Elizebeth Smith Friedman
August 26, 1892
Huntington, Indiana U.S.
|Died||October 31, 1980 (aged 88)|
|Other names||E.S. Friedman|
Elizebeth S. Friedman
|Known for||"America's first female cryptanalyst"|
|William F. Friedman|
Elizebeth Smith Friedman (August 26, 1892 - October 31, 1980) was an expert cryptanalyst and author, and pioneer in U.S. cryptography. She has been called "America's first female cryptanalyst".
Friedman was born in Huntington, Indiana, to John Marion Smith, a Quaker dairyman, banker, and politician, and Sopha Smith (née Strock). Friedman was the youngest of nine surviving children (a tenth died in infancy) and grew up on a farm.
From 1911 to 1913, Friedman attended the University of Wooster in Ohio, but she left when her mother became ill. In 1913, Friedman transferred to Hillsdale College in Michigan since it was closer to home. In 1915, she graduated with a major in English literature. She was a member of Pi Beta Phi. Having exhibited her interest in languages, she had also studied Latin, Greek, and German, and minored "in a great many other things." Only she and one other sibling[which?] attended college. In the fall of 1915, Elizebeth became the substitute principal of a public high school in Wabash, Indiana. This position was short-lived, however, and in the spring of 1916, she quit and moved back in with her parents.
Friedman was interviewed by a librarian at Riverbank Laboratories, who then spoke with Colonel George Fabyan, who owned Riverbank. The librarian conveyed Friedman's love of Shakespeare, among other things, to Fabyan. Fabyan, a wealthy textile merchant, soon met Friedman, and they discussed what life would be like at Riverbank, Fabyan's great estate located in Geneva, Illinois. He told her that she would assist a Boston woman, Elizabeth Wells Gallup, and her sister with Gallup's attempt to prove that Sir Francis Bacon had written Shakespeare's plays and sonnets, by decrypting enciphered messages that were supposed to have been contained within the plays and poems. Friedman began working at Riverbank in 1916.
At Riverbank Laboratories, Friedman founded one of the first facilities in the U.S. to study cryptography. Riverbank gathered historical information on secret writing. Until MI8, the Army's Cipher Bureau, was created during World War I, Riverbank was the only facility in the U.S. capable of solving enciphered messages. Military cryptography had been deemphasized after the Civil War. During World , several U.S. Government departments asked Riverbank Labs for help or sent personnel there for training. Among those was Agnes Meyer Driscoll, who came on behalf of the Navy.
Among the staff of fifteen at Riverbank was the man Elizebeth would marry in May 1917, William F. Friedman. The couple worked together for the next four years in the only cryptographic facility in the country, save Herbert Yardley's so-called "Black Chamber". In 1921, the Friedmans left Riverbank to work for the War Department in Washington, D.C.
The Volstead Act (1919) forbade the manufacture, sale, import, or export of intoxicating liquors. Prevailing conditions during the period known as Prohibition (1920-33), however, encouraged illegal activity. Further, as radio equipment became less cumbersome, less conspicuous, and more sophisticated, it afforded the criminal element another means to circumvent the law. To avoid taxes and other fees, criminals smuggled liquor into the U.S.--and, to a lesser degree, narcotics, perfume, jewels, and even pinto beans. Enciphered communications about their criminal activities were relayed by bootleggers and smugglers to protect their operations.
Anti-prohibitionists provided Friedman and her team of cryptanalysts with numerous opportunities to hone their codebreaking skills during her employment with the U.S. Treasury Department. She led the cryptanalytic effort against international smuggling and drug-running radio and encoded messages, which the runners began to use extensively to conduct their operations.
In 1923, Friedman was hired as a cryptanalyst for the U.S. Navy. This led to a position with the U.S. Treasury Department's Bureau of Prohibition and of Customs, which in 1927 established a joint effort with the Coast Guard Intelligence Division to monitor international smuggling, drug-running, and criminal activity domestically and internationally. The smugglers and runners used encrypted radio messages to support their operations, presuming they would be able to communicate securely; however the unit was able to decrypt the messages. From 1927 to 1939, the unit was critical during a very active period of smuggling in the United States, and so was eventually folded into the U.S. Coast Guard. Friedman solved the bulk of intercepts collected by Coast Guard stations in San Francisco and Florida herself. In June 1928, she was sent to teach C.A. Housel, stationed with the Coordinator of the Pacific Coast Details, how to decrypt the rumrunners' messages. Under her teaching, Housel was able to decode 3,300 messages within 21 months. In October and November 1929, she was then recruited in Houston, Texas, to solve 650 smuggling traffic cases that had been subpoenaed by the United States Attorney. In doing so, she decrypted 24 different coding systems used by the smugglers.
Even though early codes and ciphers were very basic, their subsequent increase in complexity and resistance to solution was important to the financial success and growth of their operations. The extent of sophistication seemed to pose little problem for Friedman; she still mounted successful attacks against both simple substitution and transposition ciphers, and the more complex enciphered codes which eventually came into use. While working for the U.S. Coast Guard, the Bureau of Narcotics, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, the Bureau of Prohibition and Customs, and the Department of Justice, she solved over 12,000 rum-runners' messages in just three years.
Friedman also perceived the need for a more dedicated effort against suspected communications. By 1931 she had convinced Congress of the need to create a headquartered, seven-person cryptanalytic section for this purpose. As her cryptanalytic responsibilities began to mount, Friedman sensed the need to teach other analysts cryptanalytic fundamentals, including deciphering techniques. By relieving her of a part of the burden, this allowed her time to attack the more atypical new systems as they cropped up and expedited the entire process from initial analysis through to solution. It also allowed her to stay one step ahead of the smugglers.
In addition to her cryptanalytic successes, she was often called to testify in cases against accused parties. The messages she deciphered or decoded enabled her to implicate several smugglers operating in the Gulf of Mexico and on the Pacific Coast. She subsequently testified in cases in Galveston and Houston, Texas, and New Orleans, Louisiana. Her efforts in 1933 resulted in convictions against thirty-five bootlegging ringleaders who were found to have violated the Volstead Act. Ringleaders were directly linked with suspected vessels as a result of the information arising out of her analysis.
The next year she played a major role in settling a dispute between the Canadian and U.S. governments over the true ownership of the sailing vessel I'm Alone. It was flying the Canadian flag when it was sunk by a U.S. Coast Guard cutter for failing to heed a "heave to and be searched" signal. The Canadian government filed a $350,000 suit against the U.S., but the intelligence gleaned from the twenty-three messages decoded by Friedman indicated de facto U.S. ownership just as the U.S. had originally suspected. As a consequence, the true owners of the ship were identified and most of the Canadian claim was dismissed.
Impressed with her work, the Canadian government sought Friedman's help in 1937 with an opium dealer problem which evolved into an outstanding case. She complied and eventually testified in the trial of Gordon Lim and several other Chinese. Her solution to a complicated unknown Chinese enciphered code, in spite of her unfamiliarity with the language, was key to the successful convictions.
Friedman left her mark on the fate of Velvalee Dickinson, whose path to and role in espionage are noteworthy. Following high school and some college, Velvalee married the head of a brokerage firm that had Japanese-American clients. The Dickinsons' interest in Japan grew so much that they joined the Japanese-American Society, where they began to rub shoulders with members of the Japanese consulate. When the brokerage firm's success suffered a downturn, so too did the Dickinsons' role as proponents of good Japanese-American relations. At some point, the couple became spies for Japan. Velvalee became a major player, and her successful doll shop was a cover for her espionage. Known as the "Doll Woman," she corresponded with Japanese agents using the names of women she found in her business correspondence. Her correspondence, which contained encoded material addressing significant naval vessel movement in Pearl Harbor, was analyzed and solved by Friedman. This analysis resulted in a guilty verdict against Dickinson.
Although Friedman worked closely with her husband as part of a team, many of her contributions to cryptology were unique. She deciphered many encoded messages throughout the Prohibition years and solved many notable cases, including some codes which were written in Mandarin Chinese.
During World , Friedman's Coast Guard unit was transferred to the Navy where they solved a difficult Enigma machine code used by German Naval Intelligence. The work of Friedman's Unit 387 (Coast Guard Cryptanalytic Unit) was often in support of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and J. Edgar Hoover, and was not always credited.
After World , Friedman became a consultant to, and created communications security systems for, the International Monetary Fund.
After retirement from government service, Friedman and her husband, who had long been Shakespeare enthusiasts, collaborated on a manuscript entitled "The Cryptologist Looks at Shakespeare," eventually published as The Shakespearean Ciphers Examined. It won awards from the Folger Shakespeare Library and the American Shakespeare Theatre and Academy. In this book, the Friedmans dismissed Baconians such as Gallup and Ignatius Donnelly with such technical proficiency and finesse that the book won far more acclaim than did others that addressed the same topic.
The work that Gallup had done earlier for Col. Fabyan at Riverbank operated on two assumptions: That Bacon invented a biliteral cipher and that the cipher used in the original printed Shakespeare folios employed "an odd variety of typefaces." The Friedmans, however, "in a classic demonstration of their life's work," buried a hidden Baconian cipher on a page in their publication. It was an italicized phrase which, using the different type faces, expressed their final assessment of the controversy: "I did not write the plays. F. Bacon." Their book is regarded as the definitive work, if not the final word, on the subject.
Following her husband's death in 1969, Friedman devoted much of her retirement life to compiling a library and bibliography of his work. This "most extensive private collection of cryptographic material in the world" was lodged in the George C. Marshall Research Library in Lexington, Virginia.
"Our office doesn't make 'em, we only break 'em," said Friedman to a visitor who tried to sell her code-making assistance. The NSA notes that she did "break 'em" many times over a variety of targets. Her successes led to the conviction of many violators of the Volstead Act.
For references to other material, see http://marshallfoundation.org/library/wp-content/uploads/sites/16/2014/09/Friedman_Collection_Guide_September_2014.pdf
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