UK to pardon genius wartime cryptanalyst convicted of ‘indecency’

Alan TuringBy IAN ALLEN | |
One of the greatest mathematical minds of modern times, who is widely considered the father of computer science and is credited with helping the Allies win World War II, is to receive a posthumous pardon by the British government, who in 1952 convicted him of homosexuality. Alan Turing, a mathematician and logician, with careers at the universities of Cambridge and Princeton, worked as a cryptanalyst for the British government during World War II. His work for Britain’s Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) at Bletchley Park, the British Armed Forces’ wartime joint codebreaking center, was instrumental in helping the British crack German military ciphers. Turing is personally credited with devising a complex method for compromising the Enigma machine, a highly secretive message-encoding device used by the German military and intelligence services. In 1952, while working for the Department of Mathematics at the University of Manchester, Turing was charged with “gross indecency” under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act of 1885, which criminalized homosexuality. After pleading guilty to having a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old unemployed man, Turing was convicted and given a choice of imprisonment or undergoing “chemical castration”. The latter was a hormonal treatment based on injections of synthetic estrogen, aimed at reducing a person’s sexual drive. Turing chose the latter option, which rendered him impotent and caused massive chemical imbalance in his brain. In 1954, he took his own life by eating an apple laced with cyanide. In September 2012, the country’s then-Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, issued an informal personal apology for what he described as the “appalling” treatment that Turing had received from British authorities for being gay. In October of that year, Iain Lobban, Director of GCHQ, the institutional descendant of Bletchley Park, praised Turing’s legacy in a rare public speech. And late last week, the British government said it was prepared to support a Parliamentary bill that would officially pardon Turing. The proposed legislation, called “the Alan Turing statutory pardon bill”, is expected to be debated at the Houses of Parliament at the end of October.


4 Responses to UK to pardon genius wartime cryptanalyst convicted of ‘indecency’

  1. Pete says:

    A tragic case of injustice and intolerance. The secrecy of Turing’s war record meant he couldn’t be described as a war hero in his post-war court case.

    There are some parallels with Oppenheimer. Both wouldn’t have gotten extremely Top Secret jobs but for the WWII emergency. In both cases the security departments – Manhattan Project-FBI and Bletchley-MI5 – knew of Oppenheimer’s communist sympathies and Turing’s homosexuality respectively.

    However After the war both were persecuted or prosecuted for the traits tolerated during the war.

  2. Tom says:

    By saying that “Turing is personally credited with devising a complex method for compromising the Enigma machine” you are twisting the facts, as Turing devised his tool based on the works of Polish mathematicians, mainly Marian Rejewski, Jerzy Różycki and Henryk Zygalski.

    I have to admit, I did not expect such mistreatment of the memory of the Polish input to stopping World War II.

  3. Pete says:


    No I don’t think the Poles developed the codebreaking to the point of cracking the codes on a working daily basis, though their theory and early provision of a German Enigma machine helped .

    Turing’s and less prominent codebreakers iterative interaction with a multinational UKUSA like effort of 10,000s at Bletchley, Commonwealth countries, Pearl Harbour and Washington DC were the practical reasons the codes were broken. Turing’s major developments in computing was another key ingredient. Subsequent RN and US Navy seizing of Enigma machines also helped.


  4. Peter Wallerberger says:

    Pete / Tom – Yes, yes -but much more important than all this – ‘can someone please tell me under what
    tree @ Bletchley Park Mr Turing hid all his valuable loot ? I’m sure there must be a someone out there who has a 5 figure formulae that when overlaid on the park, will solve this puzzel .?(Paul B ?)

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