‘M’ eert tragisch genie Alan Turing

Nieuws | de redactie
10 oktober 2012 | Ian Lobban, de baas van de Britse geheime dienst GCHQ, deed iets uitzonderlijks. En plein public hield hij een rede over het genie van Nazi-codebreker en tragisch wetenschapper Alan Turing. “Through our eyes, Turing was a founder of the Information Age."

De jonge wiskundige vond in zijn hoofd, volstrekt fundamenteel,de computer uit. Die werd dan ook de Turing Machine genoemd, bijgebrek aan een woord voor zo’n vreemd concept. Vervolgens wilde enkon hij hem bouwen.

GCHQ, één van de Britse geheime diensten zette hem in om met deEnigma-machinees de codes van Nazi Duitsland te breken. Pas in dejaren zeventig werd bekend dat in Bletchley Park een heel complexmet ‘Turing Machines’ op deze manier een onmisbare bijdrage hadgeleverd aan de geallieerde overwinning.

Geen eerhestel nog steeds

Turing mocht dit niet meer helpen. Hij pleegde zelfmoord nachantage, chemische castratie en vervolging als homoseksueel in denaoorlogse jaren. Dit jaar wordt wereldwijd zijn 100everjaardag gevierd. Het gebaar van de chef van geheimedienst GCHQ om in een jubileumrede Turing als een “nationalasset” te vieren, is zacht gezegd ongebruikelijk. De Britseregering heeft immers tot op heden geweigerd de vlek op Turingsblazoen -en nu vooral die op de goede naam van het UK- formeel wegte nemen door een eerherstel.

Over de betekenis van Alan Turing voor de wetenschap – “op hetniveau van Einstein en Galilei” – leest u hier hetScienceGuide-interview met zijn ‘opvolger’, David Harelvan het Weizman Instituut.

U leest hieronder de speech van Ian Lobban bij de University of Leeds

GCHQ and Turing’s Legacy


Of all the things we know about Alan Turing’s life, one of thefacts that shines out most brightly is that he had nothing to dowith Leeds. He wasn’t born here; he didn’t study here; he didn’twork here.  He never tiptoed home to a Hall of Residenceintent on not waking the neighbours after a late night at theUnion.  He never read the Yorkshire Evening Post. So why here?Why now? 

The “why now?” question is easily answered: this year representsthe centenary of Turing’s birth, and a large number of events whichhave marked this centenary, celebrating aspects of his life, hiswork, his genius. 

The answer to “why here?” is more paradoxical. At a simplelevel, it is partly because Professor Barry Cooper, Professor ofPure Mathematics here, has been Chair of the Turing CentenaryAdvisory Committee, and I want to make a point of recognising thehard work and dedication with which he has approached thistask.  It’s also because I studied at Leeds – one of over ahundred graduates of this University to go on to have a career atGCHQ. 

But I want to discuss GCHQ and Turing in Leeds precisely becausethere is no direct connection here to a particular phase in AlanTuring’s life. I want to make sure that I don’t try to claim AlanTuring as “ours”.  He doesn’t belong to GCHQ or to BletchleyPark; he doesn’t belong to King’s College, or to ManchesterUniversity. 

And beyond anything I will say, beyond all of the eventsProfessor Cooper has godfathered this year, Turing lives on in thecreative imagination of writers, not just Robert Harris’s Enigma,in which a Turing-like mathematician at Bletchley has to face thereal world which lies behind the messages he has been treating astheoretical problems, but also Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, ascience fiction novel which links Turing’s Bletchley to a modernworld of secure data havens, and even in the current ITV drama theBletchley Circle, about the brilliant minds of ageneration. 

I will talk a lot about what Alan Turing means to GCHQ, abouthis legacy to us in the way we work, and in the way we think aboutour work today, but I want to stress that crucial as his work inintelligence was, it was only one aspect of the life of one of thegreat minds of the twentieth century. 

Government Code and Cypher School

I’m going to start with some history, to give you a bit of anidea of the organisation Alan Turing joined at the outbreak of war.As we know it today, GCHQ is the part of the public serviceestablished by law to intercept communications in order to protectnational security, to safeguard the economic wellbeing of theUnited Kingdom and to support the prevention and detection ofserious crime, as well as to ensure that United Kingdom governmentcommunications are secure. 

The oldest British reference we have to lawful interception ofcommunications dates back to 1324: Edward the Second ordered thatall persons entering the kingdom carrying letters should bearrested and their letters sent to the King for examination; butthe modern practice of producing intelligence from communications -normally referred to as signals intelligence, or Sigint – datesback to the beginning of the First World War, when large volumes ofGerman radio traffic were noted, and each of the Admiralty and WarOffice set up small Sigint organisations to deal with thismaterial.

At the end of the war on 1 November 1919, the two organisationswere merged into the Government Code and Cypher School – G C and CS – and in 1946 we simply changed our name to GovernmentCommunications Headquarters, our cover name during World WarTwo. 

The principal difference between then and now is that back in1919 people used paper-based methods to secure theircommunications. We have brought a couple of examples of codebookswhich you will be able to have a look at afterwards at theReception. Essentially, letters, words or phrases could berepresented by four or five character code groups, which could thenin turn be enciphered. 

The Code and Cypher School was remarkably successful in thisperiod: with the exception of only two particular targets, everysingle encryption system used by foreign governments to protecttheir communications with UK-based representatives was broken andread.

The two exceptions were the diplomatic services of Germany andthe Soviet Union, each of which had learned of Britishcryptanalytic success, and each of which began to use one time padscorrectly, which meant that their encoded messages could thereforenot be broken.

Palaeographers: people used to pulling together shreds ofdocuments discovered by archaeologists; classicists: people used toestablishing putative readings for texts of which there might bemultiple and different fragments; and linguists: people who spokethe language and had some insight into the mind and culture ofthose using enciphered messages; all combined to work out how thecodebooks were constructed and used. 

Then, in 1925, a German invention was patented in London. Theinventor wanted to try to sell his invention in the UK but theAllied Control Commission in Germany was making it difficult forhim to do so.  The invention was the Enigma machine, theworld’s first successful electromechanical encryptiondevice. 

You have probably all seen the Hollywood version of the Enigmastory: the films showing heroic sailors leaping onto sinking Germansubmarines to recover their Enigma machines: the truth around theinitial acquisition is a little more prosaic. 

In 1926, the Deputy Director of GC and CS, Edward Travis – wholater became Director of GCHQ – went to Berlin and secured anEnigma machine by the simple expedient of going to themanufacturing company and buying one. Enigma was not originallydesigned as a military device: its aim was to speed up commercialtransactions by allowing details of them to be senttelegraphically, instead of in hard copy by courier. 

Back at the Code and Cypher School, cryptanalyst Hugh Fossdiagnosed the encryption system used in the commercial Enigma, andshowed how it was vulnerable to cryptanalysis.  Anotherveteran cryptanalyst, Dilly Knox, then took over and developed asuite of techniques for breaking variants of the originalcommercial Enigma.  One such variant was sent by Hitler toFranco for use in the Spanish Civil War; when communicationsencrypted on that modified Enigma were intercepted, Knox broke itin April 1937, just five months after Hitler’s gift had arrived inSpain.

Earlier this year, I took part in a ceremony at the Spanish ArmyMuseum in Toledo during which, and largely through the good officesof my Spanish opposite number, I was presented with two of theseEnigma machines, for display at the Bletchley Park Museum and atour Headquarters in Cheltenham. 

Knox’s work was a tremendous feat but would not be enough byitself because the German military were using a much more complexfamily of Enigma machines than the modified commercial model thatKnox had broken. The Code and Cypher School learned in 1938 of thework that Poland had been doing to get into military Enigma. ThePoles had taken a different path to the British and had recruitedmathematicians, rather than classicists, to become theircryptanalysts.

The Arrival of Turing and colleagues…

It was this information which crystallised a crucial insight byAlasdair Denniston, the Director of the Code and Cypher School, anda veteran of cryptanalysis in the First World War: he had alreadyworked out that the forthcoming war and the profusion of mechanicalencryption devices needed a new sort of cryptanalyst to complementthe existing staff.

He decided to look out wartime colleagues who had returned in1919 and 1920 to the Universities (well, to Oxford and Cambridge)and asked them to identify what he described as “men of theprofessor type”, academics engaged in mathematical research whocould be persuaded to turn their hands to cryptanalysis. In thefirst list of names drawn up in response to his request we can seethe hint of what was to come: Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman and MaxNewman. 

Turing was, without doubt the keenest of the three and attendeda series of taster sessions and short courses in early 1939,promising to report to Bletchley Park – already earmarked as thewar station for the Code and Cypher School – on the outbreak ofwar. 

(Another prospective employee was JRR Tolkien: he was marked outby staff as “keen” but in the event, his services were not calledupon, perhaps because on the third of September 1939 the UKdeclared war on Germany, not Mordor.)

As far as we know Turing kept no diaries during the war so muchof our knowledge of what he did comes from surviving officialdocuments or from later reminiscences. What is certain is that hereported to Bletchley Park as agreed and immediately startedworking with Knox in one of the cottages there.  Knox’sinfluence on Turing at this time is immense. 

The older veteran cryptanalyst shared everything he knew aboutEnigma with Turing, who eventually used this knowledge to write thefirst four chapters of his treatise on Enigma: what became known atBletchley, and then to succeeding generations of cryptanalysts,simply as “Prof’s Book”. 

“Prof’s Book” is what Top Gear’s James May described succinctlyas a Haynes Manual for Enigma cryptanalysis, when he was shown acopy at Bletchley Park earlier this year: it explains in simpleterms, but in all the detail necessary, how a cryptanalystapproaches an Enigma machine.

This is an opportunity to draw out the first of what we mightthink of as the lessons to identify from Turing’s career in Sigint:he was happy to learn from Dilly Knox, happy to use that knowledgeas the foundation for what he would develop subsequently, and wasdiligent in recording what he had learned and how he developed thatinto new areas so that others could profit from his knowledge justas he had profited from that of Knox. 

Knox could only take Turing so far and his quest forexperience-based understanding of the cryptanalysis of Enigma tookTuring to France in January 1940 where, at the invitation of ourFrench equivalents, he met the cryptanalysts who had escaped fromPoland when it was overrun. 

The mutual admiration between the battle scarred Polishmathematicians and their young British counterpart was palpable,and the Poles present at the meeting remembered it vividly. It isimportant to be aware of how much we can learn by sharing knowledgewith allies, not least simply by bringing specialiststogether.  The friendship and familiarity which grows upbetween specialists from different nations produces real synergy,an overused word, but one entirely appropriate for this case, asthe whole really is greater than the sum of the parts. 

Before we move on from this period, it’s worth reflecting onanother aspect of Turing’s early days at Bletchley Park: he askedto be given Naval Enigma as his problem.  The German Navy usedEnigma in a more sophisticated way than anybody else making it thehardest cryptanalytic problem facing Bletchley Park.  Whatattracted Turing was, first, that the problem was so complex, butsecond, and just as important, that the problem could be his.

This isn’t to say that he was being selfish, or that he wantedthe kudos which would come from a successful solution of theproblem; rather, that he saw that he could encompass the whole ofthe problem and get closer to a solution alone than as part of ateam which broke the unity of the problem by separating it intodifferent constituent parts. 

One of the reasons for the success of Bletchley Park, andsomething that I and Alasdair Denniston’s other successors havestriven to maintain in GCHQ, is the organisation’s ability to makespace to allow individuals to flourish, both in isolation, andwithin teams. I will be talking more about the importance ofrecognising and making space for the unique and differentcontribution that each person makes, but part of that recognitioncan often involve a leap of faith by the manager. 

Bringing Technology to bear

If I had to single out one piece of Turing’s legacy to GCHQtoday, it would be the way that his contribution was part of theirrevocable change that turned the Code and Cypher School frombeing the mainly cryptanalytic bureau it was between the wars tobecoming the highly technological intelligence organisation thatGCHQ is today. 

The development of the Bombe shows Turing’s ability to absorbsomebody else’s best idea and to take it so much further that itbecomes his. The Poles had developed a machine to speed up theprocess of discovering the message settings used for a particularmessage. Turing’s consideration of this Polish invention took himdown a different path.

He realised that it was much easier to disprove a bad hypothesisthan to prove a good one, and that by rejecting enough badhypotheses, valuable analyst time could be concentrated on workingmanually on the messages most susceptible to being broken.

This could work because of the way Bletchley Park used cribs.Cribs are the hypothesis about the plaintext underlying the ciphertext, for example postulating that a message will begin with a Fromaddress and a To address.

Cribs could be accurate because of the immense amount of workwhich went into traffic analysis: the process of developing anunderstanding of German communications networks which was goodenough to be able to predict the nature and the content of messagesbeing sent before the actual encrypted text had been broken, forexample recognising that a cluster of urgent messages to a group ofships indicated that they were about to put to sea.

This development was a major transformation: the understandingof enemy communications which Bletchley Park needed to supportcryptanalysis generated a whole separate service of predictiveintelligence, a contribution to the war effort as great as that ofthe actual message content it was decrypting. 

And the willingness with which the cryptanalysts embraced themechanisation of part of their work led to a more widespread andwholehearted adoption of a technological mindset which, as HerMajesty the Queen said when unveiling a memorial at Bletchley Parklast year, started to see technology as something that could bepitted against technology. 

At the same time, Turing himself had changed, had transformed.The man originally approached in 1938 was a theoretician, somebodywho worried about computability and the nature of numbers. But hehad now become a “doer”. 

The last significant part of Turing’s time at the Code andCypher School was spent investigating secure speech systems anddesigning a new one. To us at GCHQ it is self evident that thepeople best able to design secure communications system are thosewho are best at finding the weaknesses in other people’s systemsand exploiting them. 

Turing went to the United States to work with the Americans onthis project.  For him, of course, it was “back to the UnitedStates”, because he had studied for his PhD at PrincetonUniversity, but sending him to work on secure speech was a decisivestep in expanding UK US intelligence cooperation beyond a simplecryptanalytic exchange. The significance of sending Turing – one ofour greatest minds – to the US moved the relationship towards theclose partnership that we enjoy today. 

Skills, Diversity and Talent

I suppose that what I have said so far sounds a bit like anobituary, or an academic piece of research: it has been all aboutTuring’s contribution to allied success during the War. I want tothink a bit more about the man who achieved so much. 

Ever since modern Sigint was founded in 1914, cryptanalysts havebeen talked about as a race apart. The very earliest description ofa group of cryptanalysts at work comes from 1915: “These werethe decipherers and a rummier set of fellows I never came across inall my born days.” 

And of course there are many Turing stories: burying his silverbullion and then forgetting where he had buried it; chaining hismug to his radiator; cycling in his gas mask to ward off hay fever;all these play on a sense of eccentricity. But Turing was not aneccentric, unless you believe that there is only one way of beingnormal and to be otherwise is to be peculiar. Turing wasn’teccentric: he was unique. 

I strongly believe a Sigint agency needs the widest range ofskills possible if it is to be successful, and to deny itselftalent just because the person with the talent doesn’t conform to asocial stereotype is to starve itself of what it needs tothrive. 

And we exploit serendipity too: Geoffrey Tandy was posted toBletchley by the Admiralty in a spirit of helpfulness: his postingofficer had understood him to be an expert in cryptograms, a wordstill used in the Admiralty at that time to mean messages signalledin code.

In fact he was an expert in cryptogams: non-flowering plantslike ferns, mosses and seaweeds.  But while this knowledgemight not have appeared to be of much use, Tandy became expert inGerman naval Enigma and because of his work on seaweed was able toprovide unique advice on the preservation of cryptologic documentsrescued from the sea. 

Part of my job is to continue to foster that atmosphere: toattract the very best people and harness their talents, and notallow preconceptions and stereotypes to stifle innovation andagility. I want to harness the best talent there is not just sothat they can be inventive, but so that they can apply themselvesto the big issues of intelligence and security which challenge anorganisation which simply has to remain at the cutting edge inorder to survive and thrive. I want to apply and exploit theirtalent: in return, I think it’s fair that I don’t need to tell themhow to live their lives. 

The fact that Turing was unashamedly gay was widely known to hisimmediate colleagues at Bletchley Park: it wasn’t an issue. I don’twant to pretend that GCHQ was an organisation with twenty-firstcentury values in the twentieth century, but it was at the mosttolerant end of the cultural spectrum.

In an organisation which valued the skills and characteristicsthat difference can bring, Turing’s homosexuality was less of atalking point than his insights into the complex crypt problems ofthe day.  When he was put on trial, Hugh Alexander, the Headof Cryptanalysis at GCHQ went, with official approval, to speak asa character witness on his behalf, saying in court that Turing wasa national asset. 

We can’t rewrite the past. We can’t wish mid-twentieth centuryBritain into a different society with different attitudes.  Wecan be glad that we live in a more tolerant age.  And weshould remember that the cost of intolerance towards Alan Turingwas his loss to the nation. 

I will add one more thing which I don’t believe has come outduring this centenary year as much as I think it might have: it hasbecome a commonplace to say that “Alan Turing wasn’t a team player”- I want to challenge that. There are lots of different ways inwhich people can work as part of a team. Turing’s way was to takein other people’s ideas, develop and build on them, and then passthe product on to other people to be the foundation for the nextstage.

He took the idea of electromechanical processing of Enigmamessages from the Poles but developed their idea into somethingradically different. When Welchman later enhanced the Bombe withhis diagonal board, Turing was among the first to congratulate himon this major improvement. Turing was part of the team, and sharedin the success of the team. 

I’d like to take this further and look at how, in the rightenvironment, the best ideas are inspiring and will drive othersforward. It was because of the work already done by Turing thatWelchman and Newman became interested in designing and usingsystems and machines to support cryptanalysis. 

Welchman realised that for Bletchley Park to work at industrialscale, close cooperation between all the links of the Sigint chainwould be vital: intercept operators at stations, traffic analysts,cryptanalysts, linguists, reporters and the ultimate users.

The breakthrough is all very well, but if it can’t beconsistently and systematically exploited at tempo, then its valuecan’t be realised.  Unfortunately, the last years ofWelchman’s life were marred by a bitter dispute with GCHQ about theunauthorised publication of his book about Hut Six, but theimportance of his thinking about the way to manage Sigintefficiently cannot be overstated. 

Newman was working on the cryptanalysis of encipheredteleprinter, a much more complex and time-consuming problem thanEnigma. Newman was good at the work but disliked it.  Herealised that it should be possible to perform the statisticalaspects of their work with the help of rapid, special-purpose,electronic machinery capable of analysing paper tape at speeds offive thousand characters per second.

These requirements were brought to solution, not by amathematician, but by a Post Office Engineer, Tommy Flowers.Flowers’ route was the opposite of the mathematicians’: he was theson of a bricklayer who took evening classes while he was anapprentice in order to get a degree.

His background, when he came into contact with Bletchley Parkwas in switching – in designing telephone exchanges – but hedesigned and built COLOSSUS.  I’m not going to join theargument about whether or not COLOSSUS was the world’s firstcomputer, but the work done in Newman’s section undoubtedly led tomodern Information Technology. 

And these technological achievements built on Turing’s thinkingto move wartime Bletchley into being a high tech organisation andthat set us inexorably on the path to today’s GCHQ, wheretechnology lies at the very heart of our mission.  Engineersand technologists are an essential part of our successes. LikeFlowers, they are the people that design and implement a practicalapplication of a theoretical capability. Just as we need brilliantmathematicians and cryptanalysts, we need engineers to bring thosebrilliant ideas to life. 


One of the questions I posed to a couple of the GCHQ people whoare here with me this evening is: “What would Turing be doing if hewere with us today?”  The answer was immediate: “Cyber”.During the war, the technological challenge was to stay ahead ofthe Germans’ use of advanced technology by devising even moreadvanced technology.

Today, our challenges come from the explosion in the volume ofcommunications as well as the relentless increase in new ways ofaccessing and processing that volume. Then, code related simply tothe encryption of communications; today, code refers to the way inwhich we program IT systems. Then, the challenge was to identifyGerman and Japanese communications nodes; today, the challenge cansimply be to cope with the number of different communicationsoptions accessible simultaneously to intelligence targets.

Then, the challenge was to secure allied codes and ciphers toprevent the enemy doing to us what we were doing to them; today,securing cyberspace so that the UK and its allies can use it safelyto develop e-government and trade requires the collaboration ofexperts as diverse both personally and intellectually as any we sawat Bletchley Park. 

Bletchley Park was really about exploiting the adversary’sinformation risk, while minimising our own. Today the Internetprovides the virtual global landscape for an analogousstruggle. 

I also reflect on globalisation: a word often thought of asapplying to a modern phenomenon but is equally applicable to WorldWar II. State actors then, just as state and non-state actorstoday, were able to apply pressure and influence simultaneously atdifferent points around the globe.

What we developed was a worldwide network, a web if you like, ofSigint communications to ensure that all the necessary bits ofinformation could be moved as rapidly as possible to the place inthe world where they could be exploited to make adifference. 

Cyber also throws into sharp relief the need to work inpartnership with other countries which share the UK’s values andaims. The predominant partnership which dates from that era is ourrelationship with the United States, and we are also as close toAustralia, Canada and New Zealand today as we were then.  Butwe have to spread our partnerships beyond that particular grouping.I might also ask you to reflect on the fact that I talk of foreigncolleagues as partners: they are neither our servants nor ourmasters. 

Partnering with Academia

Meeting the cyber challenge of today and tomorrow in the face ofubiquitous and indispensable global communications will meancollaboration more broadly than just within Government or betweengovernments. Industry has a key role to play as we transform how wework to build cyber capacity, in order to enjoy the huge benefitsand economic advantages of the internet, at the same time asdefending ourselves against the threats to intellectualproperty. 

But I want to focus a little on academia. The creativeenvironment of Bletchley Park in the 30s and 40s, and of GCHQtoday, speaks to me about not being prescriptive about where thebest ideas come from, and accepting that they can come fromanywhere, whether in the organisation, or outside it. 

So it is good to see substantive signs of such partnering, forexample in the recognition of eight UK Universities as AcademicCentres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research – a vital step innurturing cyber security talent and in fostering cyber innovationthrough boosting research. And in the establishment of the firstacademic Research Institute to improve understanding of the sciencebehind cyber security.

This targeted investment will allow leading academics in thefield of cyber security, including social scientists,mathematicians, psychologists and computer scientists to worktogether in a virtual organisation, hosted by University CollegeLondon and under Director of Research Professor Angela Sasse. The Research Institute will not only join together differentdisciplines – it will connect with industry security experts andinternational researchers in the field. 

And we need to reach beyond the University level.  We mustinspire school children to study maths and science – we must findtomorrow’s Turings. My own organisation has a strong educationaloutreach programme: our STEM ambassadors support school scienceprojects nationally and a GCHQ father and son team run MathsMasterclasses for children.

This year we have linked The Times Cheltenham Science Festivalto Bletchley Park, allowing schoolchildren to tweet messagesencrypted on an Enigma machine in Cheltenham to the Turing Bombeteam at Bletchley who were able to tweet back the decrypts. It’s extraordinary to watch the achievements of the past inspirethe generation of tomorrow. 

Turing’s Legacy

A centenary is a good point at which to take stock, to reflect.Earlier this year, His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales unveileda memorial to all those who have served in Sigint andcommunications security at the National Memorial Arboretum inStaffordshire. I was struck by the significance and the importanceof remembrance. Any organisation like GCHQ, which is focused ontoday and tomorrow, runs the risk of losing sight of itsyesterday.

As the Foreign Secretary said recently, we must draw on ourhistory. We have been happy to provide artefacts and other input tothe Turing Centenary Exhibition at the Science Museum in London,which has been generously supported by Google. And we have releasedthe last of the important mathematical papers written by Turing atBletchley Park to The National Archives at Kew, and, via theirinternet digitisation programme, to the world.

In the end, we come down to a simple “so what”: in the longterm, does anything Turing did in the 1940s still matter? Well, yesit does. At one level, GCHQ mathematicians still use the ban, aunit of measurement originally devised by Turing and Jack Good toweigh the evidence for a hypothesis. And standards for securespeech systems take the design of the voice encryption systemdevised by Turing as their starting point. I could even talk – orperhaps invite one of my mathematicians to talk – about ourcontinuing use of Bayesian statistics to score hypotheses, in theway first developed by Turing and his cryptanalytic colleagues atBletchley. 

At a broader level, his legacy is just as tangible. Through our eyes, Turing was a founder of the Information Age: oneof the people whose concepts are at the heart of a technologicalrevolution which is as far reaching as the IndustrialRevolution.

Throughout the post-war era, we have continued to enjoy thebenefits of the abstract Turing machine model, from our 1980swashing machines to the mini computers we carry in our pocketstoday. Turing was part of a revolution which has led to atransformation of every aspect of our lives.
And the ethos that Turing and the other mathematicians introducedinto the Code and Cypher School continued beyond the catalyst ofwar into modern GCHQ too: use whatever tools you have; if there’s achance, go for it; foster unconstrained blue sky thinking to solvereal problems. We don’t just enjoy the intellectual stimulation ofpuzzles: we enjoy solving them for a purpose. 

A little known example of this is the work of three members ofGCHQ, James Ellis, Clifford Cocks and Malcolm Williamson oncommunications security. As early as 1975 they had developed theingenious mathematical concept of Public Key Cryptography. And that now forms the basis of almost all of the security productsin use on the Internet. 

The past may not be an absolute guide to the present, but thereare enduring lessons learned which we continue to focus ontoday.  Not least for me is that any organisation is the sumof its people. In GCHQ, as at the Code and Cypher School andBletchley Park, many people serve silently but are responsible forboth brilliant ideas and the application of those ideas into reallife solutions which ultimately have protected – and continued toprotect – the UK’s national security. 

So history can be a potent reminder of the enduringpre-requisites for success.   There are many parallelsbetween the way we work now and the way we worked then: ourworkforce is as diverse, as questioning, as dedicated, as wastheirs.  Our mission has technology at its heart: we aredriven by technological change as much as Bletchley Park everwas.

And the integration and transformation of our intelligence andsecurity mission is as important to me as it was to my predecessorof the day. We continue to be driven by inspiration, innovation andpartnerships, just as in Turing’s day. 

I’ve been struck this year by the expectation of my staff that Iwould be doing something for the Turing Centenary. Their attitudewasn’t so much: “I suppose you’ll have to get involved”, but rather”we want to see you making a big public deal of this”. I saidright at the start of this talk that I don’t want anybody to thinkthat we are trying to claim Turing as ours and nobody else’s; butequally, I want to highlight just how incredibly proud people atGCHQ are of our association with him. 

Let me conclude, though, by looking at Denniston, the Directorin 1938 who saw Turing and accepted him as a new type ofcryptanalyst for a new era. Obviously my job, like his, is to makesure that all of the wonderfully talented people we have retaintheir focus on the task set out for GCHQ by the government.

But what drives me, what will make me feel that I have in asmall way achieved a little of what Alastair Denniston did, comesfrom focusing not just on the outputs and achievements of GCHQ, buton fostering, protecting and developing a culture which prizespassion and dedication, in which today’s and tomorrow’s Turings canachieve as much as the genius, the man Alan Turing did.

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