what he thought would be the real invasion.The lack of real information would cripple the Nazis, freezingtheir Panzers in place, waiting for orders, while more and moreAllied troops poured ashore on beaches named Omaha, Gold, Utah,and Sword.

D-Day was a success and the Allies went on to victory. TheAllied use of codes and ciphers paved the way for that victory.In fact, the secrets of OVERLORD were kept safe by an ancient,unbreakable, cipher, called the ONE TIME PAD. There is no doubtthat encryption helped to free Europe.


There is a monument just outside of Washington, D.C., thatpays tribute to the heroes of Iwo Jima. The image of battle wornU.S. Marines, struggling to erect the stars and stripes overMount Suribachi, was inspired by a real event, and a picturesnapped by a photographer on the scene. That image shook ournation and tore at our hearts. What is little known is that oneof those brave Marines was an Indian code-talker. Ira Hayes wasa Pima indian who learned Navaho and became a code-talker. Heused the ancient language as a form of spoken crypto to foil theImperial Japanese. It was with this weapon that he was mostvaluable. His coded messages saved lives, and won battles. Hispresence at the peak of Suribachi was necessary and personallydangerous since he was needed for critical radio communications.For this he was decorated. It is very true that the list ofcitations and decorations for bravery under fire and heroism wonby Indian code-talkers is far too long for any singlepublication. It is also true the success of the Indian talkershas since become legendary.

It was a fact that there were few, if any, scholars outsidethe U.S. that studied native languages. The solution toinsecure tactical communication seemed obvious and Indians wereactively recruited for signal positions. Still, the top brasswould not buy into the idea. So, a Navaho system was testedagainst the best code crackers in the U.S. at the time. Thiswas to be a crucial trial run before the Navahos were to beunleashed against the Axis powers. To their credit, there wereno known breaks of their code by the U.S. cracker teams. Thislack of success was later shared in combat by the ImperialJapanese and the Nazi Germans.

The idea, to use little known native languages for combatcommunications, actually started in World War One. There,Choctaw soldiers were employed by the Army. The Choctaw wereselected because several officers were also Choctaw. It wasfelt they could provide the best interface between command staffand the code-talkers. The Choctaw code-talkers were firstintroduced into combat in 1918 in France. They instantly provedto be invaluable. Prior to their arrival even the transmissionon telegraph wires of a strategic location, such as anammunition dump, would result in a quick German response offierce artillery bombardment. Pershing inserted them atcritical positions along the American front lines where Germanintercepts had been known to be a factor. The result was securecommunications and several successful counter-attacks weremounted with little loss and total surprise. Still, thedifficult process of code-talking resulted in many improvisionssince Choctaw did not have words for modern military weapons.However, once such things as "big gun with wheels" (artillery)and "little gun that shoots fast with wheels" (machine guns)were worked out, the Choctaw code-talkers of World War Onebecame quite good.

In late 1945, a lonely Pima Marine heeded the call to raise aflag. He served with distinction and honor. Ira Hayes was aliving example of how codes and ciphers are part of America. Inreturn for his bravery, our nation put his image, standing nextto our most sacred burial grounds. Since then, the monument andhis image have become legendary. Today, we can pay tribute tohim simply by remembering who and what he was. We can honor himand all the native americans who gave up so much for ourfreedom. The Indian code-talkers who fought and died from thebeaches of Normandy to the sands of Iwo Jima.

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