Speech at Bletchley Park

"Bletchley Park was the scene of one of the finest achievements in our nation’s history."

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government
The Rt Hon William Hague

It is truly an honour to be here at Bletchley Park. I am very grateful to Sir John Scarlett, the Trustees and Bletchley staff; to the many volunteers who have given their time here over the years; and to Iain Lobban and all our guests today.

But I am most grateful of all to the Bletchley Park veterans who have joined us. I have just had an inspirational tour of some of the huts and blocks that you worked in. And I am not going to forget being guided through the workings of the Bombe machines by two of your colleagues. I believe I speak for many of us working in government and politics today when I say that we strive to live up to and build on your generation’s achievements on behalf of our country.

Bletchley Park was the scene of one of the finest achievements in our nation’s history: the systematic deciphering of encrypted enemy communications throughout the Second World War - including the supposedly ‘unbreakable’ Enigma cipher and the even more challenging Lorenz machine - through mathematical genius, technological innovation and sheer hard work.

This Park was the nerve centre of all British code breaking activities during War. Communications intercepted here in Britain and as far away as Australia and India were brought here for decoding and deciphering, and then sent in great secrecy to the government in London and all over the world to support British and Allied military planning.

The Chief of SIS, “C”, personally delivered boxes of intercepts to Winston Churchill throughout the war. And the connection with the Foreign Office was particularly close. On average more than 1,000 decrypted reports were sent to the Foreign Office each month on scores of countries from Abyssinia to Yugoslavia, many of them to be read directly by the Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden.

Today we are releasing for the first time a letter Eden sent to “C” marked “personal and most secret” after he read particular telegrams enciphered in the German diplomatic code. They had just been broken after months of effort. From the warmth of the message and his decision to write immediately you gain a strong sense of just how important Bletchley’s work was to the war effort.

And it was done here, in cold, cramped and unheated huts, in the most Spartan of conditions, in utter secrecy, and while the whole country was engaged in a struggle for national survival.

1943, for example, was the year in which Montgomery’s Eighth Army defeated Rommel’s forces in North Africa and invaded Sicily and Italy; when the Battle of the Atlantic between British merchant ships and German U-Boats reached its climax; when RAF 617 Squadron launched the ‘Dambuster’ Raids; when British midget submarines crippled the battleship Tirpitz at anchor in Norway, and when Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin met in Tehran to agree plans for the invasion of Europe. During that time more than 14,000 cables were decrypted for the Foreign Office while a much greater number of people were working here against the Axis military targets.

We can only imagine what it must have been like for everyone who laboured to break codes under the intense pressure of those events, knowing that the encrypted messages they held in their hands contained information that could save British and Allied lives if only they could decipher it in time. And we can only marvel at the skill needed to adapt the information obtained into a form that would enable it to be used without giving away the fact that the codes had been broken.

The men and women of Bletchley truly are heroes for our nation; and for those of us looking back on their achievements they will always be giants in our history.

Without the code-breaking geniuses of Bletchley Park our country would have been at a devastating disadvantage during the war. And without the men and women of GCHQ and our other intelligence agencies we could not protect Britain today. There is an unbroken chain connecting their achievements.

The story of Bletchley is only really now being told in full because it was shrouded in secrecy for so long. More than 30,000 people in total had worked in Sigint or had received ULTRA intelligence by the end of the war, but not a single one of them breathed a word of Bletchley’s secrets in the thirty years that followed. That is another measure of their ethos and their service to our country, and one that can never be measured in codes broken and telegrams deciphered.

But it is also equally true of the men and women of GCHQ and of our other intelligence agencies today.

I have the immense privilege of being responsible for GCHQ and SIS as Foreign Secretary. I know that their dedication, technical brilliance and remarkable achievements more than live up to the accomplishments of Bletchley Park, and that they too keep vital secrets of behalf of our nation.

Today, Bletchley Park’s wartime achievement symbolise our country’s ability to draw on the very best intelligence-gathering capability, individual creative genius, cutting-edge technology and international partnerships to overcome serious threats to our country.

The patient accumulation of ideas, experience and analysis including from partners in Poland and France; the constant improvement of technology; the gradual modifying of approach and scaling up our effort with the United States; and of course flashes of sheer inspiration; these were the things that lay at the heart of Bletchley Park’s success.

And such accumulation of expertise is indeed the foundation of all that our country excels at in the world; in diplomacy, security and defence as much as in science or culture.

Our Government believes that we must value and take pride in British history, and ensure that that where Britain has built up a strategic advantage or capability in the world we invest in it, to be absolutely sure that we retain it for the future.
It is part of the living legacy of Bletchley Park that Britain today is an international leader in cyber security.

In the years since the Second World War GCHQ’s international reputation and technological capabilities have grown to embrace a world in which we are dependent on computer and communications networks in every area of life, and in which we face constant and growing threats from crime and attacks in cyberspace.

So in celebrating Bletchley and our past we are also celebrating world-beating skills and capabilities which continue today and Britain’s international role. Our Government is determined to preserve this and to build on it for the future.

In early March we announced the establishment of Academic Centres of Excellence in Cyber Security Research and in September the first Research Institute for the Science of Cyber Security was established.

We have decided to give £480,000 in Foreign Office funding for the preservation and restoration of Bletchley Park for the nation. This has unlocked £5 million of Heritage Lottery Funding, which will allow the Trust to restore many more of the code-breaking buildings and exhibit more of the work that was done here, and provide an even richer educational experience for the thousands of people that come to Bletchley Park today.

And we are launching or intensifying three schemes to ensure that our country invests in the next generation of young mathematical and computer science geniuses.

In the year in which we celebrate the centenary of the birth of Alan Turing, one of the finest mathematical minds our country has ever known and a leading light at Bletchley, we want to step up our efforts to find the most talented people to help sustain and secure the UK’s code-breaking and cyber expertise for the future.

Young people are the key to our country’s future success, just as they were during the War. When Churchill visited Bletchley after the war and addressed staff on the front lawn he said “I knew you were all mad but I didn’t realise you were quite so young”. It will be the young innovators of this generation who will help keep our country safe in years to come against threats which are every bit as serious as some of those confronted in the Second World War.

Today we are not at war, but I see evidence every day of deliberate, organised attacks against intellectual property and government networks in the United Kingdom from cyber criminals or foreign actors with the potential to undermine our security and economic competitiveness. This is one of the great challenges of our time, and we must confront it to ensure that Britain remains a world leader in cyber security and a preeminent safe space for e-commerce and intellectual property online.

So today, I am announcing a new development programme for Apprentices, which will help to identify and develop talent in school and university age students and give opportunities to 70 new recruits for GCHQ and our other Intelligence Agencies.

Second, this year’s National Cipher Challenge starts today, an annual competition run by the University of Southampton and sponsored by GCHQ for schools to get involved in learning about cyber skills, including ciphers and code-breaking.

Third, GHCQ will introduce a new recruitment policy aimed at attracting a wider pool of cyber expertise by moving to an open-door and continuous recruitment strategy. GCHQ will no longer only recruit annually, and it will be looking not only for those with a university degree but those with relevant experience or vocational qualifications so that we attract a wider pool of cyber talent.

One of my favourite stories about Bletchley Park, which Iain drew to my attention, was the decision by the Admiralty to post one Geoffrey Tandy here because he was believed to be an expert in cryptograms or messages signalled in code. In fact, he was an expert in cryptogams, which are plants like mosses, ferns and seaweeds. Happily he turned out to have excellent advice on preserving documents rescued at sea, which just goes to show how useful wide expertise can be. Although it has to be said that of all the issues Iain has raised with me over the last two years, a shortage of seaweed experts at GCHQ has not been among them.

And as a symbol of the contribution that GCHQ makes to our international relationships today as well as of our pride in the past, I have decided that the Enigma machine which they have kindly agreed to give to the Foreign Office will be displayed in the Ambassador’s Waiting Room next to my own office, where every guest who comes to see me will be able to see it.

This all comes on top of our continuing work to protect the United Kingdom’s networks from threats in cyberspace including cyber attack and cyber crime through our National Cyber Security Strategy, and our diplomatic efforts to secure international agreement on behaviour in cyberspace which began with the London Conference on cyberspace last year and continued in Budapest earlier this month. We are investing in ways of sharing our cyber capability with countries with weaker defences than our own, and we are calling for a new consensus about protecting human rights and freedom of expression online.

So we are working to draw on the UK’s history and reputation, on our skills and capabilities in cyberspace, on our talented young people, on our operational intelligence partnerships with other countries, and on our ability to give international diplomatic leadership to keep our country safe, secure and prosperous in the long term. By doing this we can confidently preserve and build on all that the men and women of Bletchley Park worked so hard themselves to secure for our nation.

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Published 18 October 2012