William F. Friedman
William Friedman, originally known as Wolfe Friedman, was Russian by birth but spent most of his life as an American citizen, after immigrating to the US to avoid the persecution of the Jews. His first venture into the field of cryptography began with his work in Riverbank Laboratories, Chicago (A modern day "think tank") where he was appointed the new head of the Department of Genetics. It was here that he discovered his interest in codes and ciphers. This eventually led to him being also appointed as the director of the Department of Ciphers. With the outbreak of World War I, the Federal Government enlisted the help of the Riverbanks Cipher Department to encode messages which were intercepted. This made them the first unofficial Cryptographic Organization. What was different about Friedman was, he used to document his research because he realized there was close to no literary information on cryptography. One of the first cases the Riverbank Laboratories dealt with was the Hindu Plotters, a group of Germans, who were trying to instill anti-British sentiments in the hearts of Hindus, in hope of making Britain's part in the war futile.
Cryptic codes regarding the purchase and shipment of illegal arms off the west coast of US were sent by some of these plotters. On in depth analysis, the Friedmans discovered that the codebook was merely a dictionary and they managed to decipher the entire book. They also found a German-English dictionary which was published in 1880 which played an instrumental role in testifying against the 135 Hindus in San Francisco. He also took on the role of a professor to educate a class of Army officers on cracking codes and ciphers. He dealt with a set of technical monographs for this very purpose which was a groundbreaking development in the field of cryptographic education and it is still regarded invaluable for the pursuit of higher studies in this field. In 1918, he was sent to France to work on German code systems, going on to become the head of the "Signal Corps's Code and Cipher section".
From there, he went on to be appointed Chief Cryptanalyst of the Signal Corps in charge of Code and Cipher Compilation Section, Research and Development Division, Office of the Chief Signal Officer in 1922, and ended up cracking the exceedingly challenging Edward Hebern machine in 1925. In 1929 the Signal Intelligence Service was set up with Friedman as the first director. His work with this was more or less in the educational field and he authored 3 text books on military cryptography. Then came the most challenging endeavor- The Japanese Purple machine. His team created a perfect replica of the machine which helped intercept and decipher all the messages prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, a crucial turning point during the war.
This took a toll on his health as he suffered a nervous breakdown but after recovery, he was back on his feet as the Director of Communications Research for the SIS. When the BRUSA agreement was signed by the US and Britain in 1943, with the aim of collaborating on matters of communication intelligence, he was responsible for maintaining the success of this agreement, which later helped him chalk out the blueprint for the UKUSA Agreement. He continued to make a name for himself in the field as one of the greatest cryptographers till date as he worked for the NSA (National Security Agency) receiving the highest honors by the Federal Government- the Commendation for Exceptional Civilian Service, Medal for Merit and the National Security Medal. Even after retirement, he and his wife pursued Baconian ciphers proving the theory wrong, thereby winning the Folger Shakespeare Library literary prize in 1955.
- William F. Friedman (1999 Inductee), Hall of honor, National Security Agency.
- William Friedman, Riverbank Laboratories, 1512 Batavia Avenue
- Photo courtesy of the National Security Agency (published with permission)