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back to article UK spooks STILL won't release Bletchley Park secrets 70 years on

Spooks are still withholding the vital codebreaking secrets of Bletchley Park some 70 years after its boffins first cracked the Nazis' encrypted transmissions. Even though Bletchley has not been an active military facility for more half a century, GCHQ is still refusing to release algorithms which were used to decode Second …

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Post war operations

I presume that we (The Brits) gave our Commonwealth chums an enigma variant after the war and told them it was secure...

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Re: Post war operations

"I presume that we (The Brits) gave our Commonwealth chums an enigma variant after the war and told them it was secure..."

Correct

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Post war operations

> I presume that we (The Brits) gave our Commonwealth chums an enigma variant after the war and told them it was secure...

From wikipedia:

"After the end of World War II, the Allies sold captured Enigma machines, still widely considered secure, to a number of developing countries. As these countries did not know that the machine had been broken, their supposedly secure communications were in fact being read regularly by the major Western intelligence agencies."

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose...

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Re: Post war operations

Not so far off the Mark. The book "The War That Never Was" by Duff Hart-Davis make a passing referance to Egypy still using Enigma in the 1960's. So keeping every thing hush-hush might still be required even now.

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Re: Post war operations

Yes, just like we gave the Yanks everything on the basis they would give us all they knew. Turned out, they knew nothing (they claimed). Same deal with the jet engine and the supersonic jet.

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Re: Post war operations

We knew nothing*. But after the war, we talked the Brits (and other Commonwealth members) into smashing all the technology to bits. Or the Soviets might get it. Meanwhile we went on to commercialize that very same technology.

*Interesting anecdote: A British telephone company engineer pioneered the use of vacuum tube logic in one of the versions of Colossus. When an American counterpart came over to look at the new machine (the US had built an older, relay based version), the Brits showed it to him. He asked if it would be possible to see it in operation and was told that it was (vacuum tubes being silent compared to the noisy relay logic of the older system).

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Re: Post war operations

"Yes, just like we gave the Yanks everything on the basis they would give us all they knew. Turned out, they knew nothing (they claimed). Same deal with the jet engine and the supersonic jet.

The more recent version of that story that I heard was that we sent all that info to the Yanks because of the significant threat of invasion and that all copies in the UK would be destroyed if/when an invasion occurred. The idea being that even if the UK fell, the US would get the technology rather than the Germans.

Now, although that sounds reasonable on first hearing it, I'd have thought it would have made more sense to send everything off to Canada and be ready to evacuate the relevant people there quick smart in the event of an invasion.

Oh, how history could have been different...But then it's hard to put yourself into the mind of decision makers faced with what looked like an overwhelming and imminent invasion.

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Re: Post war operations

All of the versions of Colossus were electronic, i.e. used vacuum tubes.

I think your story refers to the Bombe.

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Re: Post war operations

Apparantly the Russians were taking any enigmas, and presumably Lorenz, they found during and after the war as well, so no doubt they were very useful in getting a picture behind the curtain.

What is strange is that the Russians were being given some Ultra intelligence during the war, but never seemed to realise it was from the Enigma and Lorenz machines.

What is staggering is the total secrecy that BP worked under - even (or especially?) people that met there and married each other never let on what they did,

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Re: Post war operations

"What is strange is that the Russians were being given some Ultra intelligence during the war, but never seemed to realise it was from the Enigma and Lorenz machines." - Oh, they knew... http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Cairncross

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Re: Post war operations

Not quite sure what is meant here. All of the Colossus machines used valves with a small number of relays also being employed. They were not entirely silent as anyone who has seen Colossus can testify to. There was a certain amount of noise from the "bedstead", around which the paper tape spun and there was quite a bit of "clicking" from the relays.

The Bombe machine was electro-mechanical and had a tremendous amount of moving parts, including relays; few, if any, valves were used in this machine and it was quite noisy.

I have not heard of any American machine that was a precursor to Colossus but the US did build their own versions of the Bombe machines that did use valves, as well as relays, and these machines were considerably faster than the British Bombes.

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Re: Post war operations

The technology was given to the US as a portion of payment for the lend lease debt owed. The lend lease "loan" was a 2% simple interest loan, the last payment being made in 2006. There is still an open debt owed by the UK to the US from WW1 in the amount of 4.4 billion US dollars. Of course the UK still has open debt obligations to various countries dating back to the Napoleonic wars. So you really shouldn't get all pissy about technology transfer made to the US.

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JFK knew

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Black Helicopters

@ NomNomNom

Which would explain why GCHQ killed Kennedy? (But they probably had the Mafia's and Castro's and the CIA's help)

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I wonder what kind of computing industry we would have now if they hadn't kept this secret for so long?

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What kind of computing industry?

Well, clearly, if this information hadn't been kept secret we couldn't have had a computing industry as we'd have been overrun by Soviets, sorry, I mean terrorists, sorry Americans. Oh, wait...

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Anonymous Coward

The people involved did start out computing industry, they just had to "discover everything from first principles" when at the pioneering universities.

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"I wonder what kind of computing industry we would have now if they hadn't kept this secret for so long?"

Well, given that by 1948 Manchester Uni.had developed the 'Baby' which was stored-program and all-electronic I don't think it held anyone up long - indeed the speed of improvement was impressive with the full Mk1 being available by 1949 and a commercial version from Ferranti by 1951

Incidently Turing wrote the third program for the 'baby' which was for long division.

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Anonymous Coward

Well, given that by 1948 Manchester Uni.had developed the 'Baby' which was stored-program and all-electronic I don't think it held anyone up long - indeed the speed of improvement was impressive with the full Mk1 being available by 1949 and a commercial version from Ferranti by 1951

... well to quote an amazingly weird US conspiracy theory website I once stumbled across ... "all this happening in 1948 along with the "invention" of the transistor ... all just a year after Roswell .... coincidence?"

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Re: The people involved did start out computing industry...

A few years back there was a very good lecture at Bletchley Park given by a historian (unfortunately I don't remember his name but think he wrote a book), who had done a lot of leg work and evidenced where people went after Bletchley. Everyone of the early centres of computing had at least one person who had worked at Bletchley during the war. Basically he disregarded the big names and due to information becoming available through the Bletchley veterans was able to identify the team members that haven't received the spotlight.

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Muppet

So assuming any aliens who can build a flying saucer capable of extra-solar travel must be at least 100 years more advanced than us today, and in the last 60 years "transistors" and their ilk operating in computer chips today are almost unrecognisable compared to those used in Baby what makes you think we could even get close to cracking 160 years more advanced tech in a mere year from1948?

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Alien

Roswell?

Read it here: The Day After Roswell by "the very credible Lt Colonel Corso of the US Army" himself!

According to amazon, it came out on "January 1, 0010", which probably means it rode the X-Files wave and someone had some Y2K trouble with his 'puters.

It is a waste of a perfectly good tree except for the reprinted article from the 60's I think flogging the idea of a nuke-flinging US moonbase. "Nuke them from on high", indeed.

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Pirate

I was "born" in 1947. But that's all I can say about it.

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Alien

Less "born" than "cloned", or perhaps just "took possesion of your current human host".

Someone call Mulder and Scully!!

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Coat

Re: Muppet

"what makes you think we could even get close to cracking 160 years more advanced tech in a mere year from1948?"

What makes you think it had to be "cracked"?

Maybe it came with manuals. Or instructors. Or "military advisers"

Yes, thanks. The indestructible metallic looking one with four arms. ----------------->

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I think the real question is what if Turing's ACE had been finished as soon as technically feasible (by some estimates early 1947) rather than delayed by poitics.

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Alien

Damn those poi-tics. They should have stayed in gamma quadrant, what are they doing in this part of the galaxy?

Next they will be selling us galacto-opium. That they forced us to produce in the first place.

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Mushroom

Tony Sale

Not Sales, thank you!

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Re: Tony Sale

I spotted that too. I had a nice long chat with Tony a couple of years before we lost him, and when the Colossus envirnment was less sanitised. I also sneaked a couple of photographs {oops}

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Trollface

"A Wren reenactor at Bletchley Park"

"ONLY THE DEAD CAN KNOW PEACE FROM THIS EVIL MACHINE"

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Re: "A Wren reenactor at Bletchley Park"

A GRAVEDUST system would prevent such evasion.

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Still secret because we sold it as secure post war to tin pot regimes - or were our targets more domestic? Would it turn out that that a programmable decoding machine could decode the transmissions of embassies to Germany, France, or even more trusted partners?

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Anonymous Coward

Read Spycatcher, the autobiography of Peter Wright.

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I wonder

Did Dennis Feltham Jones The Author of Colossus 1966 - turned into move The Forbin Project) have knowledge of Colossus. Can't find much on him apart from the fact he was a British naval commander in World War 2. Did he work for Naval Intelligence ?

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Re: I wonder

Even if he had it's highly unlikely he'd have know about Colossus by name.

Even Winterbotham (whose 1974 The Enigma Secret is hilarious when it comes to details of what BP were actually doing) could only refer to the Bronze Goddess (by which he presumably meant the Bombe).

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Anonymous Coward

Deeper Still

@fnusnu ... It's deeper than that; We SOLD Enigma and Lorentz variants to many countries post 1945..... and told them they were secure...... :-)

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Deeper Still

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose

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Re: Deeper Still

Enigma was still very hard to break unless the person using it did not choose truly random keys, or put lots of text in a message that was known to the team trying to break the code.

(Or they had a much better way of breaking enigma then has been admitted too.)

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Re: Deeper Still

I think more to the point: who would have captured most of the Lorenz machines and probably decided to adopt and use them themselves?

The Russians.

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Boffin

Re: Deeper Still

"Enigma was still very hard to break unless the person using it did not choose truly random keys, or put lots of text in a message that was known to the team trying to break the code." - I've read a rather interesting article somewhere stating that Enigma messages could have been broken using WWII-level technology using nothing but sheer brute force (no cribs required etc.). Not that this was possibly done, but that it would have been feasible. It admittedly required a few messages longer than the officially allowed maximum (and quite a few Bombe-like machines), but reportedly several of those were received daily anyway. I can try to find it again, but I think it should be easily Google-able...

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Not yet declassifying the algorithms yet

Looking at some of the algorithms that have been published or at least hinted at, especially in the Jack Copland book, I suspect that they've still got methods that were discovered during the war that are still useful today.

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MrT
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That book is excellent...

Colossus: The secrets of Bletchley Park's code-breaking computers" B. Jack Copeland and others

A really interesting collection. About 85% of it is written by the people who did the work, including Tutte and Flowers.

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Happy

Re: That book is excellent...

thanks, I just ordered it on your recommendation.

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Microsoft

And now Microsoft sell operating systems to the Commonwealth and they tell them that's secure...

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Re: Microsoft

Shhhhhhh! Do you want the NSA/GCHQ to rendition you to North Korea or something!!

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Re: Microsoft

Is there much to spy on in Massachusetts?

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Trollface

Not to put too fine a point on it, but

a) Colossus was only used to automate the code breaking of the Lorenz machine after the manual deciphering was considered too slow;

b) The whole deciphering job only became possible after two very similar long messages were sent with almost identical settings on the Lorenz encoder, making it possible to deduce the cipher principle;

c) Depending on whether you consider relais as electronics, the Zuse Z3 which came before Colossus, could claim the title of "the world's first electronic programmable digital computer".

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Re: Zuse Z3

Yes this is one of those quirks of history. It is unfortunate, due to the war and the simple fact that descriptions his work weren't translated into english until 1965 and hence wasn't widely known outside of a small circle of German scientists, Zuse's pioneering work wasn't built upon. Whereas the work at Bletchley did strongly influence the development of modern computing.

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