Kryptos is a sculpture by the American artist Jim Sanborn that is 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 four encrypted messages it bears. Of the four messages, the first three have been solved, while the fourth message remains as one of the most famous unsolved codes in the world. The sculpture continues to be of interest to cryptanalysts, both amateur and professional, who are attempting to decipher the fourth section. The artist has so far given two clues to this section.
The main part of the sculpture is located in the northwest corner of the New Headquarters Building courtyard, outside of the Agency’s cafeteria.
The name Kryptos comes from the ancient 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 a piece of paper emerging from a computer printer, half of which consists of encrypted text.
The characters are all found within the 26 letters of the Latin alphabet, along with question marks, and are cut out of the copper plates.
The main sculpture contains four separate enigmatic messages, three of which have been deciphered.
In addition to the main part of the sculpture, Jim Sanborn also placed other pieces of art at the 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 found on these copper sheets, and one of the stone slabs has an engraving of a compass rose pointing to a lodestone.
Other elements of Sanborn’s installation include a landscaped garden area, a fish pond with opposing wooden benches, a reflecting pool, and other pieces of stone including a triangle shaped black stone slab.
The cost of the sculpture in 1988 was US $250,000 (worth US $501,000 in 2016).
The ciphertext on the left-hand side of the sculpture (as seen from the courtyard) of the main sculpture contains 869 characters in total : 865 letters and 4 question marks.
In April 2006, however, Sanborn released information stating that a letter was omitted from this side of Kryptos “for aesthetic reasons, to keep the sculpture visually balanced”.
There are also three misspelled words in the plaintext of the deciphered first three parts, which Sanborn has said was intentional, and three letters (YAR) near the beginning of the bottom half of the left side are the only characters on the sculpture in superscript.
The right-hand side of the sculpture comprises a keyed Vigenère encryption tableau, consisting of 867 letters.
One of the lines of the Vigenère tableau has an extra character (L), which Sanborn has indicated was accidental.
EMUFPHZLRFAXYUSDJKZLDKRNSHGNFIVJ YQTQUXQBQVYUVLLTREVJYQTMKYRDMFD VFPJUDEEHZWETZYVGWHKKQETGFQJNCE GGWHKK?DQMCPFQZDQMMIAGPFXHQRLG TIMVMZJANQLVKQEDAGDVFRPJUNGEUNA QZGZLECGYUXUEENJTBJLBQCRTBJDFHRR YIZETKZEMVDUFKSJHKFWHKUWQLSZFTI HHDDDUVH?DWKBFUFPWNTDFIYCUQZERE EVLDKFEZMOQQJLTTUGSYQPFEUNLAVIDX FLGGTEZ?FKZBSFDQVGOGIPUFXHHDRKF FHQNTGPUAECNUVPDJMQCLQUMUNEDFQ ELZZVRRGKFFVOEEXBDMVPNFQXEZLGRE DNQFMPNZGLFLPMRJQYALMGNUVPDXVKP DQUMEBEDMHDAFMJGZNUPLGEWJLLAETG
ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZABCD AKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYP BRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPT CYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTO DPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOS ETOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSA FOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSAB GSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABC HABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCD IBCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDE JCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEF KDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFG LEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGH MFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHI
ENDYAHROHNLSRHEOCPTEOIBIDYSHNAIA CHTNREYULDSLLSLLNOHSNOSMRWXMNE TPRNGATIHNRARPESLNNELEBLPIIACAE WMTWNDITEENRAHCTENEUDRETNHAEOE TFOLSEDTIWENHAEIOYTEYQHEENCTAYCR EIFTBRSPAMHHEWENATAMATEGYEERLB TEEFOASFIOTUETUAEOTOARMAEERTNRTI BSEDDNIAAHTTMSTEWPIEROAGRIEWFEB AECTDDHILCEIHSITEGOEAOSDDRYDLORIT RKLMLEHAGTDHARDPNEOHMGFMFEUHE ECDMRIPFEIMEHNLSSTTRTVDOHW?OBKR UOXOGHULBSOLIFBBWFLRVQQPRNGKSSO TWTQSJQSSEKZZWATJKLUDIAWINFBNYP VTTMZFPKWGDKZXTJCDIGKUHUAUEKCAR
NGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJL OHIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJL PIJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLM QJLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMN RLMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQ SMNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQU TNQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUV UQUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVW VUVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWX WVWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZ XWXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZK YXZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKR ZZKRYPTOSABCDEFGHIJLMNQUVWXZKRY ABCDEFGHIJKLMNOPQRSTUVWXYZABCD
Sanborn worked with a retiring CIA employee named Ed Scheidt, Chairman of the CIA Office of Communications, 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 deciphered.
He has given conflicting information about the sculpture’s answer, saying at one time that he gave the complete solution to the then-CIA director William Webster during the dedication ceremony; but later, he also said that he had not given Webster the entire solution. He did, however, confirm that within the part of the plaintext of the second message which reads “Who knows the exact location? Only WW.”, “WW” was intended to refer to William Webster.
Sanborn also confirmed that should he die before the entire sculpture becomes deciphered, there will be someone able to confirm the solution.
The first person to announce publicly that he had solved the first three sections was Jim Gillogly, a computer scientist from southern California, who deciphered these sections using a computer, and revealed his solutions in 1999.
After Gillogly’s announcement, the CIA revealed that their analyst David Stein also had solved the same sections in 1998 using pencil and paper techniques, although at the time of his solution the information was only disseminated within the intelligence community and no public announcement was made until July 1999.
The NSA also claimed that some of their employees had solved the same three parts, but would not reveal names or dates until March 2000, 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 in late 1992.
In 2013, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Elonka Dunin, the NSA released documents which show the NSA became involved in attempts to solve the Kryptos puzzle in 1992, following a challenge by Bill Studeman, then Deputy Director of the CIA. The documents show that by June 1993, a small group of NSA cryptanalysts had succeeded in solving the first three parts of the sculpture.
The above attempts to solve Kryptos found that part two ended with WESTIDBYROWS, but in 2005, Nicole Friedrich, a logician, philosopher and computer scientist from Vancouver, Canada, determined that another possible plaintext was: WESTPLAYERTWO.
In 2006, Sanborn announced that he had made an error in part 2, and confirmed that the last part of the plaintext was WESTXLAYERTWO, and not WESTIDBYROWS.
The following are the solutions of parts 1–3 of the sculpture.
Misspellings present in the text are included verbatim.
Kryptos sections one (“K1”) and two (“K2”)’s ciphers are polyalphabetic substitution ciphers using a Vigenère tableau similar to the tableau on the right-hand side of the sculpture.
Part three (“K3”) is a transposition cipher.
Part four (“K4”) uses a so far unknown method.
Solution of passage 1
Method : Vigenère
Keywords: Kryptos, Palimpsest
BETWEEN SUBTLE SHADING AND THE ABSENCE OF LIGHT LIES THE NUANCE OF IQLUSION
Solution of passage 2
Method : Vigenère
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 an online community dedicated to the Kryptos puzzle to inform them that the accepted solution to part 2 was incorrect. He said that he made an error in the sculpture by omitting an “X” used to separate sentences, for aesthetic reasons, and that the deciphered text that ended “…FOUR SECONDS WEST ID BY ROWS” should actually be “…FOUR SECONDS WEST X LAYER TWO”. Note: The coordinates mentioned in the plaintext: are for a point that is approximately 150 feet southeast of the sculpture.
Solution of passage 3
Method : Transposition
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 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 asked by Lord Carnarvon, to which Carter (in the book) famously replied “wonderful things”. In the November 26, 1922 field notes, however, his reply was, “Yes, it is wonderful.”.
Solution of passage 4
Part 4 has so far not been publicly solved.
When commenting in 2006 about his error in section 2, Sanborn said that the answers to the first three sections contain clues to the fourth section. In November 2010, Sanborn released a clue, publicly stating that “NYPVTT”, the 64th-69th letters in part four, become “BERLIN” after decryption.
Sanborn gave The New York Times another clue in November 2014: the letters “MZFPK”, the 70th-74th letters in part four, become “CLOCK” after decryption. This may be a direct reference to the Berlin Clock.
Sanborn further stated that in order to solve section 4, “You’d better delve into that particular clock,” but added, “There are several really interesting clocks in Berlin.”
Kryptos was the first cryptographic sculpture made by Sanborn.
After producing Kryptos he went on to make several other sculptures with codes and other types of writing, including one entitled Antipodes, which is at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., an “Untitled Kryptos Piece” that was sold to a private collector, and Cyrillic Projector which contains encrypted Russian Cyrillic text that included an extract from a classified KGB document.
The cipher on one side of Antipodes repeats the text from Kryptos. Much of the cipher on Antipodes’ other side is duplicated on Cyrillic Projector. The Russian portion of the cipher found on Cyrillic Projector and Antipodes was solved in 2003 by Frank Corr and Mike Bales independently from each other with translation from Russian plaintext provided by Elonka Dunin.
Ex Nexum was installed in 1997 at Little Rock Old U.S. Post Office & Courthouse
Some additional sculptures by Sanborn include Native American texts: Rippowam was installed at the University of Connecticut, in Stamford in 1999, while Lux was installed in 2001 at an old US Post Office building in Fort Myers, Florida.
Indian Run is located next to the US Federal Courthouse in Beltsville, Maryland and contains a bronze cylinder perforated with the text of the Iroquois Book of the Great Law. This document includes the contribution of the indigenous peoples to the United States legal system. The text is written in Onondaga and was transcribed from the ancient oral tradition of five Iroquois nations.
A Comma, A was installed at the Plaza in front of the new library at the University of Houston, in Houston, TX in 2004, and Radiance was installed at the Department of Energy, Coast, and Environment, Louisiana State University,Baton Rouge in 2008.
Pop culture references
The dust jacket of the US version of Dan Brown‘s novel The Da Vinci Code contains two references to Kryptos – one on the back cover (coordinates printed light red on dark red, vertically next to the blurbs) is a reference to the coordinates mentioned in the plaintext of part 2 (see above), except the degrees digit is off by one. When Brown and his publisher were asked about this, they both gave the same reply: “The discrepancy is intentional”. The coordinates were part of the first clue of the second Da Vinci Code WebQuest, the first answer being Kryptos. The other reference is hidden in the brown “tear” artwork—upside-down words which say “Only WW knows”, which is another reference to the second message on Kryptos.
A small version of Kryptos appears in the season 5 episode of Alias, “S.O.S.“. In it, Marshall Flinkman, in a small moment of comic relief, says he has cracked the code just by looking at it during a tour visit to the CIA office. The solution he describes sounds like the solution to the first two parts.
A sculpture looking very similar to Kryptos is seen during a scene in the season 2 episode of Homeland, “New Car Smell“. In it, Carrie Mathison and Nicholas Brody run into each other in front of the CIA office and various shots place the sculpture between them as they converse.