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"On This Date in History" Calendar

1924: William Friedman testifies re: Teapot Dome scandal.

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

6 March 1924: William Friedman testified before a Senate committee investigating the Teapot Dome scandal.

In 1924 William Friedman testified before a congressional committee regarding coded telegrams exchanged during the Teapot Dome scandal (Herzog 2000), which involved the secret leasing of U.S. government-owned lands to private developers in exchange for bribes. The oil-rich land was meant to provide U.S. naval ships with fuel in a national emergency. Then-Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall first got jurisdiction over the land transferred from the Department of the Navy to the Department of the Interior, then secretly leased the land to two oil companies. The scandal was also known as the Oil Reserves and Elk Hills scandal. Though Friedman's testimony about coded telegrams added an air of intrigue to the proceedings, there was little cryptanalytic heavy-lifting involved as the incriminating messages were encoded with readily available codebooks, including one used by the Department of Justice. Friedman’s decryption of the coded telegrams led to a prison sentence for Fall and the resignation of other top government officials, including the Secretary of the Navy and the Attorney General (Bennett 1999; Herzog 2000).

Bennett, Leslie E. One lesson from history: Appointment of special counsel in the investigation of the Teapot Dome scandal, A Summary of the Teapot Dome Scandal from the Brookings Institution [Online]. (1999).

Herzog, Brad. The best code cracker of them all, Cornell Alumni Magazine [Online]. (January–February 2000).

William Friedman Photo Credit: NCM


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