FBI Still Uses Old Fashioned Cryptanalysts to Break Codes

A deciphered letter calling for a "hit"/fbi photo
By Allan Lengel

You’d think the art of manually cracking codes written in traditional forms of communication like letters would have faded along ago with J. Edgar Hoover.

Not so.

The FBI has posted a feature on its website which shows that its Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Record Unit (CRRU) — part of the bureau’s Laboratory Division — is alive and well.

“That’s because criminals who use cryptography—codes, ciphers, and concealed messages—are more numerous than one might expect,” the FBI says. “Terrorists, gang members, inmates, drug dealers, violent lone offenders, and organized crime groups involved in gambling and prostitution use letters, numbers, symbols, and even invisible ink to encode messages in an attempt to hide illegal activity.”

The FBI used this example:

“The letter from a gang member in prison to a friend on the outside seemed normal enough. “Saludos loved one,” it began, and went on to describe the perils of drug use and the inmate’s upcoming visit from his children.”

“But closer inspection by examiners in our Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit (CRRU) revealed that this seemingly ordinary letter was encoded with a much more sinister message: every fifth word contained the letter’s true intent, which was to green-light the murder of a fellow gang member.”

The FBI said breaking such “pen and paper” codes remains a necessary weapon in the Bureau’s investigative arsenal.

“We solve crimes,”Dan Olson, chief of the unit,  said. But we actually prevent more crimes than we solve.”

He said, according to the FBI site, that  breaking codes is an “old-fashioned battle of the minds” between code makers and code breakers. He said the unit is the only unit he knows of which deals exclusively with manual, and not digital, code breaking, according to the FBI side.

Leave a Reply