Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kryptos Artist to Reveal Rare Clue to Baffling CIA Sculpture

Via (Threat Level) -

Kryptos sleuths may finally get some help cracking the CIA sculpture that has confounded amateur and professional cryptographers for two decades.

Artist Jim Sanborn, who created the cypher sculpture in 1990 for CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, plans to release a new clue to help puzzle detectives solve the last 97 characters of his masterpiece. The new clue is to be revealed in a New York Times article this weekend, to mark the 20th anniversary of the sculpture, which was dedicated Nov. 3, 1990.

It will be the first clue Sanborn has revealed in four years, after he corrected a typo in his sculpture in 2006 to keep crypto detectives from being derailed in their search for solutions.

Sanborn wouldn’t disclose the clue to Threat Level but said only cryptically that it will "globalize" the sculpture. Asked if this meant it would take the sculpture off the CIA grounds and out of the United States, he conceded it would.

"I personally think it’s a significant clue," he said. "I’m throwing it out there. It just makes that many fewer characters people have to figure out."

Sanborn said he’d been thinking about revealing a clue for a long time but couldn’t decide on the right occasion until the 20th anniversary and his birthday coincided in the same month.

"I don’t have that many decades...left in me," the 65-year-old artist said.

The 12-foot-high, verdigrised copper, granite and wood sculpture is inscribed with four encrypted messages, three of which have been solved. The sculpture’s theme is intelligence gathering (Kryptos is Greek for “hidden”).

It features a large block of petrified wood standing upright, with a tall copper plate scrolling out of the wood like a sheet of paper. At the sculpture’s base is a round pool with fountain pump that sends water in a circular motion around the pool. Carved out of the copper plate are approximately 1,800 letters, some of them forming a table based on an encryption method developed in the 16th century by a Frenchman named Blaise de Vigenere.

Sanborn sells replicas of the sculpture for $150 at the International Spy Museum in Washington, D.C., and other locations.

n 1998, CIA analyst David Stein cracked three of the four messages using paper and pencil and about 400 lunch-time hours. Only his CIA colleagues knew of his success, however, because the agency didn’t publicize it. A year later, California computer scientist Jim Gillogly gained public notoriety when he cracked the same three messages using a Pentium II.

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