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I want to tell you a story. For 3 years I’ve been researching Elizebeth Smith Friedman, a puzzle-solving heroine of the world wars. 1/
Born in 1892 to a large family of Indiana Quakers, she studied poetry, not math. But then she taught herself to be a codebreaker. 2/
A codebreaker solves secret messages without knowing the key. Starting from scratch, at age 23, Elizebeth became one of the best ever. 3/
I first saw her name a few years ago, on a library website. After Snowden, I had been reading about the history of the NSA. 4/
Her husband was William Friedman, the godfather of the NSA. This guy. 5/
The library held the Friedmans’ papers. I decided to go see Elizebeth’s collection, the things she had preserved. Kept in this vault. 6/
She left 22 boxes of papers to the library. The archivists started bringing out boxes. I started reading. 7/
Her personal diaries were there. Also, love letters between her and William. Some written in code. 8/
There were 100s of her original code worksheets—she worked in the pre-computer era, with only pencil, paper, and her mind. 9/
There were newspaper clips. In the 1920s & 30s, Elizebeth used her skills to break up liquor & heroin rings. Testified against gangsters 10/
She became famous in her time. But there was nothing in the boxes about World War II. Nothing from 1939 to 1945. Just a mysterious gap. 11/
I asked around. What did she do in World War II? No one seemed to know. 12/
I started searching through archives in the U.S. and U.K. It took me two years to find the answer: 13/
“THE SPY STUFF.” Elizebeth caught Nazi spies in WWII. She hunted Nazis. 14/
The story is weirder and darker than I can really convey here. Which is why I wrote a book! But here are just a few bits. 15/
After Hitler invaded Poland, Nazi agents began spreading into the West to steal secrets & undermine the Allies. 16/
Like this guy—SS-Hauptsturmführer Johnannes Siegfried Becker, code name SARGO. (“Juan” was one of his 50 aliases.) 17/
Becker set up clandestine radio stations across S. America to talk with Himmler. Elizebeth decrypted thousands of these messages. 18/
The FBI didn’t know how to do that. They lacked codebreaking expertise. So J. Edgar Hoover relied on Elizebeth all through the war. 19/
She was the Bureau’s technical weapon in the hunt for these Nazi spies. She also worked with closely with the same British spy agency… 20/
…that employed a young RAF pilot named Roald Dahl, and a young naval intelligence man named Ian Fleming — future creator of James Bond. 21/
Anyway: By the end of 1944, Elizebeth and a group of codebreakers she trained had wrecked the Nazi spy rings. But she never got credit. 22/
Here’s one of the big reasons why. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: J. Edgar Hoover. 23/
Hoover was an amazing publicist & kind of a huge asshole? And he edited Elizebeth out of the story. He went on a publicity blitz. 24/
And then Elizebeth’s war files were stamped TOP SECRET ULTRA and classified for decades. So Americans never knew that she was a hero. 25/
There’s more but I’ll end here. The whole amazing tale is in my book, THE WOMAN WHO SMASHED CODES. 26/ harpercollins.com/9780062430489/…
The book is released tomorrow, Sept 26, and pre-ordered copies are shipping NOW. You should buy a copy! 27/27 harpercollins.com/9780062430489/…
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