The Use of Cryptography in Real and Fictional Crimes
5. Secret Communications in Organized Crime
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Secret Communications in Organized Crime
Don’t let your tongue be your worst enemy.
John “Sonny” Franzese (b. 1917)
In 2006, Italian police found a cryptogram among the notes of a Sicilian Mafia boss, Bernardo Provenzano. It was easily decoded, leading to his arrest after years on the run. It also led investigators to track down other members of the clan.1 Provenzano had used a modified Caesar- Polybius cipher to conceal information, simply assigning a number in order to each letter, adding three more to it in the ciphertext: that is, he replaced “A” with “4,” “B” with “5,” and so on. The investigators took little time to crack the simple code. The decrypted text contained orders to his lieutenants and the names of gang members.
In jail, Provenzano kept asking for his copy of the Bible; so, the police came to suspect that he may have used it to create another secret cipher, because excerpts from the Bible were also found on other notes possessed by Provenzano. Forensic cryptographers believed that ← 97 | 98 → specific words in the Bible were assigned certain numbers and then used as part of encrypted communiqués, but were not able to figure out the key or keys used. One note referred to Revelation 17, chapters eight and nine: “The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless...
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