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Daring Thief Breaks Into British Museum and Steals Encoding Machine Once Used By NazisAired April 4, 2000 - 2:55 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LOU WATERS, CNN ANCHOR: Finally in this hour, museum officials north of London are appealing to the thief who made off with a rare World War II artifact. Someone recently outsmarted the former British spy center, walking off with a machine once used by the Nazis to send coded messages.
CNN's Margaret Lowrie reports on the conundrum over Enigma.
MARGARET LOWRIE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): A daring daylight theft: Enigma, the encoding machine once used by the German high command, stolen from a display case at Bletchley Park, the former British spy center, stolen in what looks like a professional job just days before new security measures were to be implemented.
PENNY RITCHIE CALDER, IMPERIAL WAR MUSEUM: It's very difficult to know what somebody who had stolen one of these machines would actually do with it, because the whereabouts of all the ones that we know of are -- is well-known and the provenance of them can be tested and checked, so it would be impossible almost for somebody to sell one to a museum or other national body.
LOWRIE: Bletchley Park, code named Station X, was once so top secret, its existence wasn't even revealed until many years after the war had ended. Now a museum, in its heyday, up to 10,000 people worked here -- linguists, cryptologists, mathematicians, chess champions, crossword experts. Their task: to crack the code elite German S.S. units used to encrypt all their messages. The Germans believed their system impenetrable, but by 1941, Bletchley Park was able to crack successive versions of the Enigma code.
CALDER: It helped us in all sorts of campaigns, from North Africa through to D-Day, and without it, the war would almost certainly have gone on a lot, lot longer than it did, and may even have run the risk that we wouldn't have won it.
LOWRIE: Bletchley Park officials have posted a plea on the Internet for Enigma's return. The Germans originally made 40,000 of these encryption machines. Only a handful exist today. Perhaps surprisingly, it's only valued at $160,000, but given Enigma's role in history, its intrinsic value is much harder to calculate.
Margaret Lowrie, CNN, London.
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