KRYPTOS — More Lies from the New York Times and C.I.A. [UPDATE — CNN jumps on the bandwagon.]

“Why does the message of Kryptos contain intentional misspellings?”

Nicole Daniels — New York Times (April 6 2020)

“Thanks to @nytimes for featuring the Kryptos sculpture in Monday’s Lesson of the Day.”

CIA — Twitter (April 8 2020)

“Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Albert Einstein

“All mistakes originate with people acting like experts, thoroughly familiar with a subject, and looking down with an air of superiority on others.”

Tsurezuregusa (Essays in Idleness) –  Yoshida Kenkō (ca. 1330)

April 9 2020  — On Monday, the New York Times ran a piece on KRYPTOS. Sure enough, the US newspaper of record had to lie about an infamous misspelling in one of the decoded sections of KRYPTOS. Once upon a times, I would not have really cared about such lie. But in these times of hardship, any lie — small lie or big lie — is one lie too many. When will these clowns ever understand that you do not get any better at doing your job by lying about your past mistakes? This is wrong. Follow us on TWITTER: @INTEL_TODAY

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS Week 2019 — New Clues from the CIA Website? [UPDATE : Get Ready for a New Clue!] — Breaking News : 3rd Clue Just Released!

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS Week 2019 — Introduction : Sculpture Dedication Ceremony at the CIA (November 3 1990)

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS Week 2019 — How to Break a Vigenère Code

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS Week 2019 — The Solution of Section II

RELATED POST : KRYPTOS Week 2019 — History of the NSA Involvement

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS Week 2019 — SECTION I : A KEYED Vigenère Cipher [And why the CIA lies so much about it?]

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS Week 2019 — SECTION III : A Transposition Cipher

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS Week 2019 — SECTION IV : A Few Clues From Edward Scheidt

UPDATE (August 1st 2020) — “To err is human, but to persist in error is diabolical.”

Three months after after the publication of the same nonsense in The New York Times, CNN repeats the claim that Sanborn’s mistake — IQLUSION instead of ILLUSION — is intentional!

In a piece titled “This sculpture at CIA headquarters holds one of the world’s most famous unsolved mysteries ” (July 25 2020), CHRISTINE CHAMPAGNE and DREW BEEBE wrote:

The first message reads: “Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlusion.”

“Iqlusion” isn’t a typo. Sanborn intentionally misspelled the word “illusion.” It was his way of throwing people off.

What is wrong with those people? “Errare humanum est, perseverare autem diabolicum.”


Kryptos is a sculpture by the American artist Jim Sanborn located on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia.

Of the four parts of the message, the first three — known as K1, K2 and K3 — have been solved.

However K4, the last part of the message, remains one of the most famous unsolved code in the world.

K1 — the first part of the message —  was encrypted with a Vigenère table (key = KRYPTOS) and a passphrase: PALIMPSEST.

The text, after decryption, reads:

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

Surely, you have noticed that “illusion” was misspelled as “iqlusion”.

Over the years, many people have been wondering if this is a clue to decipher the meaning of this enigma or it if it a simple mistake?

According to the New York Times,

“The misspelling was intentional, Mr. Sanborn has said, to make it more difficult to decode — or, as he put it, ‘to mix it up’.”

And this week, this explanation becomes official as the NYT asks the readers:

“Why does the message of Kryptos contain intentional misspellings?”

That explanation is simply a lie. Actually, it is rather obvious that Jim Sanborn made a mistake. Here is what happened.

Why Jim can’t spell

In a recent post, I convinced you that the FBI experts can’t read. In this one, I hope to convince you that the CIA experts can’t spell!

RELATED POST: FBI : “There is no clue or piece of information too small.” [Lockerbie]

Over the years, Jim Sanborn has released several images of his Kryptos worksheets. Can we learn anything from these pics? You better believe it!

Here is a picture from K1 that appeared in the New York Time on November 20 2010.

The top line of each cluster shows the plain text of the passage:

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

The bottom line is the encrypted text as it appears on the sculpture.

In between is the passphrase: a text/word, repeated over and over, that he used to encrypt the text. The passphrase for K1 is “palimpsest”.

At the top of this worksheet, Sanborn wrote the passphrase “palimpcest” with a C instead of a S!

This is in itself irrelevant. However, Sanborn made that mistake again at the end of the second line. And that matters!

As a result, the letter under the first L of illusion is a C instead of a S.

To help you follow my argument, I reproduce here part of the Vigenère table directly relevant to this discussion.

It is very clear what happened. The second L of “illusion” was correctly enciphered with a E, thus turning into a Y.

However, the first L was incorrectly encoded with a C — instead of a S — yielding the infamous K instead of the correct W!

It is therefore obvious that this is a silly mistake and there is no great mysterious meaning to it!

End of the story?

Not yet…

You may have noticed that some letters in the worksheet appear darker than others.

Look very carefully at the first S of “palimpsest” on the top line.

It appears that Sanborn had first written three times “palimpCest” with a C and later overwrote these three C into S.

Of course, this means that he also had to correct the cypher.

The N of “Between” is coded into a Z but was first coded as a Y with the incorrect C.

The D of “shading” is coded into a J but was first coded as a N with the incorrect C.

Actually, I believe that the N would still show up on a good resolution picture.

And so on…

The Truth about IQLUSION

The truth is quite simple. Sanborn forgot to correct the C in the last use of “palimpsest” at the end of the second line.

The misspelling was NOT intentional. It is the result of a silly error. End of that story.

However, no one corrected that error.

Not even those at the CIA who were supposed to check that the work had been performed correctly. That is a bit embarassing…

The Irony of Palimpsest

So, why does Jim Sanborn, the CIA and the New York Times keep on lying about this obvious mistake?

Palimpsest is defined as (1) a manuscript or piece of writing material on which later writing has been superimposed on effaced earlier writing or (2) something reused or altered but still bearing visible traces of its earlier form.

There is serious irony in Sanborn’s mistake.

But ask yourself a simple question. If Sanborn cannot spell that word, he probably did not know what a palimpsest is in the first place.

Therefore, it is likely that Sanborn learned that word from the person who introduced him to the art of cryptography.

But why on earth would that person have insisted on this word as a passphrase for the Vigenère table?

Perhaps, palimpsests is both a passphrase and a technique; a passphrase for encrypting K1 and a masking method used in the encryption of K4.

Stay tuned!

PS : In my next post on KRYPTOS, I will explain why the second misspelling of Sanborn is also non intentional. This is even more interesting…


Lesson of the Day: ‘This Sculpture Holds a Decades-Old C.I.A. Mystery. And Now, Another Clue.’ — New York Times — Nicole Daniels (April 6 2020)

Original Decoding Charts for ‘Kryptos’ — New York Times (November 20 2010)


KRYPTOS — More Lies from the New York Times and C.I.A.

KRYPTOS — More Lies from the New York Times and C.I.A. [UPDATE — CNN jumps on the bandwagon.]

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