Shostack + Friends Blog Archive


In memory of Frank Sanache

Frank Sanache was one of eight Meswaski code talkers. He served in North Africa, and was captured by the Germans. I’m fairly interested in the history of code talkers, and had missed the Army’s use of them.
It turns out that there were codetalkers in the First World War, that German civilains had travelled to the US to learn native languages, and so the system was considered suspect. The Navy claims to have perfected the system with the use of the (more) famous Navajo.
I find the code talker story fascinating because of the confluence of factors that made it important, and the factors that cause it to no longer be relevant. Code talkers mattered greatly because of the rise of radio, and the broadcasting of plans. Anyone familiar with radio reception wanted private communication for their plans. But all the cryptosystems of the day were either slow and cumbersome or useless for more than a few minutes security. The realization that native languages could address these issues was a very clever hack. Today, we have clever cryptosystems in the radio chips that make all of this less interesting. The military also has automatic transcription and translation tools. You can see some of them in action via the TIDES world press reports. They’re not perfect, but it seems that they could perhaps defeat code-talking.
None of which is to detract from the outstanding service that the code talkers gave to the United States.
From Wampum via Weblogsky.

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