Why does the Bletchley Park Trust wish to airbrush Colossus out of history?

The Daily Mail press cover for the visit of the Duchess of Cambridge to Bletchley
includes a photograph of Collossus, hidden among the fashion photographs. That was more than was evident on the day. Apparently the Trust took down all the signs leading to the Colossus site, locked all the gates and invited none of team who helped the rebuild and ran the school visits and tours during Bletchley’s lean times before the lottery donation. 


And why has there been no acceptance of the many offers to help mediate the dispute between the Trust and the Museum that is getting in the way of fund-raising for both?

There appear to be a number of reasons: from commercial, through personal to the legacy of Bletchley’s cold war role, in which some of the Computer museum’s supporters and volunteers played parts which are still secret. 

The commercial disputes range from rivalry for funding, tenancy agreements and the role of volunteers in a “modern” museum.  There seem to be many “obvious” ways forward, given goodwill on both sides, but the role of volunteers is more complex when some have memories that are still covered by the Official Secrets Act.  

The personality disputes appear more complex and some appear to date back to the cold war “tensions” regarding the role of the UK security services that were brought to a head by the actions of Peter Wright and his colleagues over what they supposedly learned in the course of surveillance operations. We are still living with consequences of the termination of plans to be more open about the nature and governance of UK surveillance operations that followed Wright’s publication of Spycatcher after he had been denied a pension.

That brings us to the apparent policy of removing reference to the symbiotic relationship between the surveillance and computing : from sigint and cryptanalysis to search engines and deep packet inspection, from Colossus to the ICL 2900 series (the design of which was, in significant part, dictated by the requirements of the lead customer for the 2980 – GCHQ).

The current dispute is symptomatic of our inability to have an informed, rational and constructive debate on how to reconcile privacy, surveillance and security (personal not “just” state) in a democratic society.

We take sides, backing the “the Guardian” or “GCHQ”.

Meanwhile the statements of those who actually understand today’s use of the “Big Data” techniques and technologies pioneered at Bletchley commonly combine intellectual schizophrenia, moral hypocrisy and greed (whether for research funding or commercial gain).

Hence the importance of breaking down the barriers between the Theme Park and the Museum . We need to fund both sets of activity, properly, but also to join them, so that our children and grandchildren can learn the truth, not just the mix of simplifications and myths, interspersed with a few lies (some necessary, most not) that we feed those too immature to handle the truth. I hope that we might also use the opportunity to undo some of the damage done by Peter Wright and publicly contrast the governance structures of GCHQ (which so frustrated him – and for very good reason – as he himself demonstrated) with those of other agencies and of the private sector suppliers in whom they have so misplaced their trust (including those who designed the systems abused by Edward Snowden and then vetted and employed him).     

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It's a little-known fact - but definitely not a secret - that after the war, not all the GC&CS Colossi were destroyed; contrary to official doumentation of the time, a couple "disappeared", and it's reckoned they landed in Cheltenham. As the use of Enigma-based cryptography carried on in some parts of the world until the '70s, it's no surprise that the wartime work at Bletchley Park had to remain secret for so long.

One thing I'd definitely like to see more coverage of, though, is the fact that, while those of us not involved in surveillance and intelligence gathering can't know for sure what actually happens to metadata gathered from telco-based intercept capabilities, there's a very good reason why it might be necessary to apparently gather all the metadata that's going, from a telco perspective. If we can assume that the protection of the contents of the intercept target list has an even higher priority than the lawful interception of information associated with the communications of the parties on that list, it makes sense to use a zero-knowledge proof until the metadata can be brought into a sufficiently secure environment that knowledge of the list's contents can be employed to filter the metadata without any risk of insufficiently-cleared people being able to infer anything sensitive - and the obvious way to implement that zero-knowledge proof, is to gather metadata associated with *all* communications.

Of course, this raises the question of whether "mass surveillance" as described in the media is real or not - but it certainly gives a further angle on how so many 0s and 1s can be sent off to sensitive places, while the sensitive places themselves can continue to assert that they operate wholly within the law.