Who else is withholding information on the Israeli MIAs?

December 24, 2010

The three Israeli MIAs missing in the battle of Sultan Yaqub since 1982

In an article entitled “Foreign Office says no to MIA report” (16 December 2010 ) the Jewish Chronicle reported that:

“The British government is refusing to release documents which could shed light on the fate of three Israeli soldiers missing since 1982 because it says sensitive information could harm diplomatic relations with Syria.

This statement seems to intimate that the Syrians have a hand in the 28-year ongoing travesty of human morality and decency.  This is not surprising, given Syria’s track record of human rights.  The fact that the British government is a partner to this travesty is somewhat more surprising.

Graphic showing the Freedom of Information ActDon’t assume that the British are the only ones withholding information about the three Israeli soldiers missing in action.  On 2 August 2009 I submitted a formal request from the National Security Agency (NSA) and the Central Security Service (CSS) under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) regarding the Israeli MIAs.  In the request I wrote:

Persuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), I hereby request the following information that exists or is archived in NSA:

  • Information related, or pertaining, to all Israeli MIAs (“Missing In Action”) in the Sultan Yakoub (or Sultan Yaqub) battle in Eastern Lebanon on June 11, 1982, the sixth day of the Israel-Lebanon War.
  • Intelligence reports related to any of the Israeli MIAs referred to, from 1982 to the present date.
  • The request is specific to all, or all, of the following MIAs:
    • Zack Baumel
    • Zachary Baumel
    • Zecharia Baumel
    • Tzvi Feldman
    • Zvi Feldman
    • Yehuda Katz

A week later I received NSA’s reply (page 1 and page 2) in the mail.  The relevant part said:

“We have determined that the fact of the existence or non-existence of the materials you request is a currently and properly classified matter in accordance with Executive Order 12958, as amended.  Thus, your request is denied … the FOIA does not apply to matter that specifically authorized under criteria …”

I suspect that behind the legalese lies the fact that NSA/CSS is privy to information regarding the Israeli soldiers, but political expediency prevents the Americans, like the British, from doing what is morally correct.

It remains to be seen if WikiLeaks will shed any further light on this perversion of human decency.  In any case, here’s one person who wishes Miriam Baumel the best of success in releasing the British report on her son and the other MIAs.

oreign Office says no to MIA report


New “Audio Guide Service” at the National Cryptologic Museum

April 30, 2010

The National Cryptologic Museum is at the forefront of preserving the US cryptologic heritage and has been working hard to get its message out to the public. I was therefore pleasantly surprised to hear that the Museum recently installed a new cell phone “Audio Guide Service” (you can see the press release on the NSA/CSS web site).

The Cell Phone Audio Guide Service is meant to be used by visitors to the National Cryptologic Museum. Many of the exhibits in the museum have an item number associated with the exhibit. If you have a cell phone, you can call up a service number, enter the item number, and get a two minute explanation of the exhibit.

Although I live in Israel, I do have access to a VOIP phone, so I dialed the number in the press release and got the recording. The problem was I didn’t know what item numbers to input when prompted. An e-mail to the Museum requesting a list of item numbers was promptly answered within the hour by Patrick Weadon, the museum’s curator. The item list (which you can download from here) contains the following topics:

  • Welcome
  • Introduction
  • History
  • The Civil War
  • The Zimmerman Telegram
  • The Black Chamber
  • Pre WWII
  • Enigma
  • Purple
  • WWII and the Pacific
  • Cold War Espionage
  • Secure Voice
  • Electronic Secure Voice
  • The Weak Link — People
  • Technology
  • Airborne Reconnaissance
  • Women in Cryptology
  • Special Recognition

Each of the topic listed has numerous sub-topics, so be sure to check out the item list.

It was a pleasure listening to excellent explanations about cryptologic and cryptanalytic topics where the terminology is correct and exact (e.g., no messing up the terms ‘code’ and ‘cipher’, getting their facts correct).

If you’re planning a visit to the National Cryptologic Museum you might want to wait until you’re there to use this service. If not, it’s a cinch to call them up and get accurate and informative explanation on some fascinating cryptologic heritage.

“Play the C sharp and just think the B flat”

February 12, 2010

Julian Bream playing classical guitarIn this week’s Torah (old testament) portion, Parashat Mishpatim, read on Shabbat (Saturday) in synagogues around the world, we encounter an example of a homonymic antonym: words that sound the same but have opposite meanings.

In this blog I’d like to illustrate the concept of homonymic antonyms with some examples from the Torah, wrapping it all up with a surprisingly related anecdote from the musical world of Benjamin Britten, Julian Bream, and the classical guitar. Read the rest of this entry »

A Goldmine of GCCS and GCHQ Records (1914-1979)

September 13, 2009
The National Archives

The National Archives

Many thanks to Mike Cowan for a link to an internal sub-tree of The National Archives (UK) with a plethora of links to valuable cryptographic material related to the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) between the years 1914-1979.

Quoting from the web site, the site contains “general records of the Government Code and Cypher School (GCCS) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) relating to responsibilities for intercepting enemy communications, particularly during the Second World War, and for ensuring security of the government’s electronic communications“.

The records span the years 1914-1979 and included the following general categories:

  • Senior management papers
  • Soviet communications
  • Japanese military communications
  • Histories and personal papers
  • German military communications
  • Bulgarian, Croatian, French, Iranian, Italian Portuguese and Spanish communications
  • Diplomatic, commercial and meteorological communications
  • Liaison with allied organisations
  • Communications security
  • Field signals intelligence
  • Technical matters
  • Intercepted plain language communications
  • Wireless Telegraph Section
  • GC&CS Administration
  • Research Section

For those with access to the National Archives in London, there is material here to keep one busy for years.

Serious about cryptanalysis? Learn a programming language!

June 30, 2009
Example of cryptanalytic program written in Perl

Cryptanalytic program written in Perl

I’ve been a computer programmer since the early 70’s, about the time I became enamoured with cryptanalysis.  Writing computer programs to aid my cryptanalytic research has been invaluable to me throughout this entire period.  Sure, I have spent delectable hours solving ACA-type cryptograms by hand.  When I worked on more serious ciphers in university, however, computers have always been invaluable and time-saving. Read the rest of this entry »

Flickr-Based Cryptographic Photo Collections

May 8, 2009

You know how things work on the Internet.  A search for something in Google displays a link, which leads to another page, which leads to a third, etc.  Before you know it, you’ve discovered goldmines you never knew existed.

NationalCryptologicMuseumThis past week I searched for “PURPLE” in Google’s image database (I think that’s what I did — it was oh so many link clicks ago :-)).  Perusing the booty uncovered a link to a link to a link etc. until I chanced upon some cryptographically-related photo collections on Flickr.  I have spent many an hour since enjoying the eye candy there and in other locations.  I’d like to share some of these sites with you. Read the rest of this entry »

No RSS Feed on a Site? No Problem!

May 1, 2009

I have a confession to make: I am a hi-tech late adopter with a high threshold for pain.  So long as I have a low-tech method for performing a necessary task, I’m content to use it, sometimes for years on end.

When I started this blog a few months ago I encountered many sites I wanted to monitor on a regular basis.  For example, I wanted to monitor several pages deep within the NSA web site for changes.  Unfortunately, most of these sites have a common problem: they have no RSS feeds.  So I used the same method I’ve used for years: periodic manual checking.

At some point even I threw up my hands.  The work involved in checking an ever-growing list of sites was becoming too painful.  At that point I searched for, and found, a better and free solution: ChangeDetection.com.  It’s changed my life and I’d like to share it with you.

ChangeDetection.com defines itself as follows:

At your request, we monitor any website page for text changes. If a change is detected we send you a notification email. We also maintain a log of recent changes to the page and allow you to see the difference between any two versions of the page.

After registering yourself with ChangeDetection.com, monitoring any Web page is simplicity itself.  Select the “monitor a page” option, enter a page address, give it an e-mail address to send notifications to, tweak optional features, and you’re done.  And you can monitor any number of pages to your heart’s content.

When any of your monitored pages change, you will be notified of the exact changes by e-mail.  The service also records the full history of this site, showing you all changes (or inactivity!) over time.

Another great feature is the ability to enable visitors to your web page to register for notification when your page changes.  If your site lacks a built-in RSS feed, if you’re too lazy to maintain one, or if you want to enable non-techie visitors to know when your page changes, just insert some HTML code that provides a simple-to-use interface (see my Chaocipher Clearing House site for such a feature).  You can even tell how many people are currently monitoring your web page.

Although I’m a late adopter, when I finally adopt some technological feature I know I need it and I’m happy with it.  ChangeDetection.com has changed my blogging experience, enabling me to concentrate on blogging,   Don’t leave home without it.

Foreign Language Text Recognition for the Layman

May 1, 2009

It’s not often that I look at a foreign text and cannot determine what language it is.  We can all tell French, German, or Spanish, but what about the different Cyrillic languages, or Far Eastern ones like Thai and Vietnamese?  I recently came across something that might help us.

The US Army Field Manual 34-54 on Battlefield Technical Intelligence is freely available on the Web.  Here is a description of this manual as taken from the manual itself:

chp_9_402This field manual provides guidance to commanders and staffs of military intelligence (MI) and other units responsible for technical intelligence (TECHINT) or having an association with TECHINT. It provides general guidance and identifies the tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) used in the collection, exploitation, and dissemination of TECHINT in satisfying the warfighter’s requirements.

Appendix G, entitled “Foreign Language Text Recognition”, is a concise and educational lesson on how to recognize a foreign language in unknown text.

Quoting from Appendix G:

When TECHINT personnel are able to correctly identify foreign languages used in documents or equipment, it has two immediate benefits. First, it helps identify the equipment or type of document and where or who is using it. Second, it ensures that TECHINT personnel request the correct linguistic support.

This appendix contains language identification hints that will enable TECHINT personnel to quickly identify some of the many languages used in documents, on equipment plates, and on other materiel. TECHINT personnel can speed up the entire battlefield TECHINT process by following the guidance herein.

For those of us who are, um, a little rusty and have forgotten the difference between a cedilla and a circumflex, this appendix will set you right.  Gone are the excuses for not recognizing a foreign language when you see one. 🙂

Easy Indexed Access to Declassified NSA/CSS Documents

April 27, 2009

The NSA/CSS Declassification Initiatives web page contains the following easily overlooked paragraph:

“An index of 4,923 entries containing approximately 1.3 million pages of previously declassified documents, which have been released to NARA is provided. The documents are from the pre-World War I period through the end of World War II.”

The links refers to a fascinating listing of cryptologic documents declassified by NSA/CSS in Project OPENDOOR (1996) and released to the U.S. National Archives and Record Administration (NARA) in Washington, D.C. In the very long, unsorted list one could easily overlook such gems as:

A Superb Cryptanalytical Guide to the Enigma Cipher Machine

April 24, 2009

Over the years I’ve come across many articles explaining how the Enigma cipher machine works. All too often I would feel, as a cryptanalyst, that many of the articles glossed over important features or handled them poorly.

Well, if you’re looking for an in-depth explanation of the Enigma, complete with a lucid mechanical description and mathematical underpinnings you can really sink your teeth into (and understand!) look no further. Check out Erik Vestergaard’s superb explanation of the Enigma’s mechanical, operational, and mathematical aspects. A Danish high school mathematics teacher, Vestergaard took his class on a study tour to London in 2007, and one of their stops included Bletchley Park. This site is a wonderful compilation of their experience in Bletchley, complete with mouth-watering, clear descriptions of how the Enigma works and how it was broken. Here’s a list of topics covered: Read the rest of this entry »