Charlie Chapin’s Secret Identity?

Charlie Chaplin is one of the most well-known comedic actors of all time. But was his name really Charlie Chaplin? And where did he come from?

The Mysterious Charlie Chaplin?

Back in 1952, during the height of McCarthyism, the U.S. government was convinced Charlie Chaplin was a communist. They asked the British Secret Service, MI5, to investigate his background. After sixty years, that MI5 file has finally been released to the public. By the way, that’s an impressive length of time to keep such a secret although in pales in comparison to the CIA’s epic protection of invisible ink secrets.

Anyway, it turns out there is no official record of Charlie Chaplin for the first 31 years of his life. As a result, the CIA believed he was really a Frenchman named Israel Thornstein. More recent evidence suggests another reason for the lack of records: Charlie Chaplin might’ve been born into a British gypsy family. Here’s more on Charlie Chaplin’s secret identity from The Telegraph:

MI5 investigated whether Charlie Chaplin was actually a Frenchman called Israel Thornstein, previously secret files on the Hollywood film star have revealed. Intelligence officers could find no trace of the actor’s birth in Britain despite Chaplin always claiming he was born in London in 1889.

The mystery surrounding his origins emerged when the US authorities asked MI5 to look into the comic actor’s background after he left America in 1952 under a cloud of suspicion over his communist links…

…British intelligence rejected American claims that Chaplin was a high-risk communist, concluding that while he may have been a “sympathiser” he was no more than a “progressive or radical”.

(See MI5 files: Was Chaplin really a Frenchman and called Thornstein? for the rest on Charlie Chaplin’s secret identity)

Cyborg Spy Cats?

In the 1960s, the CIA embarked on all sorts of strange espionage projects to spy on the Soviet Union. Perhaps there was none stranger than America’s first cyborg spy cat…the Acoustic Kitty.

The Acoustic Kitty Project?

The Acoustic Kitty project, which cost a whopping $25 million, wasn’t for the squeamish. Agents literally sliced open a cat, stuck batteries into him, and wired him up using the tail as an antenna. Then they dropped off the Acoustic Kitty in front of a facility believed to be used by Soviets. Unfortunately, the cat never got close enough for a proper test – it was wiped out by  a taxi driver almost as soon as it hit the ground. Here’s more on the bizarre Acoustic Kitty project from TBD:

As if the D.C. Taxicab Commission wasn’t already receiving enough heat from the Uber mess, let’s turn to a sadder piece of local taxi history — the tale of how our country’s multimillion-dollar CIA-trained cat spy died at the wheels of a D.C. taxicab. Today I’ve already talked about dogs (and about cabs and technology), so it’s only fair I bring up felines as well.

…Accounts of the CIA’s $25-million Acoustic Kitty project are available throughout the Internet, but one of the more detailed and fun couple pages come from Alan Bellows’ book Alien Hand Syndrome in a section called “Cyborg Spy Kitties.” He recounts a former CIA agent’s description: “They slit the cat open, put batteries in him, wired him up. The tail was used as an antenna. They made a monstrosity.”

(Thanks to The Birdman & see Metro history: A D.C. taxicab killed America’s premier CIA-trained cat spy for more on the Acoustic Kitty project)

The Secret of Kryptos?

In 1990, a strange sculpture known as Kryptos appeared in the courtyard outside CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia. It consisted of a wavy copper screen covered with 1,732 letters, 4 question marks, and 2 spaces. These characters represent four encoded messages, one of which remains unsolved to this day. What is this famous code that’s stumped the intelligence community’s finest minds for over two decades?

What is Kryptos?

Kryptos was commissioned in 1988 and created by artist James Sanborn in 1990. It encompasses numerous sculptures. The wavy copper screen depicted above is by far the most famous of these pieces.

The screen contains four separate encoded messages, which were developed by Sanborn, and Ed Scheidt, former Chairman of the CIA Cryptographic Center. These messages combine to form a riddle within a riddle which can only be solved by one who’s physically in the courtyard (which unfortunately is closed off to civilians).

“In part of the code that’s been deciphered, I refer to an act that took place when I was at the agency and a location that’s on the ground of the agency. So in order to find that place, you have to decipher the piece and then go to the agency and find that place.” ~ James Sanborn

To date, three of the four messages have been cracked. Details are below:

Kryptos Message #1: K1

  • Notes: This is a modified Vigenère cipher where the alphabet key is “kryptos” and the passphrase is “palimpsest” (using this transcript, you can solve it yourself here). Some think the strange and deliberate misspelling at the end (iqlusion) might be a clue to K4.
  • Decoded Message: “Between subtle shading and the absence of light lies the nuance of iqlusion.”

Kryptos Message #2: K2

  • Notes: Same as above but with a passphrase of “abscissa.” On April 19, 2006, Sanborn announced this particular section contained an error. The corrected version is given below. It appears to point to something being buried and the coordinates point to a location 150 feet southeast of the sculpture. Also, there is another strange misspelling – “undergruund.”
  • Decoded Message: “It was totally invisible. How’s that possible? They used the earth’s magnetic field. x The information was gathered and transmitted undergruund to an unknown location. x Does Langley know about this? They should: it’s buried out there somewhere. x Who knows the exact location? Only WW. This was his last message: x Thirty-eight degrees fifty-seven minutes six point five seconds North, seventy-seven degrees eight minutes forty-four seconds West. X Layer two.”

Kryptos Message #3: K3

  • Notes: This section uses a far more complicated coding technique, namely transposition. The text appears to describe Howard Carter’s opening of Pharaoh Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922. The question at the end was asked by Lord Carnarvon. Depending on the source, Carter answered with either “Wonderful things” or “Yes, it is wonderful.” There is yet another misspelling (“desparatly”) and the last sentence contains a strangely-placed “q.”
  • Decoded Message: “Slowly, desparatly slowly, the remains of passage debris that encumbered the lower part of the doorway was removed. With trembling hands I made a tiny breach in the upper left-hand corner. And then, widening the hole a little, I inserted the candle and peered in. The hot air escaping from the chamber caused the flame to flicker, but presently details of the room within emerged from the mist. x Can you see anything q?”

Kryptos Message #4: K4

  • Notes: This section, which consists of 97 characters, remains unsolved. The correct solution requires that the first three sections be properly decoded. Sanborn has hinted that “the plaintext itself is not standard English and would require a second level of cryptanalysis.” Other possible clues include the various misspellings as well as other nearby sculptures, some of which display messages in Morse code while another one depicts a compass rose. In November 2010, Sanborn revealed to the New York Times that when “NYPVTT” is deciphered, it reads “Berlin.”

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

Kryptos is one of the most famous unsolved codes in history. It even played a role in Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol. Go ahead and give it a shot…if you come up with an answer, you can submit it via Sanborn’s website. But be warned…the cipher has caused more than its fair share of sleepless nights.

Experts and amateurs alike have wrestled with the code of Kryptos for more than twenty years. Eventually, someone will crack K4. But don’t forget the coordinates in K2 and Sanborn’s comments about being physically within the courtyard. For all we know, the answer to K4 might not end the mystery of this strange encrypted sculpture…it might be the beginning of a whole new one.

The Last Secrets of World War I?

On April 19, 2011, the Central Intelligence Agency declassified six secret documents from 1917 and 1918. These were America’s oldest classified documents and believed to be the last of their kind from World War I. So, what great secrets could possibly require nearly a century of security? Political intrigue? Government conspiracy? Something even worse?

Secret Documents…from World War I?

Not in the least bit. According to the official press release, the secret documents, which you can find here, “describe secret writing techniques.” Or, to put it more plainly, they describe how to create invisible ink as well as “a method for opening sealed letters without detection.”

Have you ever wanted to secretly open an envelope, World War I-style? Well, here’s your opportunity.

“Mix 5 drams copper acetol arsenate. 3 ounces acetone and add 1 pint amyl alcohol (fusil-oil). Heat in water bath — steam rising will dissolve the sealing material of its mucilage, wax or oil.”

Oh, but don’t forget this part.

“Do not inhale fumes.”

Why all the Secrecy over Outdated Secret Documents?

I have to admit that the secret documents provide some interesting insights into the national security concerns of the time. One paper exposes Germany’s secret formula for invisible ink. Another one provides 50 ways for U.S. postal inspectors to detect invisible ink.

“The rule is to suspect or examine every possible thing. The war between the spy or forger and the expert is continually bringing out new methods.” ~ Theodore Kytka, Handwriting Expert

Still, I can’t help but wonder why the CIA chose to keep this material classified for nearly a hundred years. Recipes for invisible ink are easy to find and anyways, would any spy dare to use such an outdated technique?

According to the CIA, the answer is apparently yes. In 1999, “the agency rejected a Freedom of Information Act request to release the six documents, asserting that doing so ‘could be expected to damage the national security.'” A similar request was rejected in 2002.So, what changed? Well, a CIA spokeswoman claimed that “in recent years, the chemistry of making secret ink and the lighting used to detect it has greatly improved.”

“These documents remained classified for nearly a century until recent advancements in technology made it possible to release them. When historical information is no longer sensitive, we take seriously our responsibility to share it with the American people.” ~ Leon E. Panetta, CIA Director

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

One of the secret documents revealed that America knew the secret to creating Germany’s invisible ink. I guess the German Empire will have to switch recipes going forward. Anyways, the CIA has long been considered one of the world’s most secretive organizations. From where I stand, the delayed release of these extremely outdated documents does nothing to change that reputation.

“Invisible ink was rendered obsolete by digital encryption long ago, not in the last few years. Director Panetta is attempting to rationalize the CIA’s irrational information policies, but there is no known basis for his claim.” ~ Steve Aftergood, The Federation for American Scientists

Well, I suppose we can be happy that these secret documents have finally been released. Now, we can move on to the next batch. What’s next on the list of oldest still-classified documents? Anyone?