WWII secret code found on dead pigeon, stumps UK’s spy agency

The world of codes and espionage, a deadly and mysterious looking glass world. Great espionage leads to the cracking of the Nazi Enigma machine by the code-breakers at Bletchley Park, or the Monty Python-esque operations like the WWII scheme Mincemeat, in which a dead soldier was outfitted in a Royal Air Force uniform and pushed toward the Spanish shore with diversionary battle orders. The corpse, retrieved by a local Spanish fisherman, was handed over to the German intelligence agency, the Abwehr. The Germans bit ravenously into Mincemeat and redirected a good portion of their military to Greece, including Edwin Rommel’s Panzer division. Bad espionage leads to, well, Operation “All In” with Paula Broadwell.

As proof that great cryptography can last long after operations (necessitating decades-long classification), a message consisting of 27 hand-written blocks of five letters was found by retired probation officer David Martin attached to the leg of a pigeon skeleton, according to AFP. Martin was renovating his house in Surrey, England when he found the code in early November. He handed it over to code-breakers at the  GCHQ intelligence agency, but they were left stupefied. Why? Well, without the codebook, it’s impossible to crack.

British military personnel were known to have used carrier pigeons to carry encrypted messages during WWII.

Found in a red canister with the sender listed as “Sjt W Stot,” the code written on a tiny piece of paper titled “Pigeon Service.” Its recipient was to have been “X02.”

A GCHQ spokesman stated: “Although it is disappointing that we cannot yet read the message brought back by a brave carrier pigeon, it is a tribute to the skills of the wartime code-makers that, despite working under severe pressure, they devised a code that was indecipherable both then and now.”