[ISN] Code-breaker who kept war secrets until world knew

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Wed Sep 26 2001 - 01:48:20 PDT

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    Tracey Lawson
    Wednesday, 26 Sep 2001
    FOR MORE than 50 years, Ann Mitchell kept the secret of the role she
    played in helping the British beat the Nazi war machine.
    While raising her family in post-war Edinburgh, she spoke not a single
    word about the years she spent cracking enemy codes at British
    intelligence headquarters at Bletchley Park.
    Only now, as the world of the Second World War code-breakers is
    depicted in the film Enigma, has Mrs Mitchell revealed that she was
    part of a secret army which deciphered Nazi messages and helped the
    Allies to win the war.
    After attending a special preview of the film starring Kate Winslet
    and the Scottish actor Dougray Scott as code-breakers at the
    Buckinghamshire intelligence unit, Mrs Mitchell revealed why she
    finally feels able to break her promise to take the secret of Enigma
    to her grave.
    The 78-year-old grandmother said: "The first time I ever remember
    speaking about Enigma was when I saw that another code-breaker had
    written a book about his experience. I said to [my husband] Angus, he
    cant write about that. We all signed the Official Secrets Act.
    "Then suddenly more books came out from other code-breakers and while
    on one hand it seemed all right to speak about Enigma, part of me
    still felt we might all get into trouble. Only now do I really feel
    that the veil of secrecy has been lifted and we are finally getting
    recognition for what we did."
    Mrs Mitchell was 20-year-old Ann Williamson when she was recruited to
    work at the top-secret Buckinghamshire establishment after studying
    maths at Oxford University.
    For more than two years she worked in Enigma Hut 6, as part of the
    British intelligence effort to decipher the secret code used by the
    Nazis to transmit intelligence about troop movements.
    Dubbed by the then prime minister Winston Churchill as his "Golden
    Geese", the code-breakers methodically typed possible code
    combinations into specially designed machines similar to modern
    Each night the young workers would first have to break the Nazis red
    code. The race was then on to decipher the yellow and green codes .
    At the stroke of midnight each night, the battle to crack the red code
    recommenced, as the Germans switched their messaging system daily in
    an attempt to foil British intelligence.
    The discovery of the Enigma code has been credited with shortening the
    war by at least two years, often allowing the British government to
    know where German troops were moving to before the soldiers were aware
    of it themselves.
    But such was the nature of Mrs Mitchells task, that she had no
    day-to-day indication of how significant her achievements were.
    She said: "We knew we were cracking Hitlers codes and we knew we were
    doing well as every day we cracked every new code, but we never really
    knew what direct effect our work was having.
    "We never knew what was in the full messages as we were always too
    busy moving on to the next code.
    "We just knew we had to battle against the clock."
    In 1945, on the day the war ended, Mrs Mitchell was told her services
    were no longer required and was instructed to forget about Enigma and
    her work at Bletchley Park.
    For more than 50 years, she honoured the commitment, telling her
    family that she simply worked for the Ministry of Defence.
    Even when her husband, Angus, regaled their four children with his
    exploits in the 1944 Normandy landings, she did not reveal her own
    war-time role.
    Mr Mitchell, who was a senior civil servant in the Scottish Office,
    said that while surprised at his wifes revelation, he had always known
    she was capable of remarkable things.
    He said: "When the war ended no-one really spoke about what they did.
    "It was quite a surprise to learn that she worked on Enigma, but I
    always knew she was a highly intelligent woman so I wasnt shocked."
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