We hear a lot about spying in the media – often (allegedly) involving the Russians or the Iranians. There’s currently an issue in the news involving a British citizen sentenced to life imprisonment in Iran, apparently for spying.
Another Great talk at Probus this week by member Keith told us the story of a piece of nifty WW1 decoding of secret messages that prevented the Germans from getting back into a stronger position in the War.
Apart from being a cracking tale of spycraft, technology and world politics it brought out the role of luck and the stereotype of the plucky British amateur succeeding against all odds.
The start of WW1 saw the British cut communication links available to the Germans, forcing them to use a British transatlantic undersea cable to transmit an encrypted message to Mexico. The German intention was to get Mexico to declare war on USA in order for them to regain the southern US states – hoping that this would divert/ prevent US joining with The Allies against Germany.
- The luck came from the British obtaining old coding books from a German warship stuck on a sandbank.
- The stereotype came from an enthusiastic couple of decoders occupying a spare room (room 40) in the Admiralty in London.
A precursor of Bletchley Park in WW2, Room 40 deduced what the telegram meant, and their political masters found a way to tell the Americans without giving away the source of their information -and the US joined in on our side!
The rest, as they say, is history!
I guess that these days spying, eavesdropping and general political skulduggery involves much more advanced technology – though I suspect that chance and individual sparks of initiative still have their place.
I wonder if there’s been any skulduggery during the whole Brexit saga? Surely not!