“I’m never quite so gleeful as when I am doing something labeled as an ‘ought not.’” Elizebeth Friedman
History is often stranger–and more wonderful–than fiction. This tale supports that thesis. Elizebeth Friedman and her husband William invented modern cryptography and in the process helped win two world wars and put many criminals in jail. That they got little credit is par for the course.
“The whole deciphering business is based on what we call the mechanics of language. There are certain fixed ways in which language operates, so to speak; and by studying the known elements and making certain assumptions, one can arrive at a result that usually does the trick.” Elizebeth Friedman “She could break a code in a language she could not speak, but that was the power of having a system, a science.” Jason Fagone
“Home does not entail a spotless kitchen and a faultless parlor. Home does entail the presence of hearts that beat in unison–whether the shelter is a hovel or a palace.” William Friedman
In an era when women were relegated to the kitchen, nursery or clerical work, Elezebeth created and led code breaking organizations that brought down the best efforts of the enemy. The story of the fight against Nazism in South America is eye opening. Her team did it all, and J. Edgar Hoover stole the credit.
Even the historians got it wrong. Rout and Bratzel published The Shadow War in 1986. They “credited the FBI for both the field work and the technical brilliance (the coast guard’s files were classified at the time). But the FBI didn’t intercept the messages. It didn’t monitor the Nazi circuits. It didn’t break the codes. It didn’t solve any Enigma machines. The coast guard did this stuff–the little codebreaking team that Elezebeth created from nothing.”
They “credited the FBI for both the field work and the technical brilliance (the coast guard’s files were classified at the time). But the FBI didn’t intercept the messages. It didn’t monitor the Nazi circuits. It didn’t break the codes. It didn’t solve any Enigma machines. The coast guard did this stuff–the little codebreaking team that Elezebeth created from nothing.”
“J. Edgar Hoover used his influence to expand the FBI after the war. Elezebeth used it to get out of the game.”
Elizebeth walked away from fame and fortune, and was the happier for it. She’d served her country–nay, the world–but she wasn’t a power grabber. Oh, you’ll run across a few of those in these pages, but Elezebeth and William dedicated their lives to finding and exposing the secrets of some very dangerous people. And that was enough for them.
“We call a lot of things luck that are but the outcome of our own bad endeavor, but there is undoubtedly something outside ourselves that sometimes wins for us, or loses, irrespective of ourselves. What is it? Is it God?” Elizebeth Friedman