You're reading: Posts Tagged: Bletchley Park

Bletchley Park Turing First Day Cover

For my recent birthday I was given a wonderful present: a special UK stamp commemorating Alan Turing, who was born 100 years ago today. The stamp was issued by the Royal Mail not for the Turing centenary but as one of a series of special stamp sets to mark the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee.

This stamp is particularly special because it is one of 1000 which originated at the Bletchley Park Post Office that were stuck onto a specially designed envelope (Turing, mathematics and patterns) and cancelled on the day the stamp was issued, 23 February 2012, using a special Bombe-themed postmark.

Loebner tires of Loebner Prize, discusses future of thinking machines

TechRepublic have published an interview with Hugh Loebner, originator of the Loebner Prize competition, in which he discusses the prize and the future of thinking machines.

2012 Loebner Prize to be held at Bletchley Park & streamed online

The 2012 Loebner Prize competition (based on the Turing test) will be held at Bletchley Park. A Bletchley Park Trust press release explains the competition procedure:

The judges at the competition will conduct conversations with the four finalist chatbots and with some human surrogates, and will then rank all their conversation partners from most humanlike to least humanlike. The chatbot with the highest overall ranking wins the prize [a bronze medal and $7,000].

The competition will take place on 15 May 2012, starting at 1:00pm. Visitors to the Park will be able to follow the conversations on screens in the Mansion and these will also be streamed live online for the first time.

Source: Bletchley Park To Host Loebner Prize Competition.

Alan Turing papers on code breaking released by GCHQ

The BBC reports that two papers by Alan Turing, believed to have been written while he was working at Bletchley Park, have been released by GCHQ. The papers, ‘The Applications of Probability to Crypt’, and ‘Paper on the Statistics of Repetitions’, apparently use mathematical analysis to try and determine which are the more likely Enigma settings so that they can be tried as quickly as possible.

The article quotes “a GCHQ mathematician” saying that GCHQ had now “squeezed the juice” out of the two papers and was “happy for them to be released into the public domain”, but that the fact that the contents had been restricted “shows what a tremendous importance it has in the foundations of our subject”. The two papers are now available to view at the National Archives at Kew, west London.

Source: Alan Turing papers on code breaking released by GCHQ.


Behind closed doors: the Spanish intelligence service

When I was a student there was a door in the basement of the university library marked “This door must remained closed at all times”. I remember joking that perhaps no one could remember what was behind it, and of course they couldn’t check.

The BBC are reporting that GCHQ have received two Engima machines used in the Spanish civil war, in exchange for a German four rotor Naval Enigma machine recovered from Flensburg in May 1945, an Enigma rotor box and related documents.

The machines were apparently discovered “almost by chance, only a few years ago, in a secret room at the Spanish Ministry of Defence in Madrid.” The BBC quotes Felix Sanz, the director of Spain’s intelligence service, saying:

Nobody entered there because it was very secret, and one day somebody said ‘Well if it is so secret, perhaps there is something secret inside.’ They entered and saw a small office where all the encryption was produced during not only the civil war but in the years right afterwards.

It’s good to hear the Spanish intelligence service is taking secrecy so seriously, to almost Monty Python levels of silliness.

An interesting article, it also gives a hint at international co-operation. Mr Sanz is quoted saying:

In today’s world it is impossible to work alone. You need friends and allies. I knock at the door of the British intelligence – all three agencies – as many occasions as I need it and I always get a response. And I hope on the occasion where the British services knock at my door, when they leave my house they leave with a sense they have been helped also.

I find this last sentence interesting. It may be entirely coincidental, or a product of translation, but it doesn’t actually say that he helps the British intelligence services. This reminds me of a joke in the opening episode of the excellent Yes, Minister, in which the meeting of the Minister, Jim Hacker, and his civil servant Sir Humphrey, contains the following dialogue:

Bernard Woolley: “I believe you know each other.”
Sir Humphrey: “Yes, we did cross swords when the Minister gave me a grilling over the estimates in the Public Accounts Committee.”
Jim Hacker: “I wouldn’t say that.”
Sir Humphrey: “You came up with all of the questions I hoped nobody would ask.”
Jim Hacker: “Well, opposition is about asking awkward questions.”
Sir Humphrey: “And government is about not answering them.”
Jim Hacker: “Well, you answered all mine anyway.”
Sir Humphrey: “I’m glad you thought so, Minister.”

Spanish link in cracking the Enigma code

The BBC has reported that a pair of Enigma machines used in the Spanish Civil War have been given to the head of GCHQ, Britain’s communications intelligence agency. Apparently these machines are two of “around two dozen” discovered “a few years ago, in a secret room at the Spanish Ministry of Defence in Madrid.” The article explains how these “fill in a missing chapter in the history of British code-breaking”. Apparently the use of commercial Enigma machines between Spain and Germany during the Spanish Civil War gave British codebreakers access to live traffic, since military signals used within Germany were too weak to hear in Britain. Within six or seven months, in April 1937, Dilly Knox produced his first decryption of an Enigma message.

As to how this relates to the better known Enigma story, the article explains that:

The machines used in Spain were modified versions of the commercial Enigma machine. The military machine that would be used by Germany during World War II was an order of magnitude more secure because a plugboard was attached to the front.

These more complex signals are where the better known Polish/Bletchley Park story of Enigma fits into the story.

The BBC explains the trade made for the two Enigma machines:

In return the UK handed over a number of items including a German four rotor Naval Enigma machine recovered from Flensburg in May 1945, an Enigma rotor box and related documents. The idea is that this could serve as the foundation of a display on code-making and code-breaking at the Spanish Army Museum

One machine will be held at GCHQ and the other will be placed on public display at Bletchley Park. The full article gives some interesting insight from the GCHQ historian and the director of Spain’s intelligence service.

Source: BBC News – The Spanish link in cracking the Enigma code.