Are the GCHQ/NSA revelations equivalent to giving up ENIGMA secrets to the Nazis?
Patrick Mercer is an Independent MP who was forced to leave the Tory party for lobbying earlier this year. Previously he served a decorated career in the army, leaving as a Colonel. Last week MI5’s new chief, Andrew Parker, made his first public speech in which he vilified Edward Snowden and the Guardian. My responses to Parker’s points are already written here, so I will turn my attention to Mercer, who did a supportive BBC interview.
Mercer, arguing that Snowden-esque data should not be published, said:
“If in any way our security is compromised by revealing too much, that’s a mistake. Just imagine if we had revealed the whole Enigma secret during the Second World War.
“That might have been in the public’s interest – but we’d have lost the war.”
Reasons Mercer’s comparison is utterly moronic and shouldn’t have been given the least prominence by the BBC and probably shouldn’t even get the limited coverage my blog provides:
– Enigma was not spying on British civilians.*
– Enigma could not spy on British civilians, because none of them were using German encryption to communicate with one another.
– Enigma was time-limited, since when the Germans were defeated it was useless.
– The Germans were explicitly using secret codes for military related matters in the war effort, so decoding their communiques was somewhat different to blanket harvesting and decoding the internet.
– Enigma was not also controlled by the Americans.
– Enigma was at least vaguely understood by the elected politicians in the Cabinet during the war, so had considerably more oversight despite more pressing circumstances.
– Enigma was used during a literal war against a defined, literal enemy with a specific code, not decoding any communication it picked up.
– Giving away the Enigma codes may *possibly* have lost the Allies the war, or made it last much longer. Snowden has already leaked their apparent equivalent, yet nothing bad has happened in the West. Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were able to commit the Boston Marathon bombing before Snowden’s leak.
– Revealing the details of Enigma clearly would not have been in the public’s interest during the war, because the public were not being spied upon (i.e. a 1940s Alan Rushbridger/ Edward Snowden wouldn’t have felt the need to do it).
-The Guardian are being very careful not to give away the really damaging stuff (compared, say, to wikileaks.)
– Near explicit Godwin’s Law.
*For linguistic simplicity, by ‘Enigma’ I mean the Allied deciphering programme in Bletchley Park, codenamed Source Ultra. ‘Enigma’ was actually just the name of the encryption machine, and so the Germans, Poles and French also used Enigma, and Japan and America had variants.