The Best Codebreaker in World War II Was a Woman

Elizebeth Smith Friedman was never given equal credit for what she did.

Elizebeth Smith Friedman and her husband, William F. Friedman, were responsible for the foundations of modern code breaking, as well as the principles that gave the NSA a head start in cryptanalysis, writes Wired. But very rarely is Elizebeth Friedman given the same credit as her husband. Both worked under total secrecy during World War II, but it is only recently that the world learned about Elizebeth’s critical work in uncovering the secrets of Nazi Spies, and her role in cracking the codes of the notorious “Doll Lady” — whose real name was Velvalee Dickinson — suspected of working for the Japanese. Elizebeth Friedman analyzed the “Doll Lady’s” letters in her spare time and wrote up a five-page letter for the FBI. She explained that the letters were a textbook example of “open code,” a way of communicating secretly out in the open, without arousing suspicion. She also pointed out evidence that the letters were intended to be intercepted en route by a friendly Axis confederate. When the Dickinson went to trial and then prison, Elizebeth was never mentioned by the FBI.

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