'Safety' Code

We have all heard of 'secret' and even 'top-secret,' but what is the classification above top secret?

Nov 1st, 2009
Pennwell web 300 200

By Matt Forck, CSP & JLW

We have all heard of 'secret' and even 'top-secret,' but what is the classification above top secret? During World War II, there were only a couple of projects that rated as 'ultra' secret. One was the Manhattan project, relating to the United States building of an atomic bomb. The other, less known, was Enigma, a cipher machine worth it's weight in gold!

In the 1920s, German intelligence invented a crude machine called Enigma. It looked somewhat like a typewriter and could be used to create secret messages called ciphers. These coded messages were then sent to commanders, de-coded and acted upon. During the 1930s, German military began to make this machine much more complex. As a matter of fact, German engineers added 23 wheels to the existing three. Each wheel had each letter of the alphabet. When a key was pressed a series of cables would randomly pick a wheel and randomly pick a letter on that wheel. In short, there were 3 × 10,114 combinations for any one key strike. German cryptographers had supreme confidence in their machine!

In the late 1930s, Polish cryptographers were able to recreate the German Enigma machine from memory, having worked on it in the previous years. In addition, the Polish underground was able to capture one and ship it via a secret route to Britain. The machine was taken to Bletchley Park, a historic Victorian mansion about an hour outside London. There Britain's top engineers, mathematicians and linguists labored to understand Enigma. They quickly understood how important this mission was to the success of the war. With the work of the Polish, both to recreate a machine and capture another, the German code was broken at Bletchley Park. Over the course of the war, literally thousands of German commands were intercepted and thousands of lives saved.

"There are no secrets to success: don't waste time looking for them." General Colin Powell once said, "Success is the result of perfection, hard work, learning from failure, loyalty to those for whom you work and persistence." Today, we often look for a secret to safety. We try to decode, interpret, wait and hope and watch for signals in the sky. Stop trying to decode this secret. We already know that it's hard work, PPE, job briefings, safety rules, etc. Understand that the secret to safety cipher has already been intercepted by an Enigma. It's not a secret any longer.


Matt Forck, CSP & JLW, is a leading voice in safety. Matt keynotes conferences and consults industry on safety's most urgent topics such as: safety awareness, employee engagement and motivation, cultural alignment, accountability and leadership. To learn more about Matt, book a presentation or download FREE safety tools, go to www.thesafetysoul.org .

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