If someone had told me I’d be ending 2012 blogging about a pigeon, I’d have said he was crazy. Turns out he’d be crazy like a crystal ball-gazing fox. According to numerous sites, a Canadian World War II enthusiast has broken the coded message found on a dead WWII messenger pigeon (blogged previously here and here). According to Gordon Young from Ontario, the code that the UK’s GCHQ couldn’t crack is nothing but simple codes from a code book.
To Crack Code, Gordon Referenced WWI
Actually, to say that Young cracked the message is something of a reach. Rather, it’s not unlikely he’s cracked it. You see, in order to “crack” the code, Young used a Royal Flying Corps (RFC) codebook from WWI. Seeing how the message was from WWII, who knows how codes may have changed between the two great wars? On the other hand, codes like the ones Young references – not cryptographic codes, mind you, but acronyms designed to speed up communications – do not change that much, if I’m not wrong, especially if they are acronyms, as Young claims they are.
(For those who are interested, the RFC is the arm of the British Army that dealt with in-the-air operations. There was a time when the air force did not exist in its present form but was an attachment to the Army. For example, in the movie Pearl Harbor, Ben Affleck is with the US Army).
Young’s theory could be easily proved by producing army codebooks from WWII, which the GCHQ noted previously that they didn’t exist anymore.
GCHQ Interested but Circumspect
Britain’s top code-cracking agency, the UK Government Communications Headquarters (or GCHQ), has expressed interest in the solution but has noted:
“We stand by our press notice of 22 November 2012 in that without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, the message will remain impossible to decrypt,” a spokesman for the GCHQ told NBC News in an emailed statement. “Similarly it is also impossible to verify any proposed solutions, but those put forward without reference to the original cryptographic material are unlikely to be correct.” [nbcnews.com]
Sourgrapes on GCHQ’s part, for not stumbling across this brilliant solution themselves, or valid observation? Valid observation.
For starters, if you read the letter Young sent to the Prime Minister of the UK, there is this particular acronym that was deciphered:
PABLIZ – Panzer Attack – Blitz
The problem is that the acronym in question is not PABLIZ. It’s PABUZ. Furthermore, if you read some of the “decryptions” you’ll realize that there is a lot of “this is implied” going on. Once you start delving into that particular route, you’re probably twisting things around to fit them into the facts, PABLIZ being such an example. In fact, I think I read some comment that the “decryption” is quite contrived.
Could Young’s interpretation be right? Well, the beauty about good encryption is that you can’t really tell. That’s why encryption works: you interpret it this way and it works, you interpret it that way and it works, and you interpret it a third way and it works, too! In other words, if you don’t have the key, you don’t have the message.
Under the circumstances, GCHQ is probably more correct than not in expressing caution that the code has been broken.
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