Cracking the Caesar Cipher: Piecing Together The Pizzini

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Little big man: Lo Piccolo. Photo credit: Marcello Paternostro/Reuters

Más de 70 detenidos en una operación contra la mafia en Nueva York y Sicilia: “More than 70 arrested in antimafia operation in New York and Sicily.” EFE gets the story to me first, through El País (Spain).

The Times of London counts 90 arrests in Operation Old Bridge. This is a pretty huge international story.

Ninety Mafia gangsters from New York to Sicily have been arrested in what is described as the biggest crackdown on Cosa Nostra on both sides of the Atlantic since the “Pizza Connection”. Italian anti-Mafia police said that the main targets were “the heirs of historic Sicilian and American Dons” from the Gambino, Di Maggio, Mannino and Inzerillo families.

Who, what, when, where, why.

Thirty were captured in Palermo and the remaining 60 in New York, in a joint FBI-Italian operation codenamed “Old Bridge”. All were allegedly involved in money laundering and cocaine and narcotics trafficking. The charges include racketeering, murder, extortion, and gambling and labour law violations. Pietro Grasso, the anti-Mafia prosecutor, said that the arrests were part of the biggest joint US-Italian operation against the Mafia for twenty years.

“Joint U.S.-Italian operation”? “Labour-law violations”? “In twenty years”?

I have Associated Press style on the brain, having spent a lot of time preaching this gospel to the heathens lately.

La organización mafiosa siciliana Cosa Nostra ha recibido hoy un duro golpe con la detención de 77 personas en Nueva York y Sicilia, incluidos los grandes capos, tras una investigación sobre los vínculos entre las familias mafiosas a ambos lados de Atlántico.

The Sicilian mafia organization Cosa Nostra has today taken a hard blow with the detention of 77 persons in New York and Sicily, including senior capos, after an investigation into ties between mafia clans on both sides of the Atlantic.

As far as I know, the plural of capo is capi.

La operación Old Bridge (Puente viejo) es la mayor contra la mafia desde los tiempos de la Pizza Connection, que reveló los vínculos entre la mafia italiana y la estadounidense para controlar el trafico de drogas en la pasada década de los años 80, según recuerdan este jueves los medios italianos.

Operation Old Bridge (Puente viejo) is the largest antimafia operation since the Pizza Connection case, which revealed ties between the U.S. and the Italian mob in the control of the drug trade in the past decade of the 1980s [sic], as the Italian media was recalling this week.

Old Bridge is a township in New Jersey.

When you translate a foreign-language title, or the foreign-language name of an institution, this is actually how the Chicago Manual of Style recommends that you do it: Foreign Title or Name of Institution (Translation in sentence case).

For example, Commissão de Valores Mobiliários (the securities commission).

You can treat it technically, translating word for word, or (this is often more useful) descriptively. Ex: Commissão de Valores Mobiliários (Brazil’s securities industry regulator.)

Why would EFE not give the same treatment to Polizia di Stato, though?

El máximo responsable de la lucha contra el crimen de la Policía de Estado, Francesco Gratteri, ha precisado que hasta el momento hay 77 personas detenidas, 19 en Palermo (isla de Sicilia), más otras cuatro que estaban ya en la cárcel, y 54 en Estados Unidos.

The man in charge of the fight against organized crime in the State Police [sic], Francesco Gratteri, has reported that so far 77 persons have been arrested, 19 in Palermo (on the island of Sicily), along with another four that were already in jail, and 54 in the United States.

Entre los detenidos figuran importantes jefes mafiosos como los responsables de los clanes italo-estadounidenses Gambino e Inzerillo, Frank Cali, de 43 años, y Filippo Casamento, de 82.

Among those arrested were major mafia chieftains such as those in charge of the Italian American Gambino and Inzerillo families, respectively: Frank Cali, 43, and Filippo Casamento, 82.

La operación, aún en curso, corre a cargo de la Policía Antimafia italiana en Sicilia y la Oficina Federal de Investigación (FBI) en Nueva York y en ella han participado 300 agentes.

The ongoing operation is being run by the Italian Antimafia Police [sic] in Sicily and the FBI in New York, with the participation of 300 agents.

As far as I know, there is no agency named the Antimafia Police, but I think the Polizia di Stato has an antimafia division.

Frustrados los planes de la Cosa Nostra

Cosa Nostra plans thwarted

El Fiscal nacional antimafia, Piero Grasso, ha indicado que Cosa Nostra estaba intentando volver a controlar el mercado de estupefacientes, en particular de cocaína, en Italia y que había reforzado las relaciones entre las familias de Cosa Nostra palermitanas y estadounidenses, con especial referencia a la Gambino de Nueva York.

The national antimafia prosecutor, Piero Grasso, has indicated that Cosa Nostra was trying to regain control of the narcotics trade, and cocaine in particular, in Italy and had strengthened its ties to mafia familiesin the U.S. and Palermo, with special emphasis on the Gambinos in New York.

Los pizzini (pequeños mensajes mecanografiados con los que se comunican los jefes mafiosos) encontrados al “jefe de jefes” de la mafia Bernardo Provenzano, detenido en 2006, han sido claves en la investigación.

The pizzini (short typed messages used by mafia leaders to communicate) of capo di tutti capi Bernardo Provenzano, arrested in 2006, have been key to the investigation.

Entre los detenidos en Estados Unidos figura Frank Calí, considerado jefe de la familia Gambino, que ha funcionado como puente entre Italia y Estados Unidos, y que habría establecido contactos con Provenzano y con su sucesor Salvatore lo Piccolo, detenido el año pasado.

Among those arrested in the U.S. was Frank Calí, considered head of the Gambino crime family, which has served as a bridge between Italy and the U.S. and reported established contact with Provenzano and with his successor, Salvatore lo Piccolo, arrested last year.

Además de esta operación, la Policía italiana detuvo hoy a Vincenzo Licciardi, jefe de un importante clan de la Camorra, la mafia napolitana, y uno de los 30 criminales más buscados, huido de la Justicia desde 2004.

Along with this operation, Italian police today also arrested Vicenzo Licciardi, head of a major family in the Camorra, the mafia of Naples, and one of Italy’s 30 most wanted men, a fugitive from Justice since 2004. 

Wikipedia has an informative and pretty well-written note on pizzini.

Pizzino (pl. pizzini) is an Italian language word derived from Sicilian language equivalent pizzinu. Despite it generically meaning “small piece of paper”, the word is now widely used to refer to small slips of paper that the Sicilian mafia uses for high-level communications. Sicilian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano is among those best known for using pizzini, most notably in his instructions which underline Messina Denaro to become his successor.

The Caesar cipher:

Provenzano used a version of the Caesar cipher, supposedly used by Julius Caesar in wartime communications. The Caesar code involves shifting each letter of the alphabet forward three places; Provenzano’s pizzini code did the same, then replaced letters with numbers indicating their position in the alphabet. Thus “mia” might become “16124”, since m=13+3=16, i=9+3=12, and a=1+3=4. (Note that the alphabet used is the Italian alphabet, which has a slightly different order and number of characters than the Latin alphabet.) It is a very simple and old code, with the only point of difficulty being the initial confusion of the ambiguous role of the various digits as independent or part of two-digit numbers.

It will be interesting to see what retired Brazilian federal judge and former antidrug czar Maierovitch has to say in his column about the development.

On Maierovitch, see also

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