A coded telegram of 2 November 1894 by an Italian military attaché Alessandro Panizzardi, intercepted at an early stage of the Dreyfus Affair, appeared to have some implications against Dreyfus in a first preliminary deciphering. Its true tenor to the contrary was established by the decipherers a few days later but the army refused to accept it. The telegram added a factor in the complicated proceedings of the Dreyfus Affair.
1894: First Military Court
1898-1899: Court of Cassation
1899: Second Military Court at Rennes
1904-1906: Second Court of Cassation
In September 1894, discovery was made of an unsigned letter to a German military attaché, Max von Schwartzkoppen, reporting French military information to be sent (known as "the bordereau").
On 15 October 1894, Captain Alfred Dreyfus was arrested. During the course of the much prejudiced accusation, the handwriting of the bordereau was identified with that of Dreyfus.
On 29 October 1894, an antisemitic newspaper, La Libre Parole reported the arrest of Dreyfus and silence of the Ministry of War.
On 1 November 1894, La Libre Parole carried an article with a sensational headline "Traitor!", declaring the guilt of Dreyfus. While this made it difficult for General Mercier, Minister of War, to drop the case, it led to the occurrence of the Panizzardi telegram.
On 2 November 1894, Alessandro Panizzardi, Italian military attaché in Paris, sent to Rome a telegram in superenciphered code. The telegram was intercepted and the copy was brought to the decipherers of the Quai d'Orsay (the French Foreign Ministry).
The Panizzardi telegram was as follows.
This telegram includes not only code groups of four digits but also those of three, two, or even a single digit. (Moreover, the 10th group "18" and the 17th group "0018" appear to be distinguished.)
It was not difficult for decipherers at the Quai d'Orsay to assume that it was coded with an Italian commercial code Dizionario per corrispondenze in cifra by Baravelli, which consisted of four sections: (i) single digits representing vowels and punctuation marks; (ii) two-digit groups representing consonants, grammatical forms, and auxiliary verbs; (iii) three-digit groups representing syllables; and (iv) four-digit groups representing words and phrases. Four-digit groups on each page were numbered 00-99, which were to be combined with a two-digit page number, which was printed at the bottom of the page but might also be re-assigned by the user on the top of the page. (See another article for edition information; the present author referred to the 1873 edition at Google)
That application of the codebook results in a garble sequence is not surprising. In telegraphing secret messages, it was common to use page numbers re-assigned by the user or apply some superencipherment (i.e., manipulation of the digits of code groups). This was the first that Panizzardi used this cipher (1904 Enquete I, p.482; 1906 Debats I, p.211 Moras report; Le Figaro, 27 April 1899).
In this particular case, the decipherers knew what they wanted: the name of Dreyfus must appear in the telegram. Since the name was not in the fourth section, it had to be expressed by combining code groups in the first three sections.
The name "Dreyfus" can be broken into dr-e-y-fus, with "dr" and "fus" in the third (syllables) section (with three digits), "e" in the first (vowels) section (with a single digit), and "y" in the second (consonants) section (with two digits). The telegram includes a sequence that just fits this pattern: 527 3 88 706.
On the other hand, the entries in the codebook for "dr-e-y-fus" give 227 1 98 306. It is obvious that only the page numbers were manipulated for superencipherment, with no change in the line numbers (27, 8, 06).
Take the first group 913. When one looks at entries at line 13 through the pages of the Baravelli codebook, "arrestato" is found on page 06. The group before "Dreyfus" is 7836, for which "Capitano" is found on page 13. These are exactly what they looked for.
Thus, at first, the beginning of the telegram was considered to be "Arrested [is] Captain Dreyfus" but by 6 November, it was recognized that the first group "913", which formed part of arrestato, was just a telegram number.
After stacking successive hypotheses (taken from lines with corresponding numbers on various pages) beneath each code group in the working sheet, a more accurate version emerged: "If Captain Dreyfus has not had relations with you, it would be wise to have the ambassador deny it officially. Our emissary is warned." This preliminary result, informally provided to Lieutenant-Colonel Sandherr, head of the "Statistical Section" (actually a counter-intelligence section) of the army general staff, appeared to have some implications against Dreyfus. Still, the last words "Our emissary is warned" (three words in Italian: rimane prevenuto emissario) were still conjectural and were marked as such.
By 10 November, the superencipherment was identified and the final reading was established, which revealed the opposite import from the preliminary version.
Panizzardi enciphered the page number by replacing the fist digit 0-9 with 9-0 and the second digit 0-9 with 1, 3, 5, 7, 9, 0, 2, 4, 6, 8 and then exchanging these digits.
For example, 13 is enciphered as 78 (the first digit 1 is turned into 8 and the second digit 3 is turned into 7 and the digits are exchanged). Following this process in reverse, the code group of the telegram 7836 is deciphered as 1336, which can be identified as "Capitano" with the codebook.
Stripping the superencipherment reveals plain code groups as follows.
With the codebook, the message can now be translated as follows.
This clearly acquits Dreyfus of any complicity with the Italian. Panizzardi, who had nothing to do with Dreyfus, was alerted by the press reporting Dreyfus as a traitor and advised an official denial if the general staff had not used Dreyfus directly. (Later, it was found that Panizzardi had sent a report on the previous day (1 November) declaring that he had no relation with Dreyfus and wondering if the general staff had anything to do with him (1899 Enquete I, p.393, 395 Paléologue, p.400 text of the report; 1906 Debats I, p.212-213 Moras report).)
The Army was not satisfied with the result. They induced Panizzardi to telegraph a deliberately composed message to Rome on 13 November, with the same enciphered code. When the Army received their composition as a deciphered message from the decipherers of the Quai d'Orsay, there should have been no way to repudiate the deciphering but, by the order of General Mercier, Minister of War, they did not produce the Panizzardi telegram (at least the correct version) as evidence during the first trial (1906 Debats I, p.444, p.578 Prosecutor General Baudouin; Rennes III p.533).
From 19 to 22 December 1894, the military court was held. Much influenced by the confident accusation of Lieutenant-Colonel Hubert-Joseph Henry and secret documents secretively disclosed only to the judges (including the famous document known as "canaille de D..." [scoundrel D...], the initial later found to refer to another person), Dreyfus was found guilty of treason and was deported for imprisonment in Devil's Island in French Guiana (in South America).
In 1895, Lieutenant-Colonel Picquart took over the counter-espionage service from Sandherr (Wikipedia, Wikipedia).
In March 1896, Picquart discovered a draft telegram (known as the "petit-bleu") and another letter both by German military attaché Schwartzkoppen to a French officer, Major Esterhazy. The latter's letters showed his handwriting was exactly the same as that of the "bordereau" and Picquart also realized that the secret file disclosed to the judges in December 1894 had no substance (Wikipedia).
In early September 1896, false information of Dreyfus' escape reported in an English newspaper aroused interest in Dreyfus among the public.
On 14 September 1896, an article of L'Eclaire (the 15th issue), in emphasizing the guilt of Dreyfus, disclosed the existence of the "secret file" secretively disclosed to the judges in 1894.
On 10 November 1896, Le Matin published a facsimile of the "bordereau", acquired from one of the handwriting experts who served in 1894. This allowed the world to see the thin grounds of identifying the handwriting to that of Dreyfus.
In early November 1896, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry, subordinate of Picquart and tasked by General Boisdeffre, Chief of the General Staff, and General Gonse, Vice Chief, with growing evidence against Dreyfus, forged a document (known as the "faux Henry") for incriminating Dreyfus (Wikipedia).
On 10-11 January 1898, the military court acquitted Esterhazy.
On 13 January 1898, Emile Zola, outraged by the acquittal, published an article "J'accuse ...!" in L'Aurore.
In February 1898, Zola was tried and was sentenced to one year in prison and a fine of 3,000 francs. But the case publicized the injustice. When his appeal was rejected in July, Zola went to exile in England.
With the revival of the affair after the trial of Zola, according to the instructions from General Billot in May 1898, the General Staff took on organizing the evidence in the secret file (1899 Enquete I, p.557 Boisdeffre, p.561 Gonse), which had grown to include more than 350 items.
General Gonse of the General Staff remembered the preliminary, compromising version of the Panizzardi telegram, never officially used in the proceedings, and sent Lieutenant-Colonel Henry to the Foreign Ministry but could not obtain a copy of the telegram.
Then, the text of the telegram was reconstructed in May 1898 by memory of Lieutenant-Colonel du Paty de Clam (who had headed the investigation in 1894 and had been accused by Zola to be at the root of all and would be finally deemed as "a criminal craftsman of detestable work" in 1906 (Wikipedia)). This is the piece No. 44 in the secret file. (1899 Enquete I, p.390-391 Paléologue, p.557 Boisdeffre, p.563 Gonse; 1904 Enquete II, p.502 Cuignet) It read:
Although there is an annotation to state that the last words ("My emissary is warned") are uncertain, the preceding words sound sufficiently incriminating.
In July 1898, the Minister of War Cavaignac testified to the Parliament his confidence in the guilt of Dreyfus and declared he had strong evidence (actually, the "faux Henry").
In August 1898, forgery of the "faux Henry" was discovered, ironically by an anti-Dreyfusard Captain Cuignet, who had been entrusted by Cavaignac with management of the documents (1899 Enquete I, p.339 Cuignet; 1904 Enquete I, p.468 Chamoin; 1904 Enquete II, p.458 Cuignet). On 30 August, Henry admitted forgery and killed himself the next day. This wreaked quite a havoc. Cavaignac and Boisdeffre, Chief of the General Staff, resigned and du Paty de Clam was put out of service because of complicity. Esterhazy fled to London. Panizzardi was transferred to Rome.
In October 1898, the Court of Cassation (Supreme Court) decided to take up the issue.
After the hearing of the witnesses, the Court requested the secret file held by the army but met strenuous opposition of the latter. The Court accepted on 27 December an arrangement whereby an officer of the Ministry of War would carry the file every day to court and bring it back in the evening. (Wikipedia)
At first, the Panizzardi telegram was not much of an issue. When Captain Cuignet, who was to strenuously argue against the deciphering of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, gave a deposition on 5 January 1899, the telegram was only mentioned cursorily (1899 Enquete I, p.363 Cuignet, 1904 Enquete II, p.503 Cuignet).
When Maurice Paléologue, representing the Foreign Ministry, was asked by the court on 9 January about certain documents of a nature that would incriminate Dreyfus and establish his guilt, he explained the deciphering of the Foreign Ministry (1899 Enquete I, p.388-391). However, General Mercier (Minister of War in 1894), General Boisdeffre (Chief of the General Staff in 1894), and General Gonse (Vice Chief of the General Staff in 1894), who had not mentioned the telegram in earlier depositions, said on 20 and 21 January that the first version of the telegram referred to Captain Dreyfus arrested and emissary warned (1899 Enquete I, p.545 Mercier, p.556-557 Boisdeffre, p.561 Gonse), similar to the piece No. 44. On 23 January, Paléologue declared that only one draft and one definitive version were submitted to the army, with the only difference in the last three words, and also denied that there were two successive telegrams on 2 November 1894 (1899 Enquete I, p.395 Paléologue). Cuignet said he would defer to the Foreign Ministry's reading only if he was shown how the text could be derived from the coded telegram (1904 Enquete II, p.513-514 Cuignet).
On 9 February 1899, the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation reported that the secret file was completely void (Wikipedia, Blum p.106).
On 28 February 1899, divestiture of the Criminal Chamber passed the Parliament (submitted on 28 January, passed the Chamber of Deputies on 10 February, and passed the Senate on 28 February) by the movement of anti-Dreyfusards, whereby conclusion was deferred to joint chambers of the Court of Cassation.
On 29 March, Paléologue spoke again. Regarding the Army's translation in piece No. 44 of the secret file, he said it differed from the authentic text so much that it could not be explained as an error but a forgery.
He supposed that the author of this version must have chosen what he would, among all the words written as conjectures on the working sheet in 1894 provided to Sandherr on a personal basis. That way, any sense could be formed by words grouped in some fashion.
Paléologue pointed out one counterproof against the translation in the piece No. 44. It included both "proofs" and "relations" but these were given by the Foreign Ministry as alternative candidates for one code group and could not occur together. (Since "relazione" is entry 88 on page 75 and "provi" is entry 88 on page 71, these are both candidate readings for code group 0288.)
Further, he emphasized that a phrase such as "the Minister of War has proofs of his relations with Germany" had never been written, suggested or imagined during the deciphering in the Foreign Ministry. (Le Figaro, 27 April 1899)
The Ministry of War was represented by General Chamoin, who, being a novice in the Dreyfus Affair, was assisted by Captain Cuignet, who knew the documents (1904 Enquete I, p.466). During the first two months, he had to devote himself to studying depositions (1904 Enquete I, p.466) and let Cuignet introduce the secret file to the Criminal Chamber of the Court of Cassation. In March, he did the same to the joint chambers with the help of Cuignet (1904 Enquete I, p.469).
On 21 April, Chamoin focused on denying any intentional forgery as expressed by Paléologue and said that the piece No. 44 was created merely as a reminder of the existence of the telegram. He also pointed out the problem could be solved by examining the original telegram. (1899 Enquete II, p.13-14 Chamoin)
Upon reply by Paléologue, Chamoin further said that if the working sheet on the deciphering of the telegram by the Foreign Ministry was disclosed, the words "arrest, ambassador, Germany" in the piece No. 44 would be found therein. Paléologue's denial of the decipherers of the Foreign Ministry ever having written those words was moot because Chamoin already admitted that No. 44 was a mere reminder and not an authentic document. (1899 Enquete II, p.15-17 Paléologue; 1904 Enquete II, p.522 Cuignet)
The Court obtained an authentic copy of the original telegram from the telegraph office (1904 Enquete I, p.484 Chamoin, II, p.492 Cuignet). On 27 April, in the room of Mazeau, President of the Court of Cassation (1904 Enquete II, p.521), Paléologue demonstrated the veracity of the 1894 translation by the Foreign Ministry and Cuignet and Chamoin, representing the War Ministry, officially recognized the authenticity of the text deciphered by the Foreign Ministry (1904 Enquete I, p.485, 486).
On 3 June 1899, the joint chambers of the Court of Cassation overturned the judgement of the 1894 military court and referred the case to the military court of Rennes.
The conclusion reached by the Court of Cassation regarding the Panizzardi telegram appears in item 8 out of 10.
Dreyfus was taken back from Devil's Island after more than four years' exile.
The military court at Rennes opened on 7 August 1899.
Now, the Ministry of War and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs were in agreement about the text of the Panizzardi telegram.
However, Cuignet tried to draw implications against Dreyfus from the agreed text by saying that Dreyfus was mentioned without any explanation and that Panizzardi must have been really alarmed to send such a telegram though he was only a military attaché, not an ambassador (Rennes I, p.497-498 Cuignet).
Du Paty de Clam, on whose memory the piece No. 44 was made, gave a note about its deciphering to General Mercier, who, being no cryptographer, trusted it to General Chamoin. The note insisted that the first of the two versions communicated to the Ministry of War from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1894 was as follows.
This is somewhat different from the piece No. 44. In particular, the mutually exclusive "relation" and "proof" are given as alternatives, thus evading the counterproof by Paléologue.
According to the note, back in 1894, Colonel Sandherr, perplexed by the completely different import of the two versions provided by the Foreign Ministry, secretly consulted Major Munier, a former secretary of the military cryptography commission now deceased. Munier had explained that in the original telegram, the 10th group and the 17th group were identical (apparently, he assumed four-digit code and thought 18 and 0018 were identical). He apparently considered that occurrences of "segrete" and "segreto" at about the right positions showed authenticity of the above version. It was even suggested that adding strokes to change "0" into "6", "9", or "8", etc. might lead to another decipherment. (1904 Enquete II, p.488, 492 Chamoin; the record on Rennes II, p.228 seems so garbled that David Kahn called it "obscurantist professional cant")
This note was read in the court on 24 August (Rennes II, p.227). From the first, Chamoin was aware that Munier's argument was of no value (1904 Enquete I, p.488 Chamoin) and his only motive in bringing this up was to show that his colleagues were not involved in forgery but there did exist a version similar to the piece No. 44 (1904 Enquete I, p.490 Chamoin). Reluctant to go over the issue already decided between the two ministries, Chamoin flatly declared the explanation of the note was completely false, to the sensation of the court (Rennes II, p.229).
The episode was now something of a farce. In the concluding speech of the prosecutor on 7 September, Major Carrière, the prosecutor, said about the piece No. 44, "Let's pass. All the world is in agreement on this." remarking that it simply indicated preoccupation at the time immediately after the revelation of the arrest of Dreyfus (Rennes III, p.586). Instead, he focused on other aspects of the case, trying to weaken any evidence in favor of Dreyfus by saying there were different opinions.
On 9 September 1899, the court chose to save the face of the army by finding Dreyfus guilty again but reduced the sentence. By compromise, Dreyfus accepted a pardon by the President and was released on 21 September.
A farce as it may seem in hindsight, the anti-Dreyfusards would continue to make a fuss about the Panizzardi telegram. After all, it would be one of the most "passionately" contested issues (1906 Debats I, p.210 Moras report; 1904 Enquete I, p.472 Chamoin).
In 1900, parliament passed an amnesty law for all matters concerning the Dreyfus Affair, excluding Dreyfus himself at his own request. Dreyfus still wanted to seek official recognition of his innocence.
A second revision of the case, however, did not come to pass for some years. Not only the pardon and amnesty brought a rift among Dreyfus' friends, but the opposition between the Dreyfusards and anti-Dreyfusards was so fierce that politicians thought the Dreyfus Affair was better forgotten.
In 1902, the Left Block won the election.
In 1903, General André, the first Minister of War since 1894 not personally involved in the Dreyfus Affair, entrusted his aid Captain Targe with an investigation of the affair. It revealed forgeries and improper use of evidence (1904 Enquete I, p.9-10 etc.) etc. Now, the Ministry of War admitted its error.
In 1904, the Court of Cassation conducted inquiries by the Criminal Chamber.
Final rehabilitation would be obtained without any enthusiasm. But it still required traversing the last attempts of anti-Dreyfusard witnesses.
When the deputies of the Ministry of War and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs agreed on the text of the Panizzardi telegram in April 1899, Cuignet expressed doubt on the authenticity of the telegram that had been put under verification by saying the signature was not Panizzardi's (1904 Enquete I, p.485-486, 493 Chamoin, 1904 Enquete II, p.521 Cuignet). He brought up the matter again in the second court of cassation (1904 Enquete II, p.502, 514-517, 519-521 Cuignet).
Cuignet further presented at length an explanation that the text of the Ministry of War and the one of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs must correspond to two different clear texts and denied Paléologue's explanation that the word "arrest" was only present in a working draft, stressing that one enciphered text could give only one plaintext (1904 Enquete II, p.494-501 Cuignet). Considering Cuignet knew the technical details of coding and superencipherment (1904 Enquete II, p.524-525 Cuignet), this assertion sounds strange. Once the key for superencipherment is identified, a ciphertext should lead to a unique plaintext. However, when the key is not known and the decipherer is trying various possibilities, it is quite natural that various hypotheses arise by combining candidate words for the code groups. Of these combinations, one that can be derived from some single superencipherment key could be the true reading.
Cuignet went so far as to say that, provided Panizzardi had sent only one, the version of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the wrong one, because Panizzardi did not use a serial number such as "913". (1904 Enquete II, p.526-527 Cuignet)
Baudouin, Prosecutor General of the Court of Cassation, pointed out some weaknesses in his explanation (1904 Enquete II, p.523-524 Cuignet).
Du Paty de Clam was saying the text of the telegram presented at the court of Rennes in 1899 as his note was incorrect, having been written by memory in sickbed, and should be as follows.
He denied forgery by emphasizing that he indicated the uncertain words. He insisted that the "falsification" of the telegram from the first incriminating version to the second (accepted) version was the origin of all the faults of the Dreyfus Affair (1904 Enquete I, p.264).
On 29 March 1904, General Chamoin had to go over the whole proceedings about the telegram (1904 Enquete I, p.480-492).
In March 1905, Prosecutor General Baudouin's report called for cancellation of the decision of the Court of Rennes without appeal. In April 1905, Mornard, Dreyfus' laywer, submitted a 700-page report. (Dreyfus Rehabilitated)
In 1906, Councillor Moras of the court, having reviewed these reports, submitted his report to joint chambers (1906 Debats I, p.5-368). Regarding the Panizzardi telegram, the Moras report dismissed Cuignet's doubts and upheld the conclusion of the Court of Cassation in 1899 about the telegram (1906 Debats I, p.215-216).
In July 1906, the Court of Cassation cancelled the judgement of the military court of Rennes in 1899, this time without further reference to the military court. Dreyfus' innocence was finally established.
David Kahn (1967), The Codebreakers, pp.254-262
Pierre Stutin (2012), La Dépêche Panizzardi (L'Affaire Dreyfus website)
Service historique de la Défense, Secret military file - Digitized (L'Affaire Dreyfus website)
Sources Numérisees (L'Affaire Dreyfus website), including digital transcriptions.
Enquête de la Cour de cassation (vol. 1, vol. 2; simply quoted as "1899 Enquete" herein) (Sources Numérisees)
Le Figaro (Gallica), "Déposition de M. Paléologue devant toutes les Chambres réunies de la Cour de cassation", 27 April 1899 (Gallica), reporting a session of 29 March 1899 (From 31 March to 30 April, Le Figaro reported detailed proceedings in the court printed for private use of the councillors (Wikipedia).)
Procès de Rennes (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3; simply quoted as "Rennes" herein) (Sources Numérisees)
La révision du procès Dreyfus: débats de la cour de cassation. 1899 (Gallica)
L'Affaire Dreyfus: La Révision du procès de Rennes. Débats de la Cour de cassation. Audiences des 3, 4 et 5 mars 1904
Affaire Dreyfus: la révision du procès de Rennes; enquête de la chambre criminelle de la Cour de cassation (5 mars 1904-10 novembre 1904) (vol.1, vol. 2, vol.3, simply quoted as "1904 Enquete" herein) (Sources Numérisees, Gallica)
L'Affaire Dreyfus: La Révision du procès de Rennes. Débats de la Cour de cassation (chambres réunies) (15 juin 1906-12 juillet 1906). (vol.1, vol.2, simply quoted as "1906 Debats" herein) (Sources Numérisees, Gallica)
Wikipedia, Dreyfus Affair
Wikipedia, Investigation and the Arrest of Alfred Dreyfus (the first of a series of articles)
Wikipedia, Trial and Conviction of Alfred Dreyfus (the second of the series)
Wikipedia, Picquart's Investigations of the Dreyfs Affair (the third of the series)
Wikipedia, Resolution of the Dreyfus Affair (the seventh of the series)
Pierre Miquel (1959), L'affaire Dreyfus, Collection QUE SAI-JE? No. 867, Japanese edition (1990)
Léon Blum (1935), Souvenirs sur L'Affaire, Japanese edition (1998), which has many annotations by the translator Inaba Michio
Dr. Guieu, Chronology of the Dreyfus Affair
President Casimir-Périer: 27 June 1894-16 January 1895
President Faure: 17 January 1895-16 February 1899
President Loubet: 18 February 1899-18 February 1906
30 May 1894 to 26 January 1895: Dupuy's 2nd ministry (Minister of War: Mercier, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Hanotaux)
26 January 1895 to 1 November 1895: Ribot's 3rd ministry (Minister of War: Zurlinden, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Hanotaux)
1 November 1895 to 29 April 1896; Bourgeos's ministry (Minister of War: Cavaignac, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Berthelot)
29 April 1896 to 28 June 1898: Méline's ministry (Minister of War: Billot, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Hanotaux)
28 June to 1 November 1898: Brisson's 2nd ministry (Minister of War: Cavaignac, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Delcassé)
1 November 1898 to 22 June 1899: Dupuy's 3rd ministry (Minister of War: Freycinet, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Delcassé)
22 June 1899 to 7 June 1902; Waldeck-Rousseau's ministry (Minister of War: Gallifet, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Delcassé)
7 June 1902 to 24 January 1905: Combes' ministry (Minister of War: André, Minister of Foreign Affairs: Delcassé)