Cracking Prison Codes (and Snowden stuff, tool for radio geeks)

How do you break amateur cryptography? By getting into the writer’s mind.

Here’s the story of how one (retired) prison guard goes through breaking codes that gang members use to protect their communications with the outside… plus little details like scratching out the letter “C” (to disrespect the Crips) or putting an up arrow next to a “B” (to praise themselves).

In a classic example of “government work,” he never actually learns whether his work accomplished anything.

The German government (the bureaucrats, as opposed to the parliament, the latter being more or less in favor) has declined for the 2nd time to offer Snowden asylum. http://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/abhoerskandal-bundesregierung-lehnt-asyl-fuer-snowden-ab-a-931645.html
http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/the-political-debate-over-offering-snowden-asylum-in-germany-a-931497.html

This is somewhat unsurprising. I’ve mentioned before that there are “close ties” between Germany and the US, not just in terms of commerce but in terms of the massive NSA bases in Germany and the “Germany has not been a sovereign state since 1945” quote of finance minister Schaeuble. It’s quite clear that the US has done everything it can to put down very deep roots indeed in Germany, and keep them there.

Therefore, the diplomatic calculus is somewhat involved. Does the leaked material collectively shout “FUCK YOU!” at Germany louder than the implied “FUCK YOU!” of granting asylum?

Even with Merkelphonegate, the diplomatic sound pressure level meter still seems to be below the red line. The reason this is important is simple — if the US committed a more serious affront in spying, the Germans can say “we need to do something to show this Will Not Be Tolerated.” Asylum becomes a measured, justfied response. Without enough “outrage intensity,” though, it’s an escalation.

On the other hand, there’s no telling what the journalists keeping Snowden’s documents will dig up next that might push it over. The “SPL meter” is indeed close to the line!

No matter what happens, everyone agrees they should speak with him and get his testimony, so it sounds like a delegation to Moscow is in the making. This, of course, begs the question — isn’t testifying against the Americans in contravention of Putin’s condition against “further damaging US interests”…? That would be the primary justification for bringing him to Germany.

Some speculate that Germany, rather than being particularly peeved, is using the affront to seek an “upgrade” to 5-eyes status. Apparently spying is like flying… when the big airline pisses you off, you can parlay it into a comfier seat. You still have to submit to an “enhanced cavity search” to get on, of course. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/nov/02/nsa-portrait-total-surveillance

Der Spiegel nevertheless points out that the “dirty operations” in which the Five Eyes engage would not fly in Germany, making a German accession unlikely. http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/nsa-scandal-berlin-restricted-by-close-relationship-with-us-intelligence-a-931503.html

Another German newspaper — sadly without an available English translation, use your robo-translate of choice — makes an interesting point why Snowden’s leaks are almost certainly not a Russian intelligence op meant to drive a wedge between the US and Berlin. Unlike an intelligence disinformation campaign, Snowden’s revelations seem —
to the general public — more about revelations than paranoia, more fire than smoke.

More interesting is the observation that Snowden’s leaks have also been architected in keeping with Snowden’s libertarian ideology, where independent journalists make their own decisions and analysis about what to release and what to say. http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/auswertung-der-snowden-dokumente-agenten-muessen-draussen-bleiben-1.1809638

Snowden published a brief manifesto the German magazine Der Spiegel. http://meriksson.net/snowden-a-manifesto-for-the-truth

Radio geeks: open source tool for programming all kinds of radios. http://chirp.danplanet.com/projects/chirp/wiki/Home

http://nautil.us/blog/the-prison-guard-with-a-gift-for-cracking-gang-codes

“Even in retirement, his skills are in demand: Klivans sifts through encoded messages sent to him by law enforcement offers from around the country. “I have a knack for this. I see the patterns,” he told me. “Even as I’m printing the paper out, the words are jumping off the page at me.…A lot of people can’t see what I see.”[…]

I sat down with it and tried to get into the writer’s mind. The letter started off in English, which helped. Each gang has its own hierarchy and terms of address. The author referred to a “third crown” and then turned to a mix of Spanish and code. I could tell he was from the Latin Kings since the leader there is called a “king.” I looked for references that would be important to them. I started to notice that the number “3” was followed by five symbols. Since “the third crown” was important to the author, I took a guess and associated the five different symbols to the five letters in the English language that make up the word “crown.”

Then I had another breakthrough. The letters “ADR” kept coming up. The phrase “Amor De Ray” is common in the Kings’ jargon because it means “love the crown.” So now I had seven letters of the alphabet, the five symbols that corresponded to C R O W N and then A D. And once I had seven letters I could figure out the rest. And that was the first code I ever deciphered. With every code, you have to first understand what’s important to the writer.[…]

One that I did recently was oral. An officer suspected a drug operation and monitored a gang member’s telephone call. The guy spoke and then there was a burst of numbers. He said, “Everything is fine. Everything is cool here, uh, 15 22 27 31.”

As I worked on it I saw that he reversed the alphabet. So I took a leap of faith and assumed that if he was using a letter for a number then that letter would then refer back to another number so that a “3” would be K.

[Klivans found that the code split the alphabet into two columns of 13 letters. The first column starts backwards, with A being the 13th letter and then, counting backwards, M is the 1st letter. Then it moves to the second half of the alphabet: N is the 26th letter and Z is the 14th.]”

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