Even prior to WW 2, Elizebeth Smith Friedman was indispensable to the U.S. government because of her unique perspective on patterns and language rhythms. At a time when the FBI was in its infancy and cryptology nonexistent, she did what the crime agency had no capacity to do.
She broke codes and figured out their puzzling meanings. In WW 2 she monitored radio stations in South America used by the Nazis, intercepted their messages, and through this, eliminated a Nazi spy ring.
Later, sexism triumphed as Hoover stated that the FBI had done her work. With this lie and others, she was written out of the history books. However, through the documentary, The Codebreaker: Wife. Mother. Secret American Hero we hear the real story about Elizebeth, a Quaker poet and technical master.
Because of her life long endeavours in codebreaking, boxes of archival documentation exists — letters, diaries and codeword sheets. Chana Gazit directed The Codebreaker (an episode of American Experience) and comments, “If we missed Elizebeth, who contributed so much in the first half of the 20th century to the safety of this country, who else are we missing?” Exactly.
The Codebreaker episode is based on this book by Jason Fagone.
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