Hollow Nickel Spy Case
© Brooke Clarke 2008
In 1953 a paper boy accidentally
received a hollow Jefferson Nickel as change from the wife of a Russian
spy. Inside was an encrypted message. The FBI
worked on cracking the message for four years with no success. It
wasn't until 1957 when defecting Russian spy master Reino Hayhanen
explained the complex paper and pencil system that the message was
read. Probably today the NSA could crack this code with super
computers, it was quite formidable in it's day.
In 1962 Abel was traded for U-2 pilot Gary Powers.
The 1959 movie
"The FBI Story
" starring James Stewart includes this case.
The message was on microfilm
with the corners cut off to fit into the nickel. Note this is much larger than a microdot
The cipher text on the microfilm was:
14546 36056 64211 08919 18710 71187 71215 02906 66036 10927
11375 61233 65634 39175 37378 31013 22596 19291 17463 23551
88527 10130 01767 12366 16669 97846 76559 50062 91171 72332
19262 69849 90251 11576 46121 24666 05902 19229 56150 23521
51911 78912 32939 31966 12096 12060 89748 25362 43167 99841
76271 31154 26938 77221 58343 61164 14349 01241 26269 71578
31734 27562 51236 12982 13089 66218 22577 09454 01216 71958
26948 89779 54197 11990 23881 48884 22165 62994 35449 41742
30267 77614 31565 30902 65812 16112 93312 71220 62369 12872
12458 19081 97117 70107 06391 71114 19459 59586 80317 07522
76509 11111 35990 32666 04411 51532 91184 23162 82011 19185
56110 28876 76716 03563 28222 31674 39023 07623 93513 97175
29816 95761 69483 32591 97696 34992 61105 95090 24092 71008
90061 14790 15154 14655 29011 57206 77195 01256 69250 62901
39179 71229 23299 84164 45900 42227 65853 17591 60182 06315
65812 01378 14566 87719 92507 79517 99551 82155 58118 67197
30015 70687 36201 56531 56721 26306 57135 91796 51341 07796
76655 62718 33588 91902 16224 87721 23519 23191 20665 45140
66093 60959 71521 02334 21212 51110 85227 98768 11125 05321
53152 14191 12166 12715 03116 43041 74827 72759 29130 21947
15764 96851 20618 22370 11391 43520 62297
There are ten groups of five numbers per line.
Twenty full lines for 200 groups plus a partial line of seven groups for a total of 207 groups.
There are 207 * 5 = 1035 numbers in the message.
There are some numbers that are questionable so this may have a few errors.
An English version of the Russian Cyrillic plain text was:
|1. WE CONGRATULATE YOU ON A SAFE ARRIVAL. WE CONFIRM THE RECEIPT OF
YOUR LETTER TO THE ADDRESS `V REPEAT V' AND THE READING OF LETTER
2. FOR ORGANIZATION OF COVER, WE GAVE INSTRUCTIONS TO TRANSMIT TO YOU
THREE THOUSAND IN LOCAL (CURRENCY). CONSULT WITH US PRIOR TO INVESTING
IT IN ANY KIND OF BUSINESS, ADVISING THE CHARACTER OF THIS BUSINESS.
3. ACCORDING TO YOUR REQUEST, WE WILL TRANSMIT THE FORMULA FOR THE
PREPARATION OF SOFT FILM AND NEWS SEPARATELY, TOGETHER WITH (YOUR)
4. IT IS TOO EARLY TO SEND YOU THE GAMMAS. ENCIPHER SHORT LETTERS, BUT
THE LONGER ONES MAKE WITH INSERTIONS. ALL THE DATA ABOUT YOURSELF,
PLACE OF WORK, ADDRESS, ETC., MUST NOT BE TRANSMITTED IN ONE CIPHER
MESSAGE. TRANSMIT INSERTIONS SEPARATELY.
5. THE PACKAGE WAS DELIVERED TO YOUR WIFE PERSONALLY. EVERYTHING IS ALL
RIGHT WITH THE FAMILY. WE WISH YOU SUCCESS. GREETINGS FROM THE
COMRADES. NUMBER 1, 3RD OF DECEMBER.
The plain text message also shown there has 767 characters, 919
characters if you count spaces. When you compare this with the
cipher text above you can see that the VIC cipher method is very
|No Hole Modern Hollow Nickel
|Tail side where the joint is located
|Hollow Nickel with hole in the "R" in TRUST (Jefferson is looking at the hole)
| 16 mm film could be used for message
|Set with 0.017" driving pin and sewing needle (need thimble to use)
I got the hollow Jefferson Nickel from Spy-Coins
Their stock Nickel does NOT have a hole in the "R" in TRUST but the
actual coin in the case used the hole to allow opening the coin.
The Spy-Coins Nickel comes with a brass ring with a step that holds the
heads side while allowing the tails side to fall through when the
combination is slapped down on a hard surface a few times.
Without the hole it's impossible to tell the coin is hollow by visual
also made the "R"
version for the same price as the no hole version. When dropped a
few feet onto paywood the nickel makes a sound related to there being
two parts, it sounds very different from the sharp tap noise of a solid
Nickel. Note the dates on these hollow Nickels is long after the
cold war so there's no mistake that they are reproductions.
This coin, and probably the coin used in the Able case has no keying to
control the rotation when the two halfs are assembled. But it
would take a consious effort to check the relative rotation of heads
vs. tails to see if it was wrong.
I used <CTRL><Print Screen> on the cipher text above and
pasted it into PAINT. Then in Photoshop shrunk it to be about 16
mm wide. That was too big to fit into the Nickel, it needs to be
shrunk a little more. But even with my old HP LaserJet 4050 set
to 1200 dpi you can NOT read the message. It may be that one of
the newer LaserJet printers with higher resolution could actually make
a readable small copy. If you have a printer that can do it let
There's a trade off between film speed and resolution. What's
called microfilm is very slow (needs a long light * Time product to
expose) and has very fine grain. So to make the message back in
the 1940s you would use a camera loaded with microfilm to photograph
the message so it was scaled to fit the hollow part of the coin.
The actual message appears to be larger than what could be done using a
16 mm camera so it probably was done using a 35 mm camera. If you
know let me know
By making the message very small it's easier to hide. Developed by German professor Arnold Zapp.
Some references about Microdots:
CIA Museum Tour
- Center bay, left, bottom, right has small photos of front and back of
microdot camera. (Photo from Wiki by means of the CIA.)
- Spy Gadgets in World War II: Microdots
|This may be a 10 exposure camera where the lens is rotated relative to
the body. When not in use the lens may be rotated to the 6:00 o'clock
position in the photo so it's not over one of the 10 message
locations. The shutter is the lens cap. Note that film grain size and
exposure time are related. Very fine grain films take a lot of light
to expose so a simple hinged lens cap works fine. The amount of
reduction improves with a shorter focal length lens that may be why the
lens appears to be recessed, i.e. to be closer to the film.
There was probably a formula for using this camera. For example a 100
Watt lamp some distance from a book page sized subject. This camera
some distance from the page. Open lens cap for some number of minutes.
I've read that a hypodermic needle that's been cut off to get a square
end then sharpened to act like a cookie cutter is used to cut the image
from the film. But that would not be easy since you would need to be
able to see the image and be sure you were not cutting off part of it.
|KGB Microdot Camera
|KGB micro dot camera.. The
multiple disks may each be a film holder. Maybe the spy would
unscrew one and move it behind the lens. That could be done in
the dark by feel.
|German camera held by MI5
The Microdot: History and Application, William White, ISBN 0932572197, 9780932572196
Subminiature Photography, William White, ISBN 0240517105, 9780240517100
The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing, David Kahn, ISBN 0684831309, 9780684831305
A G-man's Life: The FBI, Being "Deep Throat," and the Struggle for
Honor in Washington, W. Mark Felt, John O'Connor, ISBN 1586483773,
Spy book: the encyclopedia of espionage, Norman Polmar, Thomas B. Allen, ISBN 0375702490, 9780375702495
Roosevelt's secret war: FDR and World War II espionage, Joseph E. Persico, ISBN 0375761268, 9780375761263
Thwarting Enemies at Home and Abroad: How to Be a Counterintelligence
Officer, William R. Johnson, ISBN 1589012550, 9781589012554
The shadow war: German espionage and United States counterespionage in
Latin America during World War II, Leslie B. Rout, John F. Bratzel,
ISBN 0890932379, 9780890932377
Information Hiding: Steganography and Watermarking : Attacks and
Countermeasures, Neil F. Johnson, Zoran Duric, Sushil Jajodia, ISBN
The puzzle palace: a report on America's most secret agency, James Bamford, ISBN 0140067485, 9780140067484
Secret intelligence agent, Harford Montgomery Hyde, ISBN 0094638500, 9780094638501
The Super Spies: More Secret, More Powerful Than the CIA, Andrew Tully, Published by Morrow, 1969
Secrets & spies: behind-the-scenes stories of World War II, Reader's Digest, 1964, 576 pages
Anatomy of spying, Ronald Seth, Dutton, 1963,
The making of a spy, Peter. Way, Raymond Edward Palmer, ISBN 0717281167, 9780717281169
CIA, Studies Archive Index, Number One From Moscow
by David Kahn - This article is based on the author's booklet Two
Soviet Spy Ciphers (Great Neck, N. Y.: David Kahn.
1960. L/C Card No. 60-16799.)
FBI, History, Famous Cases, Rudolph Ivanovich Abel (Hollow Nickel Case) -
The VIC Cipher - used by Able in the Hollow Nickel Spy Case
Hand Ciphers - One-time Pad - The Cipher
Classics (with downloads) - not used in this case, but probably by more modern spies
Wiki article on Abel - Hollow Nickel Case - Gary Powers - U2 - 1960 U2 Incident -
Back to PRC68, Alphanumeric Index, Products for Sale, Crypto, Crypto
Audio, Squad Radio, Military
Personal Home page
hits since October 13 2008 page created 13 Oct 2008.