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Her remarkable contributions would come to light decades after her death, when secret government files were unsealed. But together with her husband, the legendary cryptologist William Friedman, Elizebeth helped develop the methods that led to the creation of the powerful new science of cryptology and laid the foundation for modern codebreaking today. Photo And Document Animation G. Allen Inc. National Library of Medicine U. Special Thanks Melissa Davis G. Narration: In March of — German U-boats prowled the vast Atlantic ocean in wolf packs… attacking scores of Allied transport ships as they headed toward war-torn Europe.

In less than three months, the Nazi submarines had sunk more than a million tons of desperately-needed supplies and killed thousands of soldiers. The U-boat captains had a secret weapon -- encrypted messages sent by Nazi spies in South America had provided them with the coordinates of the targeted ships. An entire front in the second World War…. But America had on its side one of the most skilled codebreakers in the world — Elizebeth Friedman.

Nothing really to mark her as anything unusual. But, she lived a double life. During Prohibition she had taken on the most powerful gangsters in the country and brought down an international rum-running operation. Narration: Now, as she decrypted the intercepted messages on her desk, she knew everything she had learned in her career had led to this moment.

Amy Butler Greenfield, Writer: She was somebody who had the ability to see beyond what most other people could. She could see things starting to unlock in front of her eyes. Narration: She was one woman fighting a secret army. Her success or failure could determine the outcome of the war. Twenty-three and full of dreams, she was hoping to escape the life she had been raised to expect.

She even hated her own name. She called it the odious name Smith. She wanted an adventurous life. Narration: Her mother, Sopha, had delivered ten children, the first when she was only seventeen. Elizebeth, born in , was the youngest. She loved to read, she loved poetry. She wrote her own poetry.

He saw his youngest as a difficult child and their relationship absolutely was difficult. Her father did not support her going to college. He was against further education, particularly for women. She has to pay it all back. Narration: In college, Elizebeth studied Greek and English literature.

When she discovered Shakespeare, she became fascinated by the intricacies of language… sparking a passion that would drive her ambitions. After graduation, Elizebeth pursued one of the few careers available to women at the time and accepted a teaching job at a small Indiana school. She found the work uninspiring, and quit after just a year. After a week of effort, she found nothing. Narration: An hour later, George Fabyan was standing at her table. At six-foot-four, pounds, the wealthy industrialist towered over her.

Amy Butler Greenfield, Writer: And he grabs her under the elbow, lifts her up. And he frog marches her out the door to a waiting limousine, which takes them to the railway station. And what he wanted to do was to build a playground for science. He would go out and hire some of the leading scientists of the day, bring them to Riverbank, essentially collecting these scientists and he would set them loose and tell them to be spectacular. Tell them to make breakthroughs. Tell them to unlock the secrets of nature. That actually Francis Bacon had written a code within the Shakespearean plays that demonstrated that Shakespeare was not the author, that Bacon actually was.

Narration: Fabyan ased Elizebeth the job of ferreting out the secret message he believed Bacon had implanted in the text. Excited by the challenge, she first had to master a method of encoding messages invented by Francis Bacon in The letter C and so on. This can be represented any way you wanted to— as long as there are two different things you are using to represent the binary system.

Vince Houghton, Historian: And this is what the legend was, that the First Shakespeare Folio had this code written in two different typefaces throughout. Narration: Once the differences in the typeface were identified, and the letters sorted into clusters of five, a hidden message would be revealed. The work was tedious, but Elizebeth discovered she had the patience to stare at characters on a for hours on end. And that was how she was going to break the code and rewrite the history of English literature.

Narration: Her work with the Shakespeare manuscripts would bring her together with the young man who was photographing and enlarging the Shakespeare texts, William Friedman. Genetics was his field of expertise. Photography was his hobby. His hair was always combed perfectly. This was a man who knew how to dress. Jason Fagone, Author, The Woman Who Smashed Codes: There are a lot of photos of just Elizebeth and you can tell that William is gazing down at his camera into the glass and seeing an image of her and probably smiling.

She was unlike anyone he had ever met… he was very quickly falling in love. Narration: The couple were an unlikely match — she was a Quaker from the Midwest and he was a Jewish immigrant from Russia. Narration: As they began to master rudimentary skills, however, they saw little indication of embedded codes in the Shakespeare manuscripts.

Rose Mary Sheldon, Historian: Every now and then there will be a letter that is slightly different. Now, it could be just because the way the typeface struck the paper. There might be a little tail off a letter or a letter might be a little wider.

It was all a pipe dream, it was a kind of delusion…. Narration: Disheartened by their revelation, they saw no future in codebreaking. Still, they saw a future with each other. They wanted to see him marry a Jewish woman. His brother later said that if William had been living in Pittsburgh at the time, in the close-knit Jewish community there, he would have been exiled. Amy Butler Greenfield, Writer: The two of them go ahead and despite the differences in their background, despite the family opposition, despite the lack of money, despite all the many reasons why they should not get married, they do.

Narration: The newlyweds hoped to start a new life away from Riverbank. World events, however, would upend their plans. Suddenly, the air was full of messages relaying information that could win or lose a battle, destroy a regiment, or sink a ship. All of it easily intercepted by anyone with an antenna. So it put an incredible premium on cryptography, on strong codes and ciphers because now that those messages were flying through the air they had to be protected.

The problem for America is that on the eve of World War I the United States was completely unprepared to break codes in the war. Narration: At Riverbank, George Fabyan saw an opportunity to serve his country — and to enhance his reputation. He established the first dedicated codebreaking unit in America2 and, much to their disbelief, placed Elizebeth and William in charge. Soon, the War, Navy, State, and Justice Departments were sending thousands of secret messages to Riverbank for decryption.

Talk about on the job training, this is as deep as on the job training gets. Narration: The couple scrambled to expand their knowledge of codebreaking: starting with the most fundamental concepts like the difference between a cipher and a code. Vince Houghton, Historian: A code is when you take a word or even a phrase and you replace it with another word or a phrase.

A cipher, on the other hand, is taking individual letters or groups of letters and changing them through some process, through some algorithm, into other letters, into s, into symbols, into anything, so that you can mix up the message and make it unreadable. Narration: Using a method that had been around for hundreds of years, they began decrypting messages using frequency analysis.

Es, Ts, Ns, As…If we understand this in a very mathematical way, it can help us to attack secret messages and break them down and understand what they actually mean. Narration: Before long, though, William and Elizebeth reached the limits of what was known about codes and ciphers… and began inventing their own methods. Narration: They documented their breakthroughs in eight volumes— known as the Riverbank Publications, which established a mathematical foundation to the principles of cryptology. David Hatch, Senior Historian, NSA: Prior to the publications at Riverbank from Elizebeth and William, cryptology had been thought of as a field for linguists, for people with knowledge about foreign cultural areas and perhaps math might be a tool.

But the Riverbank Laboratories publications turned cryptology from language to statistics. Narration: In an age when codebreaking was becoming a weapon of war, Elizebeth and William were forging a new science4 of immense power.

It was a heady time for Elizebeth. She was training the first generation of codebreakers for the US military. The couple were so captivated by cryptology, for fun they embedded codes everywhere5… even the officer trainee class photo. A good chunk of the people in the photograph are looking forward, but a good chunk are looking to the side. So the people who are looking off to the side are the B form of the cipher and the people who are looking straight ahead are the A form.

Six months into the war, the Army established its own Cipher Bureau in Washington. With the workload at Riverbank dwindling, William ed up for military duty as a field codebreaker in Europe. Elizebeth wanted to do field work as well, but she could not; women were excluded from serving at the front. Vince Houghton, Historian: Being left behind had to be incredibly difficult for Elizebeth.

Not only is the man that she loves being sent off to fight a war, but this was her field. She taught William how to break codes and ciphers. This was a key way to move forward in your career. Narration: And worse still, she would be on her own at Riverbank. She let it be known in letters to William that George Fabyan was not treating her well, that he was pressuring her.

William was very angry, he called Fabyan that nameless rascal in that letter and said he wanted to hurt him, to beat him up. And so when they were reunited they were highly motivated to get the hell out of there. He arrived in Washington with a reputation earned on the battlefield.

Technological innovations were fueling a global race to create evermore advanced devices for making and breaking codes. The post-war world was still a dangerous place. In , William went to work for the Army al Corps developing new cipher machines. She took the position, but left after a year. She believed her codebreaking days were over. Narration: In , Elizebeth gave birth to a daughter. Soon followed by the birth of a son. The Prohibition Act, ed into law several years earlier, had triggered an explosion of illegal trafficking in alcohol. Mobsters and gangsters ruled the streets. Barbara Osteika: Murder was rampant and it became not just murder of gangster on gangster but they were starting to murder anybody who opposed them.

And very quickly they make a mockery out of the Coast Guard. Narration: The Coast Guard was charged with stopping the deluge of liquor coming in by sea, but it only had boats to patrol 5, miles of coastline. The rum runners, on the other hand, had unlimited resources. A fleet of smaller crafts, called black ships, would divvy up the cargo and transport it back to shore. Logistics made possible by the use of shortwave radios and sophisticated codes.

The Coast Guard officer pleaded with Elizebeth for help. She was no teetotaler. But Elizebeth saw the damage organized crime was doing to the country.

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Under fire, U.S. spy agency defends surveillance programs as lawful