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
spy. Inside was an encrypted message. The
worked on cracking the message for four years with no
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
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
the corners cut off to fit into the nickel. Note this is
much larger than a microdot
The cipher text on the microfilm
14546 36056 64211 08919 18710 71187 71215 02906 66036
11375 61233 65634 39175 37378 31013 22596 19291 17463
88527 10130 01767 12366 16669 97846 76559 50062 91171
19262 69849 90251 11576 46121 24666 05902 19229 56150
51911 78912 32939 31966 12096 12060 89748 25362 43167
76271 31154 26938 77221 58343 61164 14349 01241 26269
31734 27562 51236 12982 13089 66218 22577 09454 01216
26948 89779 54197 11990 23881 48884 22165 62994 35449
30267 77614 31565 30902 65812 16112 93312 71220 62369
12458 19081 97117 70107 06391 71114 19459 59586 80317
76509 11111 35990 32666 04411 51532 91184 23162 82011
56110 28876 76716 03563 28222 31674 39023 07623 93513
29816 95761 69483 32591 97696 34992 61105 95090 24092
90061 14790 15154 14655 29011 57206 77195 01256 69250
39179 71229 23299 84164 45900 42227 65853 17591 60182
65812 01378 14566 87719 92507 79517 99551 82155 58118
30015 70687 36201 56531 56721 26306 57135 91796 51341
76655 62718 33588 91902 16224 87721 23519 23191 20665
66093 60959 71521 02334 21212 51110 85227 98768 11125
53152 14191 12166 12715 03116 43041 74827 72759 29130
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
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
2. FOR ORGANIZATION OF COVER, WE GAVE INSTRUCTIONS TO
TRANSMIT TO YOU
THREE THOUSAND IN LOCAL (CURRENCY). CONSULT WITH US PRIOR
IT IN ANY KIND OF BUSINESS, ADVISING THE CHARACTER OF THIS
3. ACCORDING TO YOUR REQUEST, WE WILL TRANSMIT THE FORMULA
PREPARATION OF SOFT FILM AND NEWS SEPARATELY, TOGETHER
4. IT IS TOO EARLY TO SEND YOU THE GAMMAS. ENCIPHER SHORT
THE LONGER ONES MAKE WITH INSERTIONS. ALL THE DATA ABOUT
PLACE OF WORK, ADDRESS, ETC., MUST NOT BE TRANSMITTED IN
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
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
cipher text above you can see that the VIC cipher method is
Hole Modern Hollow Nickel
side where the joint is located
Nickel with hole in the "R" in TRUST (Jefferson is looking
at the hole)
mm film could be used for message
with 0.017" driving pin and sewing needle (need thimble to
I got the hollow Jefferson Nickel from Spy-Coins
Their stock Nickel does NOT have a hole in the "R" in TRUST but
actual coin in the case used the hole to allow opening the
The Spy-Coins Nickel comes with a brass ring with a step that
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
also made the
version for the same price as the no hole version. When
few feet onto paywood the nickel makes a sound related to there
two parts, it sounds very different from the sharp tap noise of a
Nickel. Note the dates on these hollow Nickels is long after
cold war so there's no mistake that they are reproductions.
This coin, and probably the coin used in the Able case has no
control the rotation when the two halfs are assembled. But
would take a consious effort to check the relative rotation of
vs. tails to see if it was wrong.
I used <CTRL><Print Screen> on the cipher text above
pasted it into PAINT. Then in Photoshop shrunk it to be
mm wide. That was too big to fit into the Nickel, it needs
shrunk a little more. But even with my old HP LaserJet 4050
to 1200 dpi you can NOT read the message. It may be that one
the newer LaserJet printers with higher resolution could actually
a readable small copy. If you have a printer that can do it
There's a trade off between film speed and resolution.
called microfilm is very slow (needs a long light * Time product
expose) and has very fine grain. So to make the message back
the 1940s you would use a camera loaded with microfilm to
the message so it was scaled to fit the hollow part of the
The actual message appears to be larger than what could be done
16 mm camera so it probably was done using a 35 mm camera.
know let me know
By making the message very small
it's easier to hide. Developed by German professor Arnold
Some references about Microdots:
- Center bay, left, bottom, right has small photos of front and
microdot camera. (Photo from Wiki by means of the CIA.)
- Spy Gadgets
in World War II: Microdots
may be a 10 exposure camera where the lens is rotated
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
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
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 micro dot
multiple disks may each be a film holder. Maybe the
unscrew one and move it behind the lens. That could
be done in
the dark by feel.
|German camera held by MI5
From what I've learned those cameras use a "bullet lens".
It's just a glass rod square on one end and with a hemisphere on
the other end.
made his high magnification lenses simply from Borosilicate glass
rods by pulling a fine strand then forming a ball. I think
you can do a similar thing to form a hemisphere on one end of a
glass rod from a chemistry supply house (or eBay). Snapping
and grinding and polishing the other end would give you the flat
end. From there it should not be too hard to fabricate the
camera body. The key idea is no expensive optics are needed.
The Microdot: History and Application, William White, ISBN
Subminiature Photography, William White, ISBN 0240517105,
The Codebreakers: The Story of Secret Writing, David Kahn, ISBN
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
Officer, William R. Johnson, ISBN 1589012550, 9781589012554
The shadow war: German espionage and United States
Latin America during World War II, Leslie B. Rout, John F.
ISBN 0890932379, 9780890932377
Information Hiding: Steganography and Watermarking : Attacks and
Countermeasures, Neil F. Johnson, Zoran Duric, Sushil Jajodia,
The puzzle palace: a report on America's most secret agency, James
Bamford, ISBN 0140067485, 9780140067484
Secret intelligence agent, Harford Montgomery Hyde, ISBN
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
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
Ivanovich Abel (Hollow Nickel Case) -
The VIC Cipher
- used by Able in the Hollow Nickel Spy Case
Ciphers - One-time
Pad - The
Cipher Classics (with downloads) - not used in this case, but
probably by more modern spies
Wiki article on Abel
Nickel Case - Gary
Powers - U2
- 1960 U2
Back to PRC68, Alphanumeric Index, Products for Sale, Crypto, Crypto
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