Today I learned about Herbert Yardley, architect of the American Black Chamber, named in homage to the “Black Chambers” of Europe a couple centuries prior. In this organization, subsidized by the State Department, Yardley and his team cracked the diplomatic messages of every major ally we had at the time (shortly after WWI). He even wrote a book about it, “The American Black Chamber”, which was both praised and panned — some critics noted it was the first book of its kind by an American, offering a glimpse into a world never before seen by the general public, much like “The Codebreakers”, while others criticized it as jeopardizing foreign relations.
The reason I decided to write this post is the reaction of Congress to Yardley’s book. They essentially wanted to make it a crime to do what Yardley did, to disseminate information gained in a government position. Some representatives rightly pointed out that this would limit the freedom of the press to make public communications which they thought were damaging to the American public or the fabric of society, but nevertheless, with the backing of the administration at that time, the law passed and sits on the books to this day.
Could you imagine such a scenario today? Could you imagine regular folks, let alone representatives, giving two shits about freedom of the press, in an age where the press is vilified by our own president? Where Snowden was seen as a traitor by his predecessor? When trust in the media is at an all-time low? I know, there are plenty of people fighting the waves upon waves of “fake news” (I prefer the term “propaganda”, and will use that word instead from here on out). There are people who are fighting tooth-and-nail to restore faith in the press, and I respect them to no end. However, propaganda, and those who seek to discredit the press, seem to be winning.
So what does this have to do with crypto, you might be asking? Well, the entire reason I’m studying crypto is to create a secure pseudonymous publication platform for journalists. I want to restore that trust. With crypto, along with network analysis, trust graphs, and a whole host of other techniques, the details of which I haven’t completely hammered out yet, we can at once restore trust in journalism while protecting those writers from persecution (or prosecution, at that). America’s founders put freedom of the press in the very first amendment for a reason — tyranny cannot survive in the light. With cryptography, this dream can be realized.
In future posts, I will be fleshing out the details of this pseudonymous publication platform, as promised. I’ve been trying to work my way through “Codebreakers” as quickly as possible (without skimming or missing details, of course), so I’ve been distracted, in a good way. I’m learning a lot. I’ve also been trying to work my way through the Cryptopals challenges, although I have to admit, I’m stuck on the “ECB/CBC detection oracle” challenge, in which I have to distinguish between ciphertext encrypted randomly with one of those two modes (more to come on that in another post). I have a lot of pies in the oven, but I’m making forward progress. More to come, folks…