William 1 Friedman was born in 1892 in Kishinev (Moldovia), then part of the
His father, Frederic Friedman, was the son of a Romanian Jew from Bucharest,
who worked at
the Tsarist post office as a translator. His mother was the daughter of a
successful wine merchant.
Barely a year after William was born, the family fled the country to escape
the pogroms . They emigrated to the United States and ended up in
Pittsburgh, where William's father became a door-to-door salesman of
Singer sewing machines. But with the fluctuating economy of
western Pennsylvania, the Friedmans struggled to stay afloat
and were always short on cash.
William turned out to be a gifted student and in 1909, following high school,
he entered Cornell University as a genetics major. Six years later, in 1915, he was still
in graduate school when the department chairman received a request from
George Fabyan, a rich cotton merchant from Chicago. Fabiyan had established
a research institute by the name of Riverbanks,
in Geneva (Illinois, US) and was looking for bright students.
Genetics was one of the fields that were researched at Riverbanks Laboratories
and Friedman became head of the Department of Genetics.
Another subject that had the interest of the lab, was|
code and ciphers.
For its communication, Fabyan's firm – Bliss Fabyan and Company – used the
cotton code, which was one of many
that were used at the time.
This interest led him into the study of the Baconian theory of
Shakespearean writing, for which he attracted a renowned expert:
Elizabeth Wells Gallup.
Like Friedman, she also ended up on Fabyan's payroll.
William Friedman was initially born Wolf Friedman, but three years after
emigrating to the United States, his first name was changed to William .
Friedman – who had meanwhile a established a reputation as an expert
photographer – frequently joined Gallup on foreign trips to make
photographs that she needed for her research. And it is in this capacity,
that he fell in love with Gallop's assistent: Elizebeth Smith.
He courted her, developed an interest in code and ciphers,
and the two got married. Friedman became head of the
Department of Code and Ciphers, and eventually abandonned genetics.
The rest is history.
Soon after the outbreak of World War I (WWI), Fabyan acquired some War
Department contracts to assist in breaking enemy codes. Friedman was
persuaded to take service and soon became a renowned expert in
the field. He was given a commission in the Army and was sent to France
to assist in this new type of intelligence. At the end of the war
he was a dedicated cryptologist. After the war he returned to Riverbanks
but didn't stay long. He eventually left to join the Army again.
In 1921 he signed up with the Army as a civilian, where he became
responsible for making secure codes. Elizebeth joined him and found
employment in the same type of work. One of Friedman's duties was to
for possible used by the Army.
In 1927, he became acquainted with the Swedish company
Aktiebolaget (AB) Cryptoteknik
(later: Crypto AG).
As an executive secretary and technical advisor to the U.S. delegation
to the International Telegraph Conference in Brussels, he was ordered to
go to Sweden and meet developer
and learn more about the company and its products.
Although the two didn't meet on that
occasion, Friedman visited the factory and learned a great deal about
the Hagelin machines.
Friedman write about the device:
It was about this time  that a small mechanical machine, which had
been developed and produced in quantity by a Swedish engineer in Stockholm
was brought to the attention of the Chief Signal Office (CSO)
of the U.S. Army. [...] I turned in an unfavorable report on the machine for
the reason that although its cryptosecurity was theoretically good, it had
a low degree of cryptosecurity if improperly used. [...]
The Gentleman's Agreement
After the war, Friedman kept in contact with
Boris Hagelin who, in 1952
moved his company from Sweden to neutral Switzerland, mainly to evade the
high tax burden and the restrictive export rules in Sweden. At the inititive
of the AFSA
(later: NSA), Friedman was appointed case officer to
in order to persuade the latter not to sell secure equipment to
certain countries .
In practice, it appeared to be very difficult to finalise the terms of an
agreement between the
mainly because of the bureaucratic
attitude of the American agencies.
was nevertheless willing to
comply with the NSA's requests
and shared the details of all his
customers with them. He also promised not to supply his most secure
machines to certain countries .
This secret deal – which was never put in writing – is known
as The Gentleman's Agreement,
and Friedman played a pivoting role in getting it in place.
Over the years, the details of the agreement were revised several times,
and even after Friedman's retirement in 1955, he would be recalled to intervene
whenever there was a crisis (e.g. in 1957).
would sell his company
to a joint venture of the BND
and the CIA in 1970,
but by that time Friedman had already died .
➤ The Gentleman's Agreement
After Friedman's retirement – fir st in 1955 and again in 1957 –
he stayed in contact with Boris Hagelin, who kept him informed about
the developments in his company. Boris' son Bo, also stayed in contact
with Friedman, although father and son were no longer on speaking terms.
But Friedman felt shut out, as the NSA no longer replied to his long
letters and requests for information. Finally, in December of 1958,
the NSA had had enough of his attempts to pry information out of people.
On 30 December 1958, three NSA people turned up at his house and demanded
access to his study, where they confiscated 48 items from his personal
Friedman was furious. Apart from confiscating items
from his personal correspondence, they had re-graded some of his (old)
publications to the level of CONFIDENTIAL. This included his well-known
(unclassified) book of 1923:
The Index of Coincidence, and even
an article about the writer Edgar Allan Poe that he had written for a
literary journal in 1936. He would later take revenge.
In the late 1960s, Friedman's health began fail. He had promised
to help him with the writing of his (Hagelin's)
biography, but in April 1969,
he returned the manuscript to Hagelin with the message that he had no energy
left to finish it. He was hopeing that Hagelin would find a good biographer
to complete the work. On 2 November 1969, Friedman died at the age of 78.
The Marshall Library Foundation
After his death, Friedman and his wife Elizebeth, donated their library
(with all correspondence) to the George C. Marshall Foundation, rather than
to the NSA. The reasons for this were simple.
The hardliners within NSA
wanted to remove cryptology completely from public view and would try to
keep sensitive things under wraps forever, whilst for Friedman, sensitivity
had an expiry date.
In addition, this was Friedman's revenge for the fact that NSA had
raided his study back in 1958.
In the years prior to his death, he and Elizebeth had worked tirelessly to
prepare the library for donation. It was agreed that the Marshall
Library would assign a separate room to the Friedman Collection, and that
any sensitive material would be kept in a separate vault for the time being.
In December 1970, it arrived in 72 boxes
at the Marshall Library.
Additional material followed later in a closed safe of which only Elizebeth
knew the combination.
But even before the boxes had been fully unpacked,
two NSA people turned up, to see if there was any information amoung the
papers that could link Hagelin to American Intelligence.
They were particularly looking for personal correspondence between Friedman
and Hagelin, but none was found.
The two NSA people returned in 1974 and again in 1975, but no
under-classified material was ever found. To make matters worse,
SIGINT officer Wayne Barker published a book in 1975 with the title:
Cryptanalysis of the Hagelin Cryptograph, which revealed
to the public that NSA had the ability to break Hagelin machines
And having served in WWII,
Barker was a credible source that could not be downplayed.
On top of that, British writer Ronald Clark published his biography
of William Friedman in 1977:
The Man who Broke Purple, in which he gave an
account of the friendship between Friedman and Hagelin .
had given Clark access to the private correspondence in the safe at the
Friedman Room of the Marshall Library. But Clark failed to recognise
the importance of Friedman's visits to Hagelin in Zug,
and the consequences of the
But just a they thought it couldn't get any worse, in late 1982,
James Bamford published his book about the NSA:
The Puzzle Palace ,
in which he gives a far more detailed about the relationship between
Friedman and Hagelin. Bamford's conclusion was that the visits to Zug,
were probably to give NSA
the ability to read NATO traffic.
He completely failed to recognise the importance of the 1953 meeting,
in which the first Gentlemen's Agreement is discussed, althoug it
was in the files.
In 1981, 1 NSA re-graded much of Friedman's documents to CONFIDENTIAL,
as a result of which they were no longer available to the public.
The American Library Association (ALA) took the case to court, but lost.
That didn't matter though; the existence of the Friedman-Hagelin file
was now known to the public.
In 2014, much of the material — by then known as the Friedman Collection —
was partly declassified and released, albeit in a heavily redacted form.
Numerous articles, based on the files, have since been published,
including this one by ourselves.
An that wasn't the end of it. In February 2020, after an investigation of
more than one year, the German TV station ZDF revealed the existence of
— the secret purchase of Boris Hagelin's company
– Crypto AG –
by the German BND
and the American CIA. Not only
did it fill in the gaps of the redacted files, it also revealed
what had happened after Friedman's death.
➤ Operation RUBICON
This happened before James Bamford's book was published in 1982.
NSA had acquired access to the galley proofs of his book prior to
its going to print, so they knew what was coming.
Declassified and approved for release by NSA on 6 January 2014 (E.O. 13526).
Declassified by NARA on 6 June 2003.
- Wikipedia, William F. Friedman
Retrieved July 2015.
- Wikipedia, Pogroms in the Russian Empire
Retrieved December 2019.
- Wikipedia, Kishinev pogrom
Retrieved December 2019.
- Crypto Museum, The Gentleman's Agreement
30 July 2015.
- Crypto Museum, Operation RUBICON
- Wayne Barker, Cryptanalysis of the Hagelin Cryptograph
ISBN 0-89412-022-0. 1975.
- Ronald W. Clark, The Man Wo Broke Purple
ISBN 0-297-77279-1. 1977.
- James Bamford, The Puzzle Palace
ISBN 0-14-006748-5. 1982.
- Wikipedia, Index of coincidence
Retrieved January 2020.
- Jeffrey, Friedman Collectin At Folger Library
31 October 2014.
- NSA, William F. Friedman Collection of Official Papers
Retrieved July 2015. 1
Declassified by NSA on 17 June 2014 (EO 13526).
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