The guards are forever vigilant at the Fulton County Jail in Atlanta, Georgia. Though many prisoners are looking to pay their debt to society and leave, there are others who continue to engage in illegal and dangerous activity even from within the walls of the prison. Last year. in fact, Chief Jailer Mark Adger intercepted a letter from an inmate to a friend. While it seemed harmless enough at first glance, the inmate's membership in a gang aroused Adger's suspicion. He submitted the letter to the code-breaking division of a "three-letter organization," and quickly learned the terrifying truth: the letter was a coded order to kill someone on the outside.
Adger commented to Business Insider on how innocuous the letter seems to an untrained eye:
If you read the letter and didn't know it was encrypted, you would think it was a standard, regular, 'how you doin,' 'my day is fine' kind of letter.
He submitted a copy of the letter to Business Insider, and it certainly seems harmless enough:
When Adger got the decoded message back from the cryptanalysis expert, he was flabbergasted:
When I got the decryption back, and I compared it to the plain text correspondence, I said, 'How in the hell did they get this from this?'
Here's what the letter actually said:
Adger says prison staff must be ever-vigilant or risk their own safety:
There's a lot of things that if you don't pay close attention … staff stops doing for whatever reason. They get busy, or it's too mundane, they think someone else is doing it. But it's the things you need to be doing day in and day out that keep the facility safe.
Even then, however, Adger had to seek the help of a special code-breaking expert. Though he didn't confirm which organization aided him, the FBI's Cryptanalysis and Racketeering Records Unit seems a likely collaborator. Perhaps the most ironic twist of this story is how intelligent an inmate must be to conceive and execute these complex cyphers.
A lot of this stuff is ingenious, it really is. If they would just put their minds to legitimate work, a lot of these guys would probably be millionaires.