The George C. Marshall Foundation will receive the official papers of one of the foremost codebreakers of the 20th century during an afternoon event that’s open to the public on April 23.
At that time the Marshall Foundation, the National Security Agency (NSA) and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) will discuss William Friedman, who is considered to be the leading codebreaking pioneer in the United States in the 20th century.
As head codebreaker for the U.S. War Department, Friedman led a team that broke the Japanese diplomatic code known as PURPLE in 1940 during World War II. General Marshall later described the intelligence provided by Friedman and his cryptologists as “contributing greatly to the victory and tremendously to the saving of American lives…and…the early termination of the war.” Col. Friedman continued his work after the war in government signals intelligence and became the head cryptologist of the NSA. Upon his retirement from NSA in 1955, he donated his personal papers to the Marshall Foundation where they have resided since 1969.
With the addition of Friedman’s official papers in digital form to be transferred by NSA on April 23 to the personal papers already in the Marshall Foundation collections, the Foundation will possess the most complete and comprehensive set of Friedman materials as part of one of the most important private collections of cryptologic material worldwide, according to the NSA. For more about the NSA Friedman Collection see here.
Most of the original official papers will reside at the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). The Marshall Foundation will add the digitized copies to information that’s already available on line to students, researchers and scholars.
“The significance of this additional material, about 50,000 pages, cannot be overstated in terms of the vast amount of information that will be available to researchers and scholars on William Friedman, his wife Elizebeth, who was a stalwart codebreaker in her own right, and the early days of codebreaking beginning in World War I and continuing through World War II,” said Marshall Foundation President Rob Havers. “Our Friedman collections put us at the epicenter of cryptology research,” he added.
Speakers during the afternoon session include Dr. Havers and Paul Barron, director for the library and archives at the Foundation; Dr. David Sherman, associate director for policy and records, NSA; Sheryl Shenberger, director of the National Declassification Center, NSA; Betsy Rohaly Smoot, historian, Center for Cryptologic Research, NSA; Sarah Parsons, archivist, NSA; Dr. Rose Mary Sheldon, professor of history, Virginia Military Institute; Dr. Bill Sherman, head of research, Victoria and Albert Museum; Stephen Budiansky, historian and author of Battle of Wits; and Tony Comer, historian, Government Communications Headquarters, GCHQ.
Reservations are required. Call Leigh McFaddin at 463-7103, ext. 138 to reserve a seat.
Scholar Bill Sherman to Discuss Codebreaking
During the evening of April 23, Bill Sherman, who is head of research at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the curator of the Folger Shakespeare Library exhibition on “Decoding the Renaissance,” will talk about codes, codebreaking and ciphers. His talk, which will be free to current members of the Foundation, titled “From the Cipher Disk to the Enigma Machine: 500 Years of Cryptography,” will be followed by a reception.
Members will be asked to show their membership cards on arrival. Non-members will be admitted on a space-available basis after paying a $15 admission fee. Call Leigh McFaddin at 463-7103, ext. 138 to reserve a seat.
A new exhibition on the Friedmans and Codebreaking, “Partners in Code: William and Elizebeth Friedman,” will be open as well.
These events will kick off the public events associated with the Foundation’s new Marshall Legacy Series. The Series promises substantial benefits to many constituencies the Foundation serves including members, children and families, scholars and researchers, historians and history buffs, and museum visitors of all ages.
Because General Marshall’s career touched on nearly every major event of the first half of the 20th Century, the landscape for the Legacy Series is rich and vast. The Foundation staff will access its own resources and collections to create unique activities and events to share with the public. Beginning projects, each lasting about three months, will include Codebreaking, Weapons of War, and Taking Care of the Troops.
The Legacy Series provides an exposition of the key moments in General Marshall’s life through selected documents and artifacts from the Foundation archives, associated articles, audiovisual presentations, unique museum exhibitions and speaker events. The Series will flesh out who he was, what he did, how he did it and why he is still so relevant today. The aim is to make Marshall’s career and achievements more popularly accessible and to move on from the completion of the Marshall Papers that will conclude later this year.
Marshall Foundation Friedman Videos Reveal a Curious Life and a Brilliant Mind
William Friedman was one of the more colorful and intellectually gifted figures involved in Allied efforts to win World War II. As an American cryptographer he helped break enemy top secret codes, including the Japanese PURPLE code, which helped the Allies achieve a strategic advantage during the conflict.
He and his wife Elizebeth were two of the leading code breakers of the 20th century. Their personal papers reside at the George C. Marshall Foundation.
To celebrate the Friedmans and their work, the Marshall Foundation has produced four short documentary videos that feature the life of William Frederick Friedman (1891-1969), who is considered by experts to be the greatest American cryptologist of all time.
The videos include interviews with Bill Sherman, Ph.D., professor of renaissance studies, University of York; Rose Mary Sheldon, Ph.D., professor of history at Virginia Military Institute, and Elizabeth Smoot, senior historian at the Center for Cryptologic Research, National Security Agency.
In the “Portrait of William F. Friedman,” the three scholars discuss the Friedman collections as well as his contributions to code making and codebreaking. The collection contains correspondence, government files, personal investigations on codes and ciphers of ancient cultures, personal materials, newspaper clippings, and journals.
“This is someone who had a direct effect on the winning and losing of the war,” said Prof. Sherman, describing the contributions of Friedman to World War II. “This is somebody who created a vocabulary, who stabilized a science, who invented new ways to approach the way in which secret meanings work,” he explained.
“There is something about his brain that allowed him to look at code and see plain text,” added Prof. Sheldon.
When not breaking code or thinking about breaking code, Friedman was often engaged in extracurricular pursuits that still fascinate. For instance he and Elizebeth studied claims that Shakespeare’s works contained hidden ciphers that discredit his authorship. Their study disproved all claims that the works contain ciphers. It was condensed and published as The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined for which they received the Folger Shakespeare Literary Prize.
In addition to the short video that describes the Shakespeare ciphers study, a second looks at Friedman’s playful “Knowledge is Power” photograph. The group of 75 individuals photographed, arranged in three rows, spell out by their orientation to the camera and to each other the Francis Bacon phrase “knowledge is power” using the biliteral cipher developed by Bacon himself. It was the perfect ruse except for one tiny piece: Friedman ran out of people so he had no letter “r” to end the string. “It was a classic. What can you say, he was a witty man,” said Elizabeth Smoot.
The subject of the final short video is Friedman’s annotated copy of Herbert Yardley’s The American Black Chamber. Published in 1931, the book described current code breaking practices, predating a loosely conceived National Security Agency, and the controversy nearly 100 years ago surrounding eavesdropping following World War I.
The videos can be viewed on the Marshall Foundation’s YouTube channel or on the Foundation’s website.