The KRYPTOS Sculpture: NSA Solution for Section III

With trembling hands, I made a tiny breach in the upper left hand corner… widening the hole a little, I inserted the candle and peered in… at first I could see nothing, the hot air escaping from the chamber causing the candle to flicker. Presently, details of the room emerged slowly from the mist, strange animals, statues and gold – everywhere the glint of gold. For the moment – an eternity it must have seemed to the others standing by – I was struck dumb with amazement, and when Lord Carnarvon, unable to stand in suspense any longer, inquired anxiously “Can you see anything?”, it was all I could do to get out the words “Yes, wonderful things”.

Howard Carter — The Tomb of Tutankhamen

Diary — November 26 1922

Kryptos at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia

KRYPTOS is a sculpture by the American artist Jim Sanborn 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 passage. The artist has so far given two clues to this passage.

In this post, I present the solution to Section III of the cypher as explained by the NSA. As I explained before, I do not like this method/explanation for several reasons. I do not think that this technique would appeal to an artist such Sanborn. Moreover, the way the question mark is handled is highly dubious. And finally, there is no explanation for the mysterious “Q” at the end of the message. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Sculpture — An Introduction

RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Code — How to Break a Vigenère Code

RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Code — The Solution of Section II

RELATED POST : The KRYPTOS Sculpture — History of the NSA Involvement

RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Sculpture — SECTION I : A KEYED Vigenère Cipher [And why the CIA lies so much about it?] — UPDATE

RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Sculpture — SECTION III: A Transposition Cipher

RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Sculpture — SECTION IV: A few clues

Background

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).

The right-hand side of the sculpture comprises a keyed Vigenère encryption tableau, consisting of 867 letters.

In our last posts about KRYPTOS, we learned how to break a Vigenère code and we apply this knowledge to decode the entire section I and II. The section III involves a different kind of encryption method.

Encrypted Text of KRYPTOS Section III

ENDYAHROHNLSRHEOCPTEOIBIDYSHNAIA
CHTNREYULDSLLSLLNOHSNOSMRWXMNE
TPRNGATIHNRARPESLNNELEBLPIIACAE
WMTWNDITEENRAHCTENEUDRETNHAEOE
TFOLSEDTIWENHAEIOYTEYQHEENCTAYCR
EIFTBRSPAMHHEWENATAMATEGYEERLB
TEEFOASFIOTUETUAEOTOARMAEERTNRTI
BSEDDNIAAHTTMSTEWPIEROAGRIEWFEB
AECTDDHILCEIHSITEGOEAOSDDRYDLORIT
RKLMLEHAGTDHARDPNEOHMGFMFEUHE
ECDMRIPFEIMEHNLSSTTRTVDOHW?

Decrypted Text

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 lefthand 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.” [Wikipedia]

Comment: The word “DESPARATLY” is obviously misspelt and stands for “desperately”. I do not know if Jim Sanborn has made any comment regarding this mistake. I suspect that if Sanborn had spelt this word correctly, the symbol “Q” at the end of the plaintext would not be there!

The NSA Solution

First, the plaintext is written backward in a 86 x 4 matrix. The four lines are:

?QGNIHTYNAEESUOYNACXTSIMEHTMORF — FOTEMALF

EHTDESUACREBMAHCEHTMORFGNIPACSE — OHEHTGNI

NEDIWNEHTDNARENROCDNAHTFELREPPU — AWYAWROO

DEHTFOTRAPREWOLEHTDEREBMUCNETAH — YLTARAPSEDYLWOLS

Comment: I have only written the beginning and the end of each line.

Next, each line of the text is cut in length of 7:

?QGNIHT YNAEESU OYNACXT SIMEHTM ORFDEGR EMENIHT IWMOORE HTFOSLI ATEDYLT NESERPT UBREKCI LFOTEMA LF

EHTDESU ACREBMA HCEHTMO RFGNIPA CSERIAT OHEHTNI DEREEPD NAELDNA CEHTDET RESNIIE LTTILAE LOHEHTG NI

NEDIWNE HTDNARE NROCDNA HTFELRE PPUEHTN IHCAERB YNITAED AMISDNA HGNILBM ERTHTIW DEVOMER SAWYAWR OO

DEHTFOT RAPREWO LEHTDER EBMUCNE TAHTSIR BEDEGAS SAPFOSN IAMEREH TYLWOLS YLTARAP SEDYLWO LS

Next, we restack it into 7 columns:

?QGNIHT
EHTDESU
NEDIWNE
DEHTFOT

YNAEESU
ACREBMA
HTDNARE
RAPREWO

OYNACXT
HCEHTMO
NROCDNA
LEHTDER

SIMEHTM
RFGNIPA
HTFELRE
EBMUCNE

ORFDEGR
CSERIAT
PPUEHTN
TAHTSIR

EMENIHT
OHEHTNI
IHCAERB
BEDEGAS

IWMOORE
DEREEPD
YNITAED
SAPFOSN

HTFOSLI
NAELDNA
AMISDNA
IAMEREH

ATEDYLT
CEHTDET
HGNILBM
TYLWOLS

NESERPT
RESNIIE
ERTHTIW
YLTARAP

UBREKCI
LTTILAE
DEVOMER
SEDYLWO

LFOTEMA
LOHEHTG
SAWYAWR
LS

LF
NI
OO

Next, the order of the column is modified according to KRYPTOS numerically keyed.

K R Y P T O S       K O P R S T Y
0 3  6 2 5  1  4 ->  0 1  2  3 4  5 6

?QGNIHT    ?HNQTIG
EHTDESU    ESDHUET
NEDIWNE    NNIEEWD
DEHTFOT    DOTETFH
YNAEESU    YSENUEA
ACREBMA    AMECABR
HTDNARE    HRNTEAD
RAPREWO    RWRAOEP
OYNACXT    OXAYTCN
HCEHTMO    HMHCOTE
NROCDNA    NNCRADO
LEHTDER    LETERDH
SIMEHTM    STEIMHM
RFGNIPA    RPNFAIG
HTFELRE    HRETELF
EBMUCNE    ENUBECM
ORFDEGR    OGDRREF
CSERIAT    CARSTIE
PPUEHTN    PTEPNHU
TAHTSIR    TITARSH
EMENIHT    EHNMTIE
OHEHTNI    ONHHITE
IHCAERB    IRAHBEC
BEDEGAS    BAEESGD
IWMOORE    IROWEOM
DEREEPD    DPEEDER
YNITAED    YETNDAI
SAPFOSN    SSFANOP
HTFOSLI    HLOTISF
NAELDNA    NNLAADE
AMISDNA    ANSMADI
IAMEREH    IEEAHRM
ATEDYLT    ALDTTYE
CEHTDET    CETETDH
HGNILBM    HBIGMLN
TYLWOLS    TLWYSOL
NESERPT    NPEETRS
RESNIIE    RINEEIS
ERTHTIW    EIHRWTT
YLTARAP    YAALPRT
UBREKCI    UCEBIKR
LTTILAE    LAITELT
DEVOMER    DEOERMV
SEDYLWO    SWYEOLD
LFOTEMA    LMTFAEO
LOHEHTG    LTEOGHH
SAWYAWR    SWYARAW
LS         L  S
LF         L  F
NI         N  I
OO         O  O

Finally, write the columns downwards, left to right.

ENDYAHROHNLSRHEOCPTEOIBIDYSHNAIA
CHTNREYULDSLLSLLNOHSNOSMRWXMNE
TPRNGATIHNRARPESLNNELEBLPIIACAE
WMTWNDITEENRAHCTENEUDRETNHAEOE
TFOLSEDTIWENHAEIOYTEYQHEENCTAYCR
EIFTBRSPAMHHEWENATAMATEGYEERLB
TEEFOASFIOTUETUAEOTOARMAEERTNRTI
BSEDDNIAAHTTMSTEWPIEROAGRIEWFEB
AECTDDHILCEIHSITEGOEAOSDDRYDLORIT
RKLMLEHAGTDHARDPNEOHMGFMFEUHE
ECDMRIPFEIMEHNLSSTTRTVDOHW

And of course, all these steps must be reversed to decode the cypher. Acccording to the CIA expert who taught Sanborn the basics of cryptology, they agreed that the coding of KRYPTOS should be done with “pencil & paper”.  Sorry, but I like my solution way better!

RELATED POST: The KRYPTOS Sculpture — SECTION III: A Transposition Cipher

KRYPTOS in 3D — VIDEO

REFERENCES

Kryptos — Wikipedia

Stein, David D. (1999). “The Puzzle at CIA Headquarters: Cracking the Courtyard Crypto” (pdf). Studies in Intelligence. 43 (1).

The puzzle at CIA headquarters. Cracking the courtyard crypto — CIA Website

Vigenère cipher — Wikipedia

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