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he Central Intelligence Agency is all about secrecy and communication through codes. The sculpture from the CIA headquarters in Virginia named Kryptos represents the culture of the CIA as well as what they stand for, however, based on the man behind the sculpture there is a lot more to it.

The brilliant mind behind it

Jim Sanborn (Source: Elonka)

In the late 1980s Jim Sanborn, a well-known American sculptor was given the task by the CIA to create a sculpture that would represent the Agency. Sanborn, knowing that agents would pass the sculpture every day, wanted to make it really interesting and at the same time thought-provoking.

In 1990, the sculpture was presented. It is considered a brilliant piece of art but what is even more attractive is the puzzle it holds that nobody has managed to solve even after 30 years. Sanborn himself mentioned in an interview with CNN that he never believed that 30 years would pass without anyone managing to solve the puzzle. When the sculpture was made public on the 3rd of November 1990 he expected that after a few weeks someone would decrypt the message, but to his surprise no one did.

The best cryptologist still struggling

Cryptologists around the world united in trying to break the code for decades now and they haven’t come anywhere close. Elonka Dunin who is known as one of the best cryptologists around has been trying for over 20 years now to break this code.

Over the years, Sanborn tried to explain to cryptologists that the sculpture contains four encrypted messages which are put together to form a riddle. Sandborn also mentioned that this was his first time creating such a complex code within one of his sculptures and that he didn’t consider himself to be very good at it, although most people would argue the opposite.

Three messages decrypted

Here is what the transcript of the sculpture looks like on paper. It is said that each portion contains one of the encrypted messages that all come together to form a riddle.

Kryptos Transcript (Source: University of California San Diego)

Although the code is still hidden, three of the messages have been decrypted by cryptologists from the NSA, CIA, and experts from the public. The NSA (National Security Agency) however states that they decrypted the first three messages as early as 1992 but they never made it public as they did not decrypt the whole secret behind Kryptos.

The messages themselves are very vague to one another and it does just show the difficulty behind them. The first message is a poetic phrase written by Sanborn:

“Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlusion.”

Sanborn was happy to see that someone managed to decrypt the first message and also mentioned that the misspelling of illusion with “iqlusion” was done on purpose to throw people off.

The second message shows the exact latitude and longitude of the CIA headquarters as well as says that something is buried under the headquarters.

“Does Langley know about this? They should: it’s buried out there somewhere. X who knows the exact location? Only WW.”

The WW is a reference to William Webster, the head of the CIA in 1990 when the sculpture was presented.

The third and last message to be decrypted contains a few sentences from Howard Carter’s diary, the archeologist who discovered King Tut’s tomb:

“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?”

Once again note that some of the misspellings within the text were intentionally done by Sanborn.

A student from the Univerity of California San Diego named Karl Wang created a website with the three decyphered messages and analyzed each of them. He mentions that each message comes with a different level of difficulty with the third one being the most difficult yet and the fourth one being near impossible.

Will anyone be able to decipher the fourth message and solve the riddle? We can only hope just as Sanborn hopes to see someone decipher the whole secret before his death.

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