Last Modified Date : 21.09.2008

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Kryptos is a sculpture by American artist James Sanborn located on the grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in Langley, Virginia, in the United States. Since its dedication on November 3, 1990, there has been much speculation about the meaning of the encrypted messages it bears. It continues to provide a diversion for employees of the CIA and other cryptanalysts attempting to decrypt the messages.


The main sculpture is made of red granite, red and green slate, white quartz, petrified wood, lodestone and copper, and is located in the northwest corner of the New Headquarters Building courtyard, outside of the Agency cafeteria.

The name Kryptos comes from the Greek word for "hidden", and the theme of the sculpture is "intelligence gathering." The most prominent feature is a large vertical S-shaped copper screen resembling a scroll, or piece of paper emerging from a computer printer, covered with characters comprising encrypted text. The characters consist of the 26 letters of the standard alphabet and question marks cut out of the copper. This "inscription" contains four separate enigmatic messages, each apparently encrypted with a different cipher.

At the same time as the main sculpture was installed, sculptor Sanborn also placed several other pieces around CIA grounds, such as several large granite slabs with sandwiched copper sheets outside the entrance to the New Headquarters Building. Several morse code messages are engraved in the copper, and one of the slabs has an engraved compass rose. Other elements of Sanborn's installation include a landscaped area, a duck pond, and several other seemingly unmarked slabs.

The Sculpture Kryptos

Encrypted Messages

The ciphertext on one half of the main sculpture contains 869 characters in total, however Sanborn released information in April of 2006 stating that an intended letter on the main half of Kryptos was missing. This would bring the total number of characters to 870 on the main portion. The other half of the sculpture comprises a Vigenčre encryption tableau, comprised of 869 characters, if spaces are counted. Sanborn worked with a retiring CIA employee named Ed Scheidt, Chairman of the CIA Cryptographic Center, to come up with the cryptographic systems used on the sculpture. Sanborn has since revealed that the sculpture contains a riddle within a riddle which will be solvable only after the four encrypted passages have been decrypted. He said that he gave the complete solution at the time of the sculpture's dedication to CIA director William H. Webster. However, in an interview for in January 2005, Sanborn said that he had not given Webster the entire solution. He did, however, confirm that where in part 2 it says "Who knows the exact location? Only WW," that "WW" was intended to refer to William Webster.

Pop Culture References

The dust jacket of the US version of Dan Brown's novel The Da Vinci Code contains two references to Kryptos: One on the back cover (coordinates printed light red on dark red, vertically next to the blurbs) is a reference to the coordinates mentioned in the plaintext of part 2 (see below), except the degrees digit is off by one. When Brown and his publisher were asked about this, they both gave the same reply: "The discrepancy is intentional." The other reference is hidden in the brown "tear" artwork—upside-down words which say "Only WW knows." These are another reference to Kryptos Part 2.

A small version of the Kryptos appears in the season 5 episode of Alias, "S.O.S.". In it, Marshall Flinkman, in a small moment of comic relief, says he has cracked the code just by looking at it during a tour visit to the Central Intelligence Agency office. The solution he describes sounds like the solution to the first two parts.

This article uses material from the Wikipedia article "Kryptos".

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