From Sydney Morning Herald, November 25, 2012:
THEY have eavesdropped on the enemy for decades, tracking messages from Hitler’s high command and the Soviet KGB, and moved on to the murky, modern world of satellites and cyberspace. But a lowly and mysterious carrier pigeon may have them baffled.
Britain’s code-breakers have acknowledged that an encrypted, handwritten message from World War II, found on the leg of a long-dead carrier pigeon in a household chimney in southern England, has thwarted all efforts to decode it since it was sent to them last month.
Pigeon specialists said it might have been flying home from British units in France about the time of the Normandy landings in 1944 when it expired in the chimney at the 17th-century home in Bletchingley, south of London.
After sustained pressure from pigeon-fanciers, Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters code-breaking unit in Gloucestershire agreed to try to crack the code.
But on Friday the secretive organisation acknowledged that it had been unable to do so.
”The sorts of code that were constructed during operations were designed only to be able to be read by the senders and the recipients,” a historian at GCHQ told the BBC.
”Unless we get rather more idea than we have about who sent this message and who it was sent to, we are not going to be able to find out what the underlying code was,” said the historian, who was identified only as Tony under GCHQ’s secrecy protocols.
The pigeon’s skeleton was found by David Martin, a retired probation officer, when he was cleaning out the chimney as part of a renovation.
The message, identifying the pigeon by the code name 40TW194, had been folded into a small scarlet capsule attached to its leg.
Mr Martin said he was sceptical that GCHQ had been unable to crack the code. ”I think there’s something about that message that is either sensitive or does not reflect well” on British special forces operating behind enemy lines in wartime France, he said.