Sharon Bertsch McGrayne’s “The Theory That Would Not Die” Quotes 3

A few days after Germany’s surrender in May 1945 Churchill made a surprising and shocking move. He ordered the destruction of all evidence that decoding had helped win the Second World War. The fact that cryptography, Bletchley Park, Turing, Bayes’ rule, and the Colossi had contributed to victory was to be destroyed. […] Everything about decryption and the U-boat fight “from Hollerith [punch] cards to sequential statistics, to empirical Bayes, to Markov chains, to decision theory, to electronic computers” was to remain ultraclassified. Most of the Colossi were dismantled and broken into unidentifiable pieces. Those who built the Colossi and broke Tunny were gagged by Britain’s Official Secrets Acts and the Cold War; they could not even say that the Colossi had existed. Books by British and U.S. participants in the U-boat war were almost immediately classified, confined to high-level military circles, and not published for years or in some cases decades. Even classified histories of the war excluded the decryption campaign against the U-boats. Only after 1973 did the story of Bayes, Bletchley Park, and Turing’s nation-saving efforts begin to emerge.

[…] The British did not want the Soviet government to know they could decrypt Tunny-Lorenz codes. The Russians had captured a number of Lorenz machines, and Britain used at least one of the two surviving Colossi to break Soviet codes during the Cold War. Only when the Soviets replaced their Lorenz machines with new cryptosystems was Bletchley Park’s story revealed.

The secrecy had tragic consequences. Family and friends of Bletchley Park employees went to their graves without ever knowing the contributions their loved ones had made during the war. Those connected with Colossus, the epitome of the British decryption effort, received little or no credit. Turing was given an Order of the British Empire (OBE), a routine award given to high civil servants. Newman was so angry at the government’s “derisory” lack of gratitude to Turing that he refused his own OBE.

Britain’s science, technology, and economy were losers, too. The Colossi were built and operational years before the ENIAC in Pennsylvania and before John von Neumann’s computer at the Institute for Advance Study in Princeton, but for the next half century the world assumed that U.S. computers had come first.

Obliterating all information about the decryption campaign distorted Cold War attitudes about the value of cryptanalysis and about antisubmarine warfare. The war replaced human spies with machines. Decryption was faster than spying and provided unfiltered knowledge of the enemy’s thinking in real time, yet the Cold War glamorized military hardware and the derring-do of spydom.

The secrecy also had a catastrophic effect on Turing. At the end of the war he said he wanted “to build a brain.” To do so, he turned down a lectureship at Cambridge University and joined the National Physical Laboratory in London. Because of the Official Secrets Act he arrived as a nobody. Had he been knighted or otherwise honored he would surely have found it easier to get more than two engineers as support staff. Ignorant of Turing’s achievements, the director of the laboratory, Charles Galton Darwin, a grandson of Charles Darwin, repeatedly reprimanded Turing for morning tardiness after working late the night before. […]

At the laboratory, Turing designed the first relatively complete electronic stored-program digital computer for code breaking in 1945. Darwin deemed it too ambitious, however, and after several years Turing left in disgust. When the laboratory finally built his design in 1950, it was the fastest computer in the world and, astonishingly, had the memory capacity of an early Macintosh built three decades later.

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