Richard Bean has made me aware of an in-depth interview US an art historian did with Jim Sanborn. A transcript of this talk has now been made available online.

Today I received an exciting e-mail from Australian blog reader Richard Bean, who is known to readers of this blog as a successful codebreaker.

Source: Richard Bean

Richard wrote that earlier this year he asked the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution for a copy of an interview they did with Jim Sanborn in 2009. It was a 6.5 hour talk conducted by art historian Avis Berman. Jim Sanborn …

Source: Schmeh

… is the creator of the famous Kryptos sculpture.

Source: Elonka Dunin

The Smithsonian Institution replied to Richard that they could release a transcribed version of the interview if Sanborn gave his permission. Sanborn did  so, and now the transcript has been published on the organisation’s website – a 70-page, 54,000-word text. A five-minute audio sample is available, too.

Here’s a summary of the interview provided by the Smithsonian Institution:

Sanborn speaks of his father, Herbert James Sanborn, who worked at the Library of Congress and was also an artist; his education, including attending Randolph-Macon College, taking a course in archaeology at Oxford University, and attending the Pratt Institute; his interest in medieval history and art; how he began to create public art; the difference between his public art and his gallery work; his residency at Glen Echo Park, VA; working on General Services Administration (GSA) commissions; the commissioning, conceptualization, and creation process behind his artwork Kryptos (1990) at CIA headquarters; the media sensation surrounding Kryptos; the importance of secrecy in his work; the process of engineering waves for Coastline (1993) at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric headquarters; his recreation of a particle generator for the exhibition Atomic Time (2003); incorporating science and technology into his work; and how his work changed after 9/11.

Apparently, Sanborn gave this interview when he worked on a book about Kryptos, with bestseller author Steven Levy providing the foreword. As the book never eventuated, the interview is the closest we are going to get.

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Here’s a nice statement by Sanborn Richard found in the transcript:

… cryptography is probably the most closeted of endeavors. It is done in secret. It is done in private. It is just absolutely a private endeavor. It did involve teams of people during the Enigma, you know, the decryption in England. But in general, it’s a very private thing. And cryptographers are notoriously private people who don’t have exciting lives. Actually, an exciting life is anathema to a cryptographer because they have to keep secrets. Anybody who has to keep a massive amount of secrets doesn’t have a lot of friends. They just don’t. They don’t have social lives. They don’t have a lot of stuff. So all of a sudden cryptography became cool. And Kryptos, I think, really helped make cryptography cool. And cryptography became a leisure endeavor, where people—as you were saying earlier, crossword puzzles and this kind of thing. There are puzzles and all that have been around. Code puzzles have not been as obvious as other kinds of puzzles. But now cryptography is cool and trendy. [01:18:00] And there are a lot of people, especially Internet geeks, finally found a home in cryptography. And so it sort of created this worldwide phenomenon that has this life of its own on the Internet, of which I was largely not privy until fairly recently.

According to the interview, two of Sanborn’s favourite texts are Howard Carter’s diary (an excerpt of which became the K3 plaintext) and Heinrich Schliemann’s Memoirs. Sanborn also mentions “Northeast Washington”, which might or might not refer to NORTHEAST, one of the K4 cribs.

Can a reader find more interesting information in this long interview? If so, please let me know.

I want to express my thanks to the Smithsonian Institution for transcribing and publishing this interview. And most of all, I want to thank Richard Bean for his research into the topic and for making me aware of the transcript. Thanks to him, my blog is the first publication to cover this Kryptos-related document.

Further reading: Jim Sanborn publishes new Kryptos clue


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Kommentare (12)

  1. #1 Richard Bean
    22. Juli 2020

    Thanks Klaus! I also heard from the Smithsonian a few hours ago: “Matt Mullican is reviewing his transcript and we hope to make it available when he’s completed his review.” … so we may get to read his “side” of the story about the CIA art contract. The Yang to Sanborn’s Yin.

  2. #2 Klaus Schmeh
    22. Juli 2020

    Corey Copeland via Facebook:
    A lot of talented people. Great to see this!

  3. #3 Michael BGNC
    Lake Constance
    22. Juli 2020

    Some other interesting passages from the text:


    And Ed basically gave me—he gave me a primer of ancient encoding systems. And he also gave me some ideas for contemporary coding systems…


    So in front of the Martinsburg facility, I installed a large lodestone and two sheets of copper. And basically, the copper was going in one side in English characters, and it’s the names of all the presidents and secretaries of treasury in the United States. Then coming out the backside of the magnetic thing is all zeroes and ones. So I converted all the presidents names into binary code.


    Yes. And then there’s in the paving I inlaid a 256-bit chip with 256 stone, one-foot-by-one-foot tiles that has a binary code in it. And so there’s an encoded text in the paving section, the square paving section.



    – Binary converter at IRS Computing Facility uses 7 Bit ASCII – Code.

    – Rippawam (Rippowam) Mini-Park-Stamford uses 7 Bit ASCII – Code.

    – There is an old newspaper article in the documents from Elonka´s FOIA request, in which Jim Sanborn said: “Anyone who knows a coding system called the Vigenere Tableau, invented in 1586 by French diplomat Blaise de Vigenere, will be able to decipher one half of the phrase. The other half will be encoded in a modern system for the project by an expert cryptographer…”. As we know today the “expert cryptographer” is Ed Scheidt.

    – From Wired News (20.Jan2005):
    WN: Is it important to look at your other works, before and after Kryptos, to understand Kryptos?
    Sanborn: For the student of cryptography it’s always helpful to gather as much information as possible when zeroing in on and encoding a system.

    -In my opinion DYAHR implies a 5 Bit Binary code (ASCII ?). Five Bits are enough to encode 26 letters.

  4. #4 Richard Bean
    29. Juli 2020

    So much to digest. Two things

    (A) I saw the Hess article (February 1988) reference in “Atomic Time” and went back to read it. There’s another German connection.

    Twenty-five artists were asked “would you sell work to the CIA”. Mike Bidlo responded “I think maybe yes, I would consider doing a commission for the CIA, but only if it were to be a Hans Haacke”. Hans Haacke responded “I wouldn’t give them work because I cannot imagine anything that would express my feelings about the CIA being tolerated there. The only reason to accept would be to turn it into a public game; to make a piece which would be thrown out so it would become a public issue.” You can actually see some of the Haacke words reflected by Sanborn at CIA-RDP92G00017R000800010003-6 … “The artist considers all messages to be benign and aims to present a game for viewers”.

    (B) The references to how long this is supposed to last. On the one hand, the plan: “So anyway that will go on hopefully for a century, long after my death.” and “I wanted this piece to last into or through the 21st century.” and on the other, fear: “I assumed that people would figure it out in a matter of weeks”. At least, that’s how I’d reconcile the quotes. What sort of encryption system could last that long? This doesn’t fit in with the other quotes “Its intent was to last roughly five years”, “the last part, perhaps ten”, “Scheidt figured the whole puzzle would be solved in less than seven years” … the five, seven, ten are repeated in other places.

  5. #5 Seth
    30. Juli 2020

    Michael BGNC “-In my opinion DYAHR implies a 5 Bit Binary code (ASCII ?). Five Bits are enough to encode 26 letters.”

    Sanborn stated that the spacing of DYAHR was supposed to mean “1-2-3” in his last meeting with Elonka. I have no idea how it means 1 2 3, but that’s what he claimed.

  6. #6 TWO
    30. Juli 2020


    Sanborn knows that ASCII is a 7-bit code.

    He tried for years to hide this fact.

    He told a tale how he iost his Glen Echo studio because he had to pay taxes to the IRS.

    For years Binary Systems was not mentioned on his website,

    Then one day somebody forced this fact to be known to the public.

    In miss Dunin’s group is a thread with more details on this subject.

    This made me wonder if he is an active member of that group under various aliases and whenever the discussion comes to close for his comfort he lends a “helping” hand to embellish it

    Sanborn is not a bad person,far from it.

    But he has to make a living with the same old one trick pony riding the same old winding twisting road.

    I admire his shrewdness but pity his fate.

    I write this in response to something but I am not sure I am even on the right website.

  7. #7 TWO
    30. Juli 2020

    Ah, it was in resonse to Seth

  8. #8 Michael BGNC
    Lake Constance
    31. Juli 2020

    @Seth: Maybe the meaning of his 123 statement is in terms of write it in the right order. By the way HYDRA is the codename for the transatlantic intelligence traffic between Camp X and Station X (UK – Bletley Park). A teletype based XOR Message exchange during World War 2 and after.

  9. #9 Seth
    2. August 2020

    I think he has also explicitly said it had nothing to do with “hydra.”

    But somehow the spacing in (EN?) DYAHR = 1-2-3 but I don’t see how, and people seemed more interested in wild theories that pursuing that. I want to understand the “1-2-3” “hint.”

  10. #10 Seth
    2. August 2020

    Also: how exactly “1-2-3” is a hint…

  11. #11 Michael BNGC
    Lake Constance
    3. August 2020

    I’ve been working on this anomaly for quite some time. Ok what do we have: We have numbers and spaces. Horizontal and vertical distances. These can be read as D^Y and H^R. These two groups are clearly separated from the A and we can clearly see that Y and R are superscripted. Maybe this is an indication of a different number system used by Mr. Sanborn. D/H correspond to the base used and Y/R to the exponent, which indicates the value of the digit. In my opinion, base 2 and base 5 would be the most suitable. Maybe with his “123” statement Mr. Sanborn wanted to put a connection between DYAHR and the change of the number system used.

  12. #12 Michael BGNC
    Lake Constance
    3. August 2020

    To illustrate what I mean:

    D^Y A H^R

    DY and HR are extremely close together.