Sunday, October 28, 2018

Media release: Were the Turin Shroud radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?

This is the the simplified version of may radiocarbon dating hacking theory media release. It has links and references only to the sources of its few quotes and photos. I have re-titled my earlier media release the "fully referenced version" and marked it "not for publication." I have completed converting this web page to a Word document, marked it "For immediate publication," dated it 30 November 2018, and began emailing it to news outlets which have in the past published favourable (or at least not unfavourable) Shroud articles. I will keep readers informed of its progress in my monthly Shroud of Turin News posts.

For immediate publication

Were the Turin Shroud radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?

© Stephen E. Jones

The Shroud of Turin blog

Date 30 November 2018

"Were the Turin Shroud radiocarbon dating laboratories duped by a computer hacker?" asks Australian pro-Shroud blogger Stephen Jones.

The 13th of October this year was the 30th anniversary of the simultaneous announcement in London and Turin that three Accelerator Mass Spectrometry (AMS) radiocarbon dating laboratories at Arizona, Zurich and Oxford, had dated the Shroud of Turin to between 1260 and 1390.

[Above: From left to right, Prof. E. Hall (Oxford), Dr M. Tite (British Museum) and Dr R. Hedges (Oxford), announcing on 13 October 1988 that the Shroud of Turin had been radiocarbon dated to "1260-1390!"[1].]

This was followed on 16 February 1989 by an article in the science journal Nature, confirming that those three laboratories had carbon dated the Shroud as "mediaeval ... AD 1260-1390"[2].

The midpoint of those years is 1325, which is only 30 years before the Shroud first appeared in undisputed history in 1355 at Lirey, a tiny village in France. It was this midpoint's close agreement with the Shroud's historic debut that convinced the laboratories' scientists that the 1260-1390 date must be correct.

But the evidence, other than the radiocarbon dating, is overwhelming that the Turin Shroud is the burial sheet of Jesus, and therefore 1st century.

Even the Director of the Oxford radiocarbon dating laboratory, Prof. Christopher Bronk Ramsey, admitted in 2008 that, "There is a lot of other evidence that suggests to many that the Shroud is older than the radiocarbon dates allow ..."[3] (Jones' emphasis). This is especially significant since Ramsey was a member of Oxford's team which dated the Shroud and as "C.R. Bronk" was a signatory to that 1989 Nature article.

To give one example among many, the Hungarian Pray Codex is dated

[Above (enlarge)[4]: An ink drawing in the Pray Codex depicting the entombment of Jesus (upper) and His resurrection (lower).]

1192-95[5], yet it contains ink drawings of Jesus which together have at least fourteen unusual features found only on the Shroud[6]. Yet at no later than 1195, the drawings must be at least 65 years before the earliest 1260 carbon date of the Shroud!

Previous pro-Shroud explanations how the 1st century Shroud has a 13th-14th century radiocarbon date (e.g. carbon contamination, neutron flux, medieval repairs, bioplastic coating and sample switching) have all failed. The fact that after 30 years there are still many different pro-Shroud explanations shows that none of them explain how the 1st century Shroud's radiocarbon date was shifted 13-14 centuries into the future to the `bull's eye' date, 1325.

The laboratories have pointed out that the probability that the Shroud, being 1st century, has a 13th-14th century radiocarbon date, would be "astronomical"[7], "one in a thousand trillion"[8] and "totally impossible"[9].

But the flip side of this is that since the Shroud is 1st-century (according to the overwhelming weight of the evidence), it must be the radiocarbon date of 1260-1390 that is impossible!

Since chance is excluded as being astronomically improbable, the 1260-1390 radiocarbon date of the 1st century Shroud must have been the result of some kind of fraud.

However, the allegation by a minority of Shroudies that the British Museum's Dr Michael Tite switched a 13th century control sample for the Shroud sample is highly implausible. Not only did Tite think the Shroud was medieval, so he didn't need to switch its sample for a medieval one, the Shroud's distinctive weave would ensure that any substitution would be readily detected.

But there is a type of fraud which was rife in the 1980s and which the fully computerised AMS radiocarbon dating was vulnerable to, namely computer hacking.

In the early 1990s Jones was the System Administrator of a wide area network of hospital computers in rural Western Australia. He had read astronomer turned computer System Administrator Clifford Stoll's book, The Cuckoo's Egg, in which Stoll described how vulnerable to hacking, and had actually been hacked, university computer networks were in the 1980s. And the three carbon dating laboratories were then, and still are, at universities!

Stoll recounted how he helped catch a member of a KGB-sponsored German hacking ring, Markus Hess, who had dialed in from Germany to Stoll's insecure Berkeley laboratory network. From there Hess and others in his ring had 'leapfrogged' to hack into over 100 poorly secured USA government and military computer networks.

In 2007 Jones read in the late David Sox's 1988 anti-Shroud book, The Shroud Unmasked, that the first radiocarbon dating of the Shroud on 6 May 1988 at Arizona AMS laboratory was fully computerised.

[Above: Arizona laboratory's team which had just dated the Shroud of Turin as "1350" on 6 May 1988[10]. The alleged hacker, Timothy W. Linick is in the black shirt standing prominently in the foreground. This shows that Linick must have been in charge of the AMS dating process and his laboratory leaders and colleagues were acknowledging that in this historic group photograph.]

It then occurred to Jones that a hacker could have installed a program on the three laboratories' identical AMS computers, that substituted their Shroud samples' 1st century dates for computer-generated 13th-14th century dates. The laboratory scientists viewing the results on their AMS computer screens would, except for the hacker, have been duped.

However Jones had only started his The Shroud of Turin blog in 2007, and had a lot to learn about the Shroud, so he assumed that one of the conventional pro-Shroud explanations must be correct.

In 2014 Jones began thinking again about his hacker explanation. He Googled "1989" and "hacker" and discovered that the burnt body of a German hacker, Karl Koch, had been found on or about 1 June 1989, at the edge of a forest outside Hanover, Germany. Koch had been in the same hacking ring as Markus Hess, and had a year before confessed to hacking for the KGB.

The West German police assumed that Koch had committed suicide by pouring petrol over himself and lighting a match. But suicide was impossible because it was summer and the surrounding vegetation was very dry, yet the petrol fire around Koch's body had been controlled within a small circle, as with a fire extinguisher.

A burnt petrol can was found nearby but nothing that could have extinguished the fire. It is self-evidently impossible that Koch could have controlled and extinguished with his bare hands the petrol fire which killed him!

Also Koch had no reason to commit suicide. He was in no danger of prosecution, having confessed his hacking for the KGB to the West German authorities and cooperated fully, earning an amnesty for espionage under West German law. Indeed the authorities had helped Koch find a job with the Christian Democratic Party and accommodation.

Koch had left his Hanover workplace on 23 May 1989 in his employer's car. The car was nearby, covered with dust and looking like it had been there for years. Koch had left work fully clothed but his shoes were never found.

Koch had no enemies and new friends. Only the KGB, or the East German Stasi on the KGB's behalf, would have had a reason to kill Koch, especially if his body was burned to hide evidence of a beating or torture.

Yet the KGB has never harmed the other two members of the hacking ring: Markus Hess and Heinrich Hübner, even though Hübner had also confessed his hacking for the KGB, and they did more valuable hacking for the Soviets than Koch had.

It is no embarrassment to the KGB if one of its hackers gets caught, or confesses to, hacking the secrets of others. But it would be an embarrassment to the KGB if its own secrets (such as its hacking of the Shroud's carbon dating) were to be revealed by one of its hackers.

Jones then Googled the names of signatories to the Nature article. He found that Arizona laboratory physicist Timothy Linick had been found dead in Tucson, Arizona, of presumed suicide on 4 June 1989. That was less than 2 weeks after Koch's murder disguised as suicide.

[Right: Photograph of Linick in a 2000 article with the caption that, "He died at the age of forty-two on 4 June 1989, in very unclear circumstances ..." (Jones' emphasis)[11].]

Jones later learned that the West German police had publicly announced that the charred body was Koch's on 3 June 1989, only one day before Linick's dead body was found!

Jones also later learned from Linick's older half-brother Anthony that Linick had died of gunshot and there was no suicide note.

The Arizona police assumed that Linick's death was suicide. But as with Koch, there seemed to be no reason for Linick to kill himself. Less than four months after the Nature article he would still be basking in the glow of his laboratory's success.

It is Jones' theory that Timothy Linick wrote a program which, when installed on the three laboratories' AMS computers, automatically substituted their Shroud sample dates for computer-generated dates, which when combined and averaged across the three laboratories, returned a date plausibly before 1355.

And that since the AMS computers were never online, according to Arizona's Dr. Jull and Oxford's Prof. Ramsey, Linick had offered his program for money to the KGB to be installed by one of their hackers on Zurich and Oxford's identical AMS computers.

And that the KGB had accepted Linick's offer and used their hacker Karl Koch, who was an expert in hacking the same DEC computers that the three laboratories' AMS computers were.

The Soviet's motive to discredit the Shroud was, according to Jones, that despite over 70 years of official atheism, the Soviet Union still contained many millions of Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Christians whose traditions held that the Shroud was authentic.

In 1988 the Soviet Union was on brink of collapse, and it did collapse in November 1989 with the fall of the Berlin Wall. A 1st century radiocarbon date of the Shroud would have been seen by the Soviets as a major threat to its crumbling empire. So the KGB would have eagerly accepted Linick's offer of a guaranteed early 14th century radiocarbon date of the Shroud.

Linick was quoted being against the Shroud in Sox's previously mentioned August 1988 book, which was ready for publication while Oxford's dating was still ongoing. While Sox did not reveal in the book that Arizona's first date was "1350," he later admitted that he knew the date and that he was the leaker of it to the English news media.

The late Professor Harry Gove, a co-inventor of AMS radiocarbon dating and the unofficial leader of the laboratories, concluded that the leaked "1350" date had to have come from someone who was present at Arizona's first dating, as Linick was. But Sox, who lived in London, was not.

Therefore, by Occam's Razor (the simplest explanation which accounts for the evidence, is to be preferred), Linick had breached the agreement that he, along with all others present at Arizona's first dating had signed, not to communicate the results to anyone, by revealing it to Sox.

Linick's half-brother Anthony had worked with Sox at the American School in London for about 13 years from 1982-1995, which included 1988, so presumably he put Linick in touch with Sox, or vice-versa.

Even if Linick had been asked by his laboratory leaders to explain his communication with Sox, that was ten months earlier, so it cannot explain Linick's presumed suicide.

Linick could have explained that Sox had contacted him through his half-brother Anthony, who worked with Sox, and that he did not tell Sox the result of Arizona's first dating. Linick could have claimed that the "1350" date must have been a lucky guess by Sox, which is was what Sox had originally claimed. Linick had kept his job at Arizona laboratory, so his explanation was evidently accepted.

Linick's leak of Arizona's first "1350" date via Sox, while the dating was still ongoing, helped to create a climate of expectation that the Shroud's date was going to be medieval, so that Linick's `bull's eye' midpoint date of 1325 would be accepted by the laboratories without question.

Under Table 2 of the 1989 Nature article, there is an admission that, "The spread of the measurements for sample 1 is somewhat greater than would be expected from the errors quoted"[12]. That is, across the three laboratories, the control samples all closely agreed with each other, but the Shroud samples unexpectedly varied widely.

But this is impossible if the Shroud's dates were real and not computer-generated. Because at each laboratory the Shroud and control samples were reduced to carbon and then irradiated together on the one 26 mm (1 inch) diameter carousel wheel for a total of ten minutes. So if anything went wrong with the AMS process at a laboratory, its controls and Shroud sample would wrongly agree with each other, and disagree with the control and Shroud samples at the other two laboratories.

Koch, a recovering drug addict, had become a Christian and after the Nature article was published in February 1989, had evidently started talking about his hacking of the Shroud's dating.

In April 1989, a well-known American pro-Shroud author (who wishes to remain anonymous), received a late night phone call from a distraught male with a German accent who confessed to have committed "espionage" against the Shroud.

The caller would not give his name, but he must have been Koch because "espionage" was the very crime that Koch and the other members of the German hacking ring had confessed to.

Jones' Shroud radiocarbon dating hacker theory has been dismissed by some as a "conspiracy theory," with all its present-day negative connotations. And Jones admits that it is a theory that Linick conspired with the KGB to make it appear that the first-century Shroud originated just before its first undisputed historical appearance in 1355.

But the mere label "conspiracy theory" says nothing about whether that theory is true. The claim that President Nixon's White House was behind the 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington DC's Watergate building was initially dismissed as a "conspiracy theory," but it turned out to be true. If all conspiracy theories were automatically false, that would mean there was no such thing as conspiracies, even by the KGB!

Moreover as Jones points out, his theory is not necessarily a conspiracy theory, since Linick could have acted alone. For example Linick could have flown over to Zurich and Oxford and installed his program on their computers himself. Or he could have sent his program to his counterparts in the other laboratories as an "update" to be installed by them on their respective AMS computer.

Jones included Karl Koch and the KGB in his theory because of the striking coincidence of Koch's inexplicable murder made to look like suicide, and Linick's assumed suicide, within days of each other.

Jones maintains that his hacking theory is the only viable explanation of how the 1st-century Shroud had a radiocarbon date of 1325.

But Jones does concede that the evidence for his theory is only circumstantial and that absent an unlikely confession or tip-off by someone in a position to know (e.g. a laboratory scientist, a fellow hacker, or an ex-KGB officer), his theory may never be proved true.

However if his theory is true, Jones presumes that there must be some out there who know what happened, so he is hopeful that at least one of them will come forward with information that confirms his theory is true.

Inquiries from news outlets can be made in the comments section under this post. If a return email address is supplied I will reply via it.

Stephen E. Jones
The Shroud of Turin blog.

1. Wilson, I., 1998, "The Blood and the Shroud: New Evidence that the World's Most Sacred Relic is Real," Simon & Schuster: New York NY, plate 3b. [return]
2. Damon, P.E., et al., 1989, "Radiocarbon Dating of the Shroud of Turin," Nature, Vol. 337, 16 February, pp.611-615, 611. [return]
3. Ramsey, C.B., 2008, "The Shroud of Turin," Oxford Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, March. Last modified 17 July 2009. [return]
4. "File:Hungarianpraymanuscript1192-1195.jpg," Wikimedia Commons, 22 February 2015. [return]
5. "Pray Codex," Wikipedia, 1 September 2018. [return]
6. Jones, S.E., 2018, "Open letter to Professor Christopher Ramsey," The Shroud of Turin blog, October 4. [return]
7. Wilson, 1998, p.7. [return]
8. Gove, H.E., 1996, "Relic, Icon or Hoax?: Carbon Dating the Turin Shroud," Institute of Physics Publishing: Bristol UK, p.303. [return]
9. Currer-Briggs, N., 1995, "Shroud Mafia: The Creation of a Relic?," Book Guild: Sussex UK, p.115. [return]
10. Gove, 1996, p.176H. [return]
11. Bonnet-Eymard, B., 2000, "The Holy Shroud is as Old as the Risen Jesus," The Catholic Counter-Reformation in the XXth Century. [return]
12. Damon, et al., 1989, p.613. [return]

Posted: 28 October 2018. Updated: 14 April 2021.


Miguel de Servet said...

Hi Stephen, are you aware that before the publication of the article Radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin (Nature, volume 337, pp. 611–615, 16 February 1989), before the official announcement of the result of the carbon-14 dating of the Shroud of Turin (13 October 1988), this article appeared in the News section of Nature (Shroud a good forgery, Steven Dickman,Nature volume 335, page 663, 20 October 1988)?

Stephen E. Jones said...


>Hi Stephen, are you aware that before the publication of the article Radiocarbon dating of the Shroud of Turin (Nature, volume 337, pp. 611–615, 16 February 1989), before the official announcement of the result of the carbon-14 dating of the Shroud of Turin (13 October 1988), this article appeared in the News section of Nature (Shroud a good forgery, Steven Dickman, Nature volume 335, page 663, 20 October 1988)?

Thanks, I was not aware of that article. But 20 October 1988 was after the 13 October 1988 official announcement in London and Turin. But it does indicate that the results were also announced in Zurich, which is news to me.

I will include this in my "16 February 1989: On this day 30 years ago in the radiocarbon dating of the Turin Shroud" as well as mention it in my December Shroud of Turin News.

Here below is my text copy of the article:

NATURE VOL. 335 20 OCTOBER 1988 663

Shroud a good forgery


AFTER weeks of rumour and speculation, the official carbon dating results for the Turin Shroud were released in Zürich last week. They show that the shroud, claimed by its proponents to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ, is at most 728 years old, originating "with 95 per cent certainty" between AD1260 and 1380 [sic]. Three laboratories at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic Institute, at the University of Arizona, and at Oxford University arrived at the dates in independent analyses.

The Catholic Church, which for years had refused to allow the shroud to be tested using destructive means such as radiocarbon dating, accepted the researchers' finding without dispute. The Archbishop of Turin, Anastasio Cardinal Ballestrero, confirmed the symbolic value of the shroud despite its lack of authenticity. The dating of the shroud was performed on just a few square centimetres of cloth taken from the edge of the linen shroud in April of this year, making use of techniques perfected during the past decade which rely on single atom counting using a particle accelerator.

Like traditional radiocarbon dating methods, the technique relies upon determining the ratio of carbon-14 to carbon-12 isotopes in the sample. Living organisms accumulate the rarer carbon-14 isotopes during their lifetimes, but these unstable atoms decay over time (with a half-life of about 5,500 years) and cease to be replaced once an organism dies. The current method can determine the ratio to better than 1 per cent accuracy, corresponding to an uncertainty of less than 80 years either way.

Though the new results seem likely to end centuries-old speculation about the origins of the Shroud (a 1389 letter from the Bishop of Troyes to Pope Clement VII claimed it was a forgery), the source of the Christ-like image remains a mystery.

Steven Dickman

(Dickman, S., "Shroud a good forgery," Nature, Vol. 335, 20 October 1988, p.663)