Imitation Game Movie – Is A Single Fact Related By This Movie Actually True?

Dr Sue Black [UCL, saving the Bletchley Park activist] explains how much the true story of breaking Enigma during the WW2 is not at all what the movie shows us, and explains that though so many things in the movie are just totally historically inaccurate,  it would be somewhat very difficult to tell the real story of Turing’s life in a 2 hours movie.

On the contrary, having watched the movie myself, it seems to me that to never ever tell us the actual truth,  is somewhat a deliberate choice here.

One of the main points in this movie is that code breaking activity works better if you are able to conceal the truth… to the point where maybe your boss would not know what you are doing.

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This is another remarkable inaccuracy in this movie. It is clear that the bosses of Alan Turing knew very well what he (and others) has achieved, and how it was achieved. However it is also very true that there was some sort of latent war between Turing and his management, that Turing was not very easy to manage. Cryptologists were brave, had to shoulder a lot of responsibility  and helped each other, and did the right thing many times, sometimes against all odds, and sometimes against the management.

Turing has worked in a company of people… who are capable of dissimulating the truth about their work for years and whole decades. If Turing maybe didn’t do such things, others did… We know numerous examples.

For example most US presidents didn’t know what the NSA was doing with the money they requested for decades (e.g. operation Venona). Politicians were not trusted enough to be ever told the whole truth.

Another known example is the fact that the Polish code-breakers during the WW2 have dissimulated 50% of all decrypted messages from the French intelligence, a whole lot of important and valuable intelligence, and this was kept secret for a period of 30 years, this even though they were working on the French territory and paid by the French intelligence services. Apart from the fact that a number of people who had knowledge of these things died in mysterious circumstances during and after the WW2, this is perfectly normal.
Quite interestingly code breakers have however shared their expertise, achievements and countless concrete daily keys  with Bletchley Park and Turing himself. For example on one day in early 1940 code breakers at BP were really desperate: they could not read a single Enigma message in spite of all the efforts… The solution was that Turing was sent to France on 17 January 1940 to meet his friends. This after the head of British intelligence Stewart Menzies asked French colonel Rivet (10 January, exactly 75 years ago!!!) to send Polish cryptoplogists to BP, which was refused, and after Dilly Knox threatening his management (in writing) with quitting his job, if they would not agree for Turing to be be allowed to travel to France. In few hours his problem was solved… Thus the first wartime decryption of Enigma took place… on January 17th, in France in presence of Turing, conducted by Rejewski, and with a set of Zygalski’s sheets manufactured by the British, graciously offered to the Polish-French code breaking service by Turing, which was basically what they have promised to deliver much earlier.

This early success had many fathers. (Later in 1940 very substantial developments made this attack obsolete and better attacks were invented and implemented by the rising new generation of cryptologists such as Turing and Welchman).

This movie is a strong signal for the security community and people who aspire to work for it. Churchill used to say “truth is so precious that she should be attended by a bodyguard of lies”.  Some people naively believed that this era is over… In reality it is back and stronger than ever. It is in the DNA of the security community.

 

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