The Brotherhood of the Rose by David Morrell (1984)

“You’re not naive.  You the answer as well as I.  Because we’re fighting to protect the way of life we believe in.  We sacrifice ourselves so others can have normal lives.  Don’t blame yourself for what you’re needed to do.  Blame the other side.”

“Torture was an obsolete method of interrogation.  It took too long, and even when a subject seemed to have been broken, he sometimes lied convincingly or only told part of the truth.”

“Some of us know who the legends are.”

Obviously fiction, this book is interesting to read but contributes little to discussions of Kryptos proper but the ancillary discussions surrounding Kryptos can benefit from an analysis of the plot and themes.

As any fan of Kryptos can attest, there are a lot of theories and hypotheses out there about how K4 was enciphered.  At times, it can be hard for the originator of an idea to be willing to let it go.  I personally was convinced for several years that it was bifid.  At this point I am equally convinced that it was transposed and then modified by an additive (superencipherment).  Gary Phillips coined the term “K4 Syndrome” for what I am doing a poor job of explaining.  I’ll try to do it more justice.

For awhile, the notion of a military-industrial complex ruled the day with war protestors and civil libertarians.  It may yet.  For those folks and for a lot of others, there was this problem of secret agencies (CIA, MI6, KGB, Mossad, etc.) and the things they did, why they did them, under whose authority and under what morality.  Hearing rumors or learning about the more public exposures of these activities (Bay of Pigs, U2 overflights, Watergate, Allende and Chile, etc.), people wanted to understand.  In the absence of accurate, dependable and thorough information; they were left to form theories and hypotheses in abundance.  Conspiracy theorists are most active in the absence of credible, public proof.  The same is true for Kryptos hobbyists.

29 years after this book was published and 17 years after I first read it (and loved it), I have gone through it again.  The process has been both enlightening and disheartening.  I found it littered with references to CIA history and have the joy of being “in on the joke”.  I find a previous enjoyment tainted with by that personal knowledge of fact and less appreciation of the hyperbole than in my younger years.  It’s interesting that I returned to this novel because of Phillip Marlowe by way of Michael Holzman.

It’s clear that Eliot is an amalgam of Angleton and Hoover.  Several things stood out like the mentions of Burgess and Philby, the thinly disguised character of Hardy (Bill Harvey), Eliot’s CIA mole hunt since 1947, hiding something in a church, a password being Camelot, holding private conversations in a greenhouse, Saul being born the year WWII ended, oblique references to Gehlen, even an outright declaration that Eliot was the head of CounterIntelligence at the CIA.

Morrell crafted a fictional response to his generations insatiable thirst for answers.  For him, the Abelard group would fill the void to explain the secret history behind international manipulations.  This led to an interesting and compelling narrative complete with errors and flawed assumptions.  The difference lies in the fact that although he put together an answer to the resounding questions, to my knowledge he hasn’t made assertions that his answer is true.

Just because you or I think we have found an answer to K4, until it is well and truly solved, we cannot claim to a truth we don’t possess.  It can be tempting to meet mysterious circumstances or behavior or unknowns and attempt to concoct ideas that would fulfill their conditions but it is dangerous to assume that we are clever enough to guess at the reality behind them.

This isn’t to discourage the effort but be sure to take enough rational string to find your way back out of whatever mental labyrinth you may wander into.

Good luck!