KRYPTOS 30 Years Anniversary — History of the NSA Involvement

“Maintaining secrecy about the sculpture became a challenging part of creating Kryptos. Both Jim and I were under scrutiny by the media who wanted badly to know the answer. To be honest, I don’t know the answer. After Jim finished the sculpture, I never went back to check the code.”

Edward Scheidt  — Former CIA Head of Cryptography

November 6 2020 — 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 the entire section II. In this post, we look at the inside story of the NSA people who took the challenge to decrypt — part of — the KRYPTOS code. Follow us on Twitter: @INTEL_TODAY

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS 30-Year Anniversary — Introduction : Sculpture Dedication Ceremony at the CIA (November 3 1990)

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS 30 Years Anniversary — How to Break a Vigenère Code

RELATED POST: KRYPTOS 30 Years Anniversary — The Solution of Section II


The first person to announce publicly that he had solved the first three passages was Jim Gillogly, a computer scientist from southern California, who deciphered these passages using a computer, and revealed his solutions in 1999.

After Gillogly’s announcement, the CIA revealed that their analyst David Stein also had solved the same passages in 1998 using pencil and paper techniques, although at the time of his solution the information was only disseminated within the intelligence community and no public announcement was made until July 1999.

The NSA also claimed that some of their employees had solved the same three passages, but would not reveal names or dates until March 2000, when it was learned that an NSA team led by Ken Miller, along with Dennis McDaniels and two other unnamed individuals, had solved passages 1–3 in late 1992.

[Dennis McDaniels was identified as one of the crackers in the Baltimore Sun article. Ken Miller was also identified as another member of the group, though someone knowledgeable about the project told Wired that he didn’t decipher any of the sections but worked closely with the group to write up their notes.]

In 2013, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by Elonka Dunin, the NSA released documents which show the NSA became involved in attempts to solve the Kryptos puzzle in 1992, following a challenge by Bill Studeman, then Deputy Director of the CIA.

The documents show that by June 1993, a small group of NSA cryptanalysts had succeeded in solving the first three passages of the sculpture. [Wikipedia]

“Within two days of receiving the information tasking from Chief, Z, they had solved parts one through three of the puzzle. They spent another day on the fourth section, but very quickly a decision was made to stop any further work on it. Given the suspected cryptography, the last section is too short to solve without diverting a great deal of effort from operational problems.”

WIRED — [quoting a NSA Memo]

Chronology of NSA involvement

1988 — The CIA Fine Arts Commission approves Sanborn’s proposal

1990 — KRYPTOS is dedicated

1991 — NSA Crytanalyst interns visit the CIA headquarters, handwrite the cypher onto sheet of papers and bring it back to the NSA where it is distributed to all interested.

1992 — DCI officially challenges the NSA at the Gold Bug Award ceremony

“Adm. William O. Studeman, the CIA’s then-deputy director and a former NSA director, issued a formal challenge to his former colleagues at the NSA to solve the CIA’s new courtyard puzzle. The NSA’s director at the time, Vice Admiral Mike McConnell, announced the challenge during an internal ceremony at the NSA, and a small cadre of cryptanalysts from the agency’s Z Group – the internal name for the cryptanalysts division – enthusiastically responded.”

1992 — NSA person A [name redacted] is the first person to crack ‘Section II” of the code.

1992 — NSA person B [name redacted] is the first person to crack ‘Section III” of the code.

“According to a former Defense Department cryptanalyst who spoke with Wired, McDaniels was responsible for cracking section three.”

1992 — NSA person C [name redacted] is the first person to crack ‘Section I” of the code.

1993 — Several documents: letter to Adm McConnel (DIRNSA) and to Adm Studeman at the CIA

1999 (July) — The CIA revealed that their analyst David Stein had solved the same passages in 1998

2000  (March) —  It is learned that an NSA team led by Ken Miller, along with Dennis McDaniels and two other unnamed individuals, had solved passages 1–3 in late 1992.

CIA Kryptos SculptureNSA Website

[Date Posted: May 3, 2016 | Last Modified: May 3, 2016]

NOTES from Elonka Dunin on her FOIA quest

  • In late 1992, in response to a challenge from the Deputy Director of the CIA, Admiral William O. Studeman, Vice Admiral John M. “Mike” McConnell at the NSA put together a team to try and solve the codes on the sculpture.
  • In 1993, the team sent a memo to the CIA detailing their progress. They had solved the first three parts of the sculpture, but not part 4. This information was internal to the Agencies only, and not made public.
  • In 1998, a CIA Analyst, David Stein, also solved the first three parts, and wrote a report (again private) to the CIA in 1999 detailing his own journey.
  • In 1999, a California computer scientist, Jim Gillogly, using his home computer, solved the first three parts. This became international news. When the story broke, the CIA then came forward and announced David Stein’s success. The NSA said they’d solved it too, but did not give any details about who or when.
  • In March 2000, an article in the Baltimore Sun gave a bit more information about the NSA team.
  • In 2003, I (Elonka), while doing research on Kryptos, located a copy of Stein’s report, which I published on my website. I had no success in locating a copy of the NSA report other than reading the 2000 article from the Baltimore Sun.
  • I (Elonka) made several efforts to locate the NSA’s notes on their own progress, but kept being told that the information was classified. It was my opinion that the efforts to solve a recreational cipher weren’t a matter of national security, and that the information didn’t need to be classified.
  • In March 2010, I (Elonka) filed a Freedom of Information Act request to the NSA, asking to see “all available information about the team’s work, and a copy of the memo that was sent to CIA.”
  • The FOIA request (#61191) was a lengthy process, requiring multiple follow ups and a promise from me that I would pay fees for “professional/executive level search” ($251.00).
  • After multiple follow ups, I (Elonka) received the results of the FOIA request in June 2013, a nice plump manila envelope in my mailbox.

Another FOIA by Michael Ravnitzky processed in April 2014 with some additional documents. These can be seen at the new (as of May 2014) page in a “Declassification and Transparency” section of the NSA Website entitled CIA Kryptos Sculpture.

The Kryptos Sculpture and Other Famous Unsolved Codes

Updates on Kryptos, the modern enigma at CIA headquarters, and other famous unsolved codes. Very nice presentation by Elonka Dunin.

Just a comment. While answering a question, Elonka seems to suggest that Section IV is encoded with a Vigenère table. I do not believe this to be true. More about this later…


Kryptos — Wikipedia

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

The People of the CIA: Edward Scheidt — CIA Website


The KRYPTOS Sculpture — History of the NSA Involvement

KRYPTOS Week 2019 — History of the NSA Involvement

KRYPTOS 30 Years Anniversary — History of the NSA Involvement

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