► VIDEO | The First Cyber Campaign: Bletchley Park and the ‘Extraordinary’ Conditions for Intelligence Success

VIDEO | February 24, 2021 12 p.m. EDT

Jon Lindsay, University of Toronto

Cosponsored by the School of History and Sociology and the School of Cybersecurity and Privacy


There is a huge literature about Bletchley Park, one of the most stunning success stories in intelligence history. Yet questions remain about how to explain the extent and persistence of British signals intelligence success. This case takes on renewed importance in an era of endemic cyber conflict. Indeed, the cryptologic contest of World War II, a duel between encryption and decryption machines, might be described as the first cyber conflict. This essay develops a practice-based account of the exploitation and protection of the human and machine performances that facilitate organizational control. I infer three necessary but hard to meet conditions for intelligence success and show how Bletchley park met all three of them. First, shared sociotechnical protocols for communication and computation provide the potential for deception. Second, the intelligence agency combines the strengths of both top-down management and bottom-up adaptation. Third, the intelligence target combines the weaknesses of both organizational modes. If these conditions are met, then an organization can construct a secret information channel for collection or influence, but even this success will only ever have an indirect effect on political or military outcomes. Modern intelligence operations in and through global information infrastructure depend on these same conditions, although meeting them is often more difficult. 


Jon R. Lindsay is Assistant Professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy and in the Department of Political Science at the University of Toronto. His research explores the impact of emerging technology on global security. He is the author of Information Technology and Military Power (Cornell University Press, 2020), co-editor of Cross-Domain Deterrence: Strategy in an Era of Complexity (Oxford University Press, 2019) and China and Cybersecurity: Espionage, Strategy, and Politics in the Digital Domain (Oxford University Press, 2015), and has published widely in international relations, technology policy, and science studies. He holds a Ph.D. in Political Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an M.S. in Computer Science and B.S. in Symbolic Systems from Stanford University. He has also served in the U.S. Navy with operational assignments in Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East.