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An amateur code-breaking enthusiast and history buff from Canada claims to have succeeded where professional cryptographers from GCHQ failed in decoding a message found on the long-dead remains of a carrier pigeon.

Gord Young, from Peterborough, in Ontario, claims that the message can be deciphered using a WWI codebook he inherited. A spokesman from GCHQ was skeptical but offered to look at the proposed solution.

Young claimed the 1944 note made use of code used in the previous World War to encrypt details of German troop positions in Normandy. He claims it only took him him 17 minutes to decipher the message using an inherited code book.

The encrypted message itself was discovered by 74-year-old David Martin when he was renovating the chimney of his house in Bletchingley, Surrey. The message containing 27 handwritten blocks of code was preserved in a red canister Martin extricated from a long dead pigeon's leg among the rubbish. The piece of paper featured the words "Pigeon Service" at the top and was forwarded to top code-breakers at GCHQ in November, but they were unable to make sense of it.

Attempts to decipher the code attracted worldwide media attention. Young claims he was able to unravel the message using his great-uncle's Royal Flying Corp [92 Sqd-Canadian] aerial observers' book. The code relies heavily on acronyms, so that AOAKN supposedly means "Artillery Observer At 'K' Sector, Normandy" and CMPNW allegedly equates to "Counter Measures [against] Panzers Not Working", the BBC reports.

According to Young's theory, the message was written by 27-year-old Sgt William Stott, a Lancashire Fusilier who carried out reconnaissance work in Normandy, and filed his reports on German positions using carrier pigeons. The reports are dated 27 June 1944. Sgt Stott died weeks later and is buried in Normandy. He didn't live to see the liberation of Paris in late August 1944.

It's a nice story, however, although commentards to a post on the story by cryptographer Bruce Schneier note that backronyms can be constructed to fit with pretty much anything.

GCHQ remains unmoved by Young's code-wrangling.

"We stand by our statement of 22 November 2012 that without access to the relevant codebooks and details of any additional encryption used, the message will remain impossible to decrypt," a spokesman told the BBC.

"Similarly it is also impossible to verify any proposed solutions, but those put forward without reference to the original cryptographic material are unlikely to be correct."

Around 250,000 pigeons were used as carriers of secret communications during World War II. Each had their own individual identity number. The two pigeon identification numbers in the message - NURP.40.TW.194 and NURP.37.OK.76 - allowed Young to link the birds with Sgt Stott. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

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