Documents Reveal How the NSA Cracked the Kryptos Sculpture Years Before the CIA

It took more than eight years for a CIA analyst and a California computer scientist to crack three of the four coded messages on the CIA’s famed Kryptos sculpture in the late ’90s.

Little did either of them know that a small group of cryptanalysts inside the NSA had beat them to it, and deciphered the same three sections of Kryptos years earlier — and they did it in less than a month, according to new documents obtained from the NSA.

These days the NSA is best known for its broad, indiscriminate spying on Americans and foreigners. But the Kryptos crack shows how some of the agency’s smartest geeks once blew off steam in the relatively quiet days between the end of the Cold War and the September 11 attacks.

The popular story of Kryptos has long held that CIA analyst David Stein was the first to crack three of the cryptographic sculpture’s four puzzles in 1998.