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Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies

Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies: The Story of Invisible Ink from Herodotus to al-Qaeda

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 392
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  • Book Info
    Prisoners, Lovers, and Spies
    Book Description:

    Prisoners, Lovers, and Spiesis a book about concealing and revealing secret communications. It is the first history of invisible writing, uncovered through stories about scoundrels and heroes. Spies were imprisoned or murdered, adultery unmasked, and battles lost because of faulty or intercepted secret communications. Yet, successfully hidden writing helped save lives, win battles, and ensure privacy; occasionally it even changed the course of history.Kristie Macrakis combines a storyteller's sense of drama with a historian's respect for evidence in this page-turning history of intrigue and espionage, love and war, magic and secrecy. From the piazzas of ancient Rome to the spy capitals of the Cold War, Macrakis's global history reveals the drama and importance of invisible ink. From Ovid's advice to use milk for illicit love notes, to John Gerard's dramatic escape from the tower of London aided by orange juice ink messages, to al-Qaeda's hidden instructions in pornographic movies, this book presents spellbinding stories of secret messaging that chart its evolution in sophistication and its impact on history. An appendix includes fun kitchen chemistry recipes for readers to try out at home.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18825-7
    Subjects: Political Science, Sociology, History, History of Science & Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 The Art of Love and War
    (pp. 1-18)

    IN HIS RACY MANUAL ON seduction,The Art of Love,the Roman classical poet Ovid (43 BC–AD 18) introduced audiences to a very modern lover. He cruised the cobbled streets of ancient Rome, a large cosmopolitan city, to find the perfect pickup spot while handing out advice that could be recycled in Dear Abby columns or modern-day women’s magazines.

    The lover was a man about town. He strolled from grand arched piazzas to amphitheaters in his toga, he cheered at the Circus chariot races and lounged at public baths as he chased his quarry. Ovid’s Rome was opulent, bursting...

  5. 2 Intrigue and Inquisition
    (pp. 19-45)

    GIAMBATTISTA DELLA PORTA’S interrogation by the Roman Inquisition was the most terrifying event in his life, yet he never talked about it. Mysterious and secretive, della Porta was one of Renaissance Italy’s greatest scientists and polymaths, full of youthful enthusiasm for the wonders of nature.¹ He was also the first to publish a major book on cryptography and invisible ink; he thought that invisible writing should be “faithfully concealed” for “great men” and “princes,” yet he said, “This I will publish.”²

    Although della Porta was a scion of a noble family from Naples, not much is known about his personal...

  6. 3 Confessing Secrets
    (pp. 46-68)

    THE ELIZABETHAN PERIOD, AN age of secrecy and intrigue, had been a tumultuous time for prisoners, scientists, and spies; their livelihoods, even their lives, often hung in the balance between poor ciphers and primitive invisible ink. It is therefore not surprising that there was an explosion of interest in the science of secret communication a century later, during what is often called the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century. Secret writing flourished and was used to conceal scientific secrets or secrets of state, or simply to communicate privately. Even though cryptography was more scientifically sophisticated, invisible ink was more magical...

  7. 4 Invisible Landscapes
    (pp. 69-83)

    IN THE CHARMING MOUNTAINTOP village of Schneeberg, Germany, shop windows are filled with hand-carved nutcrackers, smoking men, candelabras, angels, and pyramids. Synonymous with Christmas, this alluring folk art also depicts a rich mountain tradition. The miner’s candelabra portrays typical Schneeberg occupations: lace makers who sewed the window curtains that adorn the town’s baroque buildings; two miners in knee-high britches, knee pads, and tall hats, carrying a hammer and pick; an angel presiding over the scene; and a wood-carver on the right. The lit candles on the arch represent the miner’s most precious commodity: light. Even as late as 2010, when...

  8. 5 Revolutionary Ink
    (pp. 84-103)

    IN 1807 SIR JAMES JAY (1732–1815) petitioned Congress to compensate him for inventing a secret-ink system during the American Revolution. Because of the “peculiarnature” of the “services rendered,” Jay had not asked for, or received, payment during the war. Since there were no formal intelligence bureaucracies at the time, and this was an unprecedented request, Congress was unsure how to handle the request. It was not until more than a century later that American intelligence developed formal units for developing secret communication tradecraft. As a result, Jay’s sympathetic ink was lost to history, and detective work is needed...

  9. 6 Magic
    (pp. 104-124)

    IN 1922, THE PORTER Chemcraft Company advised new owners of their chemistry sets how to set up tricks and prepare a magic show to “amaze” their friends. Porter chemists suggested dressing up as alchemists, who had in days past been seen as “wizards” or “magicians” who brought about wonderful color changes in materials. The chemical magic tricks listed in the manual used simple chemical reactions to produce “beautiful color changes, thick clouds of smoke without fire, diabolical odors,” and “invisible inks.”¹

    For many people, invisible ink conjures up images of childhood magic and fun, but most of us don’t know...

  10. 7 The Secret-Ink War
    (pp. 125-152)

    By the time Carl Frederick Muller faced the firing squad at the Tower of London, he was calm. It was 6:00 AM on June 23, 1915, and he shook hands individually with all eight members of the firing party at the Miniature Rifle Range, telling them that he understood they were performing their duty. The surgeon-colonel led him to the chair of death, which was tied to stakes driven into the ground. Muller sat on it quietly as the surgeon-colonel buckled the leather strap around his waist and blindfolded him. The firing squad raised their rifles and shot Muller in...

  11. 8 The United States Enters the Secret-Ink War
    (pp. 153-173)

    IN THE FALL OF 1916 BRITISH censors opened a letter by a most intriguing spy. His name was George Vaux Bacon and he was an American journalist sent to Britain in September 1916 by German Secret Service officers based in New York City. Bacon was a lanky Minnesota-born young man, with light reddish hair, pale blue eyes, a fair complexion, and a weak receding chin. He wore a pair of wire-rimmed round glasses that made him look intellectual. The journalism occupation was no cover story, though. Bacon really was a writer and journalist who worked for magazines like the film...

  12. 9 Visible Nazis
    (pp. 174-197)

    AT ABOUT TEN O’CLOCK on the night of Tuesday, March 18, 1941, two men with foreign accents started arguing about the best way to cross the chaotic streets leading to Times Square in New York. Impatient with his companion, the older man, a tall, swarthy fifty-year-old with black hair and horn-rimmed glasses, darted into the middle of Seventh Avenue against the traffic light. Encountering a heavy current of Times Square traffic, bewildering lights, and honking horns, he turned back when he was halfway across the street. A yellow cab hit him immediately, and he rolled into another passenger car that...

  13. 10 The Mystery of the Microdot
    (pp. 198-221)

    ON A PLEASANT SUMMER DAY in August 1941, Dusko Popov got out of a taxi at the Park Avenue entrance to the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. The twenty-nine-year-old Yugoslavian visitor carried a briefcase containing seventy thousand dollars in cash, a vial with white crystals to make invisible ink, and four telegrams concealing eleven microscopic dots that hid information with the potential to change the course of history.¹

    Changing the course of history was the last thing on Popov’s mind when he rode the elevator up to his room in the opulent Art Deco hotel. He was ready to see New York City....

  14. 11 Invisible Spy Catchers
    (pp. 222-250)

    ONE OF THOSE INVISIBLE spy catchers worked out of the basement of the Princess resort hotel on the island of Bermuda and scored some of the secret spy war’s greatest successes. A reserved man, the slender, bespectacled biochemist shied away from the limelight, especially when it came to talking about his secret war work. Even though he had gone to New York City to provide evidence in the Kurt Ludwig trial, he kept his name out of the American newspapers. He, along with his British Secret Service colleagues, was dismayed about “the unfortunate publicity which these trials were given,” which...

  15. 12 Out in the Cold
    (pp. 251-283)

    ON DECEMBER 15, 1981, Wolfgang Reif deposited a letter in a freestanding yellow mailbox in snow-covered Communist East Berlin. The mailbox was quite some distance from his apartment because he did not want anyone to link him with the secret spy letter he just mailed. As he walked away wrapped in a heavy overcoat to protect himself from the subfreezing temperatures, he didn’t notice that he was under surveillance by the dreaded secret police, the East German Ministry of State Security (MfS), the Stasi.¹ That was in December; the Stasi’s surveillance had begun many months before.

    Wolfgang Reif was a...

  16. 13 Hiding in Porn Sites
    (pp. 284-295)

    USA TODAYSTARTLED THE world in February 2001 when Jack Kelley reported that terrorists might be hiding blueprints to attack the United States of America in X-rated pictures on pornographic websites. The very thought was enough to galvanize federal law enforcement officials into action. But unlike emails and phone calls, tracking messages in digital photographs posed a special challenge, because both the message and the very act of communication are hidden. Investigators never did find those nefarious messages in X-rated pictures, at least not in 2001. For the next ten years they searched and searched, to no avail. Niels Provos...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 296-302)

    IN APRIL 2011, THE CIA sent out a press release with great fanfare; it had finally released invisible-ink recipes dating back to the First World War. It even posted the six documents, totaling sixteen pages (with many duplicates), on the National Archives electronic reading room website for the whole world to see. This certainly was a momentous event. Since 1998 Mark S. Zaid, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, had been filing lawsuit after lawsuit, based on the Freedom of Information Act, on behalf of the James Madison Project to reduce secrecy in government. The recipes were the National Archives’ oldest classified...

  18. APPENDIX: Fun Kitchen Chemistry Experiments
    (pp. 303-314)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 315-350)
    (pp. 351-352)
    (pp. 353-354)
    (pp. 355-358)
  23. INDEX
    (pp. 359-377)