The Wall Street Journal
? May 27, 2005
The Secret Passages
In CIA's Backyard
Draw Mystery Lovers
'Da Vinci Code' Has Many
Trying to Decipher Secret
Of the Kryptos Sculpture
By JOHN D. MCKINNON
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL
May 27, 2005; Page A1
LANGLEY, Va. -- The big mystery at the Central Intelligence Agency, sitting
in a sunny corner of the headquarters courtyard, begins this way:
That's the first line of the Kryptos sculpture, a 10-foot-tall, S-shaped
copper scroll perforated with 3-inch-high letters spelling out words in
code. Completed 15 years ago, Kryptos, which is Greek for "hidden," at
first attracted interest mainly from government code breakers who quietly
deciphered the easier parts without announcing their findings publicly.
Now, many mystery lovers around the world have joined members of the
national-security establishment in trying to crack the rest. So far,
neither amateurs nor pros have been able to do it.
The latest scramble was set off by "The Da Vinci Code," the thriller about
a modern-day search for the Holy Grail. On the book's dust jacket, author
Dan Brown placed clues that hint at Kryptos's significance. The main one is
a set of geographic coordinates that roughly locate the sculpture. (One of
the coordinates is off slightly, for reasons that Mr. Brown so far has kept
secret.) A game at www.thedavincicode.com1 suggests that Kryptos is a clue
to the subject of Mr. Brown's as-yet-unpublished next novel, "The Solomon
Gary Phillips, 27 years old, a Michigan computer programmer, started
researching Kryptos last year, hours after learning about its Da Vinci Code
connection. "Once it pulls you in, you just can't stop thinking about it,"
he says. Eventually, Mr. Phillips says, he let a struggling software
business go under and took a construction job so he would have more time
for solving Kryptos.
The CIA's copper Kryptos sculpture
The quest to solve the fourth and final passage of Kryptos's message has
spawned several Web sites -- including Mr. Phillips's -- as well as an
online discussion group that has more than 500 members. The discussion
group was founded by Gary Warzin, who heads Audiophile Systems Ltd. in
Indianapolis. He became fascinated with Kryptos after visiting the CIA in
2001. But after months of trying to crack the code on his own, Mr. Warzin
-- whose other hobbies include escaping from straitjackets -- decided he
Kryptos devotees are intrigued by the three passages that have been
deciphered so far. They appear to offer clues to solving the sculpture's
fourth passage, and possibly to locating something buried.
Sculptor James Sanborn, Kryptos's creator, says he wrote or adapted all
three. The first reads, "Between subtle shading and the absence of light
lies the nuance of iqlusion." Jim Gillogly, a California computer
researcher believed to be the first person outside the intelligence world
to solve the first three parts, came up with the translation, which
includes the deliberate misspelling of the word illusion.
The second passage, more suggestive, reads in part, "It was totally
invisible. How's that possible? They used the Earth's magnetic field. The
information was gathered and transmitted undergruund to an unknown
location. Does Langley know about this? They should: it's buried out there
somewhere." That passage is followed by geographic coordinates that suggest
a location elsewhere on the CIA campus.
The third decoded passage is based on a diary entry by archaeologist Howard
Carter, on the day in 1922 when he discovered the tomb of the ancient
Egyptian King Tutankhamen. It reads in part, "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. Can you see anything?" Mr. Sanborn confirms
that the translations are accurate.
In addition to deliberate misspellings, there are letters slightly higher
than others on the same line. Other possible clues are contained in smaller
parts of the work scattered around the CIA grounds. Made of red granite and
sheets of copper, these are tattooed with Morse code that spells out
phrases like "virtually invisible" and "t is your position." In addition, a
compass needle carved onto one of the rocks is pulled off due north by a
lodestone that Mr. Sanborn placed nearby.
Those poring over the puzzle these days are thought to include
national-security workers as well as retirees, computer-game players and
cryptogram fans. Some devotees believe Kryptos holds profound significance
as a portal into the wisdom of the ancients.
More typical is Jennifer Bennett, a 27-year-old puzzle aficionado who works
as a poker-room supervisor near Seattle. She came across the Kryptos
mystery last year while on maternity leave, as she searched for online
games to play. Now back at work, she still spends an hour a day on Kryptos
after her children have gone to bed. Like most would-be code breakers, she
relies on pencil and paper.
The final lines of unsolved code on the CIA's Kryptos sculpture.
Others, like Mr. Gillogly, the California code breaker, are partial to
computers. Semiretired, he spent 30 years at the Rand Corp., then had his
own software business. He estimates that his computers have tried at least
100 billion possible solutions to the fourth passage over the years. His
main computer these days, he says, is a 1.7 GHz laptop with a Pentium 4
Experts say the fourth passage -- known to insiders as "K4" -- is written
in a more complex and difficult code than the first three, one designed to
mask patterns of recurring letters that code breakers look for.
Efforts at finding a solution have grown increasingly elaborate. Elonka
Dunin, an executive at St. Louis computer-game company Simutronics, has
hunted down other encoded sculptures by Mr. Sanborn in search of recurring
themes. Some, like researcher Chris Hanson, who runs a company that makes
software for constructing 3D landscape models, have mapped the CIA's
headquarters or built virtual replicas of Kryptos.
Mr. Sanborn has grown uncomfortable with some of the attention his work is
getting, particularly from those who see religious overtones. "I don't want
my work manipulated in such a way that its meaning is somehow transformed,"
the Kryptos sculptor says. He dismisses any religious connotations or
allusions to beliefs of the ancients.
A spokeswoman for Dan Brown referred questions to Doubleday, his publisher,
explaining that he's at work on his new novel and "incommunicado." A
spokesman for Doubleday declined to comment.
Mr. Sanborn, who lives and works in Washington, burnished his reputation
with Kryptos. He has exhibited around the world, including at the Hirshhorn
Museum and Corcoran Gallery of Art. His more recent work has focused on the
early development of atomic weapons, employing actual equipment from the
Los Alamos National Laboratory.
He had no formal training in cryptography when he created Kryptos, but
worked with a retired CIA official, Ed Scheidt, who was starting up an
encryption-software business, TecSec Inc. Mr. Sanborn says he withheld the
full solution to the puzzle from Mr. Scheidt, as well as from the CIA
itself. An agency spokesman says he isn't aware of anyone having solved the
Despite the struggles of would-be code breakers, Mr. Sanborn insists the
puzzle can be solved, and teases them by saying that one clue overlooked so
far is sitting in plain view. "The most obvious key to the sculpture,
nobody has picked up on."
R. A. Hettinga <mailto: [EMAIL PROTECTED]>
The Internet Bearer Underwriting Corporation <http://www.ibuc.com/>
44 Farquhar Street, Boston, MA 02131 USA
"... however it may deserve respect for its usefulness and antiquity,
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