Alan Turing and his homosexuality

  • #1
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I remember I watched a documentary where they mentioned Alan Turing, a British logician, was considered a security risk once his homosexuality became open. I exactly remember they used the word "security risk". Why was he considered a security risk? I have been to Wikipedia and seems answers lies somewhere in this portion, perhaps you could help:

In January 1952, Turing met Arnold Murray outside a cinema in Manchester. After a lunch date, Turing invited Murray to spend the weekend with him at his house, an invitation which Murray accepted although he did not show up. The pair met again in Manchester the following Monday, when Murray agreed to accompany Turing to the latter's house. A few weeks later Murray visited Turing's house again, and apparently spent the night there.[46]

After Murray helped an accomplice to break into his house, Turing reported the crime to the police. During the investigation, Turing acknowledged a sexual relationship with Murray. Homosexual acts were illegal in the United Kingdom at that time,[47] and so both were charged with gross indecency under Section 11 of the Criminal Law Amendment Act 1885, the same crime for which Oscar Wilde had been convicted more than fifty years earlier.[48]

Turing was given a choice between imprisonment or probation conditional on his agreement to undergo hormonal treatment designed to reduce libido. He accepted chemical castration via oestrogen hormone injections.

Turing's conviction led to the removal of his security clearance, and barred him from continuing with his cryptographic consultancy for GCHQ. At the time, there was acute public anxiety about spies and homosexual entrapment by Soviet agents,[50] because of the recent exposure of the first two members of the Cambridge Five, Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean, as KGB double agents. Turing was never accused of espionage but, as with all who had worked at Bletchley Park, was prevented from discussing his war work.

[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alan_Turing#Conviction_for_indecency]
 

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  • #2
f95toli
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Because -as is stated in the text- homosexuality was illegal and there was a huge social stigma. This means that you were suceptible to blackmail; or at least that was the general idea.
Also, back then homosexulity was considered to be a mental illness, meaning the mere fact that you were gay meant that a lot of people thought that you couldn't be trusted with anything (nevermind top secret information).
 
  • #3
Pythagorean
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I'm not sure, but if it was a crime at the time, then he could be blackmailed for any future nondisclosed criminal activity.

If you can be blakcmailed, then you can't work for intelligence agencies.
 
  • #4
Danger
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Yeah, it was definitely a blackmail situation. Same thing as if you were back 20 or 30 years ago and caught a married man with a woman other than his wife. Nowadays it's just shrugged off as normal, but in those days it was scandalous.
 
  • #5
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once his homosexuality became open.
Emphasis mine.

This means that you were suceptible to blackmail.
How was this blackmail supposed to work?

Edit: Never mind. I see it now. There was a tribe of aboriginals living along the Amazon who didn't yet know. The Germans might come to him and threaten to tell them unless he agreed to tell them how the Enigma machine worked.
 
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  • #6
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Emphasis mine.


How was this blackmail supposed to work?

Edit: Never mind. I see it now. There was a tribe of aboriginals living along the Amazon who didn't yet know. The Germans might come to him and threaten to tell them unless he agreed to tell them how the Enigma machine worked.
Hi Jimmy

What was the need for 'emphasis'? Was there some grammar related mistake? Please let me know.

I don't understand that example of aboriginals of Amazon involving Enigma machine. Please help.
 
  • #7
arildno
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It should be noted that in 1951, the Cambridge Five spies Guy Burgess and Maclean made their disappearance.

Burgess was homosexual, MacLean was bisexual*.

These recent events hardly made the disclosure of Turing's sexuality in 1952-53 less scandalous.
That he lost his security clearance given the context of the infamous Cambridge Five group isn't too surprising.

*( Strangely enough, the wiki-entry on MacLean says he was recruited as a..straight penetration agent..http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Donald_Duart_Maclean )
 
  • #8
Integral
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Emphasis mine.


How was this blackmail supposed to work?

Edit: Never mind. I see it now. There was a tribe of aboriginals living along the Amazon who didn't yet know. The Germans might come to him and threaten to tell them unless he agreed to tell them how the Enigma machine worked.
Off topic but I can't resist. The Enigma machine was a german device stolen by the allies. Without the machine they would never been able to crack the German codes.

The Germans knew exaxtly how it worked, they built it.
 
  • #9
What was the need for 'emphasis'? Was there some grammar related mistake? Please let me know.
I think the point was it's difficult to blackmail somebody by threatening to reveal their homosexuality when they have already been convicted of it!

Interestingly the fact that enigma had been cracked was still very much a secret in the 1950s. The British government had given enigma machines to a number of other countries claiming that they were uncrackable - which led a number of Britain's allies to rely on them for their own secret communications long after the war.

Somewhat off topic but the "Turing was oppressed by the nasty government, was gay and so killed himself" is a little simplistic. He was certainly depressed but the suicide seems to have been more about his work than his personal life.
 
  • #10
Q_Goest
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Turing left us all with something ethical to consider in his paper "Computing Machinery and Intelligence". There was an interesting paper written by http://www.gmu.edu/centers/publicchoice/faculty%20pages/Tyler/turingfinal.pdf" [Broken] that looks at Turing's famous paper from a different perspective.

The gist of Cowen's paper is that the “Turing test” as described is as much about Turing's (unsuccessful) attempts to fit in as part of society and be accepted for what he was as it is about any test of intelligence. From the paper:
We do wish to suggest that a potent and indeed subversive perspective in the paper has been underemphasized. Some of the message of Turing’s paper is encouraging us to take a broader perspective on intelligence and some of his points are ethical in nature. Turing’s paper is about the possibility of unusual forms of intelligence, our inability to recognize those intelligences, and the limitations of indistinguishability as a standard for defining intelligence. “Inability to imitate does not rule out intelligence” is an alternative way of reading many parts of his argument. Turing was issuing the warning that we should not dismiss or persecute entities which we cannot easily categorize or understand.

Our interpretation fits the broad outlines of Turing’s life. Turing was gay and he was persecuted for this difference in a manner which led to his eventual suicide. In mainstream British society of that time, he proved unable to consistently “pass” for straight. …

… The notion of “passing” was of direct personal concern to Turing and surely in more personal settings Turing did not view “passing” as synonymous with actually being a particular way.
 
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  • #11
Danger
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I think the point was it's difficult to blackmail somebody by threatening to reveal their homosexuality when they have already been convicted of it!
Public and private are totally different things. Look at how many decades it took for the FBI to become a joke after J. Mary Hoover got caught with his dress around his ankles.
 
  • #12
arildno
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Since the Cambridge milieu was pretty relaxed about homosexual affairs at the time of Turing's student days, he was fairly open about it. (This from "Alan Turing: The Enigma", a biography about him, https://www.amazon.com/dp/0802775802/?tag=pfamazon01-20&tag=pfamazon01-20)

Such information would most certainly have been had by British secret service at the time when he got his security clearance.

Thus, that his security clearance was revoked has little to do with the government suddenly learning something unsavoury about him in 1952; rather, it was revoked because the public suddenly became aware of it, and thus, the British Government sat with a tarnished reputation they wanted to clean.

That they ruined the life of one of their own war heroes was of little matter to them.
 
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  • #13
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That they ruined the life of one of their own war heroes was of little matter to them.
That's why I've never won a chess game in my life; I won't sacrifice a pawn.
 
  • #14
arildno
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That's why I've never won a chess game in my life; I won't sacrifice a pawn.
To sacrifice the queen, however, is very often useful..:smile: (:cry:???)
 
  • #15
Thus, that his security clearance was revoked has little to do with the government suddenly learning something unsavoury about him in 1952; rather, it was revoked because the public suddenly became aware of it, and thus, the British Government sat with a tarnished reputation they wanted to clean.
Not sure he was actually doing any work for GCHQ that required security access in 1952 - but my copy of Hodges book isn't here.

That they ruined the life of one of their own war heroes was of little matter to them.
This wasn't part of some great government conspiracy - it was a local police matter.
Nobody involved knew of his war work, it was all very secret into the 1980s. Even Churchill's own official history of WWII published in the 60s doesn't mention enigma.
It was part of the huge irony, Turing and others were busy developing computers in Manchester and Cambridge while the designs and machines they had already built at Bletchley were being destroyed.

It's part of the bizarre military security mindset that since computers were secret during the war, they must remain secret and so nobody after the war must know about them.
 
  • #16
f95toli
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How was this blackmail supposed to work?
Of course you can't blackmail someone once it was out in the open, but the policy of of the day was to not give security clearance to anyone who was homosexual, openly (which you couldn't really be, it was illegal) or not. The point here is that this happened to a lot of people, most of whom had not been convicted of anything. They simply choose not to make an exception in the case of Turing.

Also, the second part of what I wrote about homosexuallity being considered a mental illness is important. Somewhere in the recent history of the MI5 (the official one) there is an excerpt from a letter from a MI5 directior which discusses this: it is quite clear that they simply did not trust gay people.
 
  • #17
arildno
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1. Not sure he was actually doing any work for GCHQ that required security access in 1952 - but my copy of Hodges book isn't here.


2. This wasn't part of some great government conspiracy - it was a local police matter.
Local police forces do not have the authority to remove security clearances, higher governmental bodies have that authority.

Thus, the local brouhaha stirred up around the disclosure led to a decision, within those agencies having that sort of power to remove the clearance.

I have no idea what you mean by the phrase "great government conspiracy "
 
  • #18
Local police forces do not have the authority to remove security clearances, higher governmental bodies have that authority.
I think the security clearance is probably automatic on the conviction - I'm sure if he had been actually needed in 1952 it would have been reinstated.

I have no idea what you mean by the phrase "great government conspiracy "
That he was prosecuted in spite of his war time service. The point being that nobody knew of his wartime service.
 
  • #19
arildno
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Also, the second part of what I wrote about homosexuallity being considered a mental illness is important. Somewhere in the recent history of the MI5 (the official one) there is an excerpt from a letter from a MI5 directior which discusses this: it is quite clear that they simply did not trust gay people.
Sigh.

It's not just about gays, nor is the problem that the secret services "distrust" gays.

Rather, it is an advantage to employ persons in sensitive positions that you can kick out again at the merest whiff of trouble.

Hiring (highly resourceful) gays, criminals or others who will have difficulties getting other jobs can give you highly dedicated employees you don't need to retain if they show signs of rebellion or tarnish the reputation of the agency in any way.

It's called pragmatic cynicism.
 
  • #20
Since the Cambridge milieu was pretty relaxed about homosexual affairs at the time of Turing's student days, he was fairly open about it
I think that was his problem, being gay in the 1930s in Cambridge was technically illegal but about as likely to raise an eyebrow as drug use in Berkeley in the 60s.

Turing was rather niave in reporting the theft by his lover to the police in Manchester - forgetting that not only was the postwar attitude a bit more austere, and the effects of the cambridge spy scandal, but that manchester was a much more traditional working class city.

In US terms it would be like Feynman moving to Alabama in the 60s and smoking a joint in front of a policeman!
 
  • #21
f95toli
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Hiring (highly resourceful) gays, criminals or others who will have difficulties getting other jobs can give you highly dedicated employees you don't need to retain if they show signs of rebellion or tarnish the reputation of the agency in any way.
That certainly wasn't the case for MI5 during that era. Just about everyone who worked there was either an ex-officer and/or oxbridge graduate (or at least an ex-civil servant for some part of the empire); and to be considered you usually had to be recommended by someone who was already working for the service. Hence, most of the people who worked for the the intelligense services in the UK during the late 40s and early 50s came from the upper-middle or upper class. It was very much like a private club, and that affected their attitude towards the rest of society.
 
  • #22
Danger
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To sacrifice the queen, however, is very often useful..:smile: (:cry:???)
Oh ****ing great... you just led me down a funnel into a tunnel heading straight toward a joke that I once promised you that I wouldn't make. You set me up, you little bastard! Oooowww... you'd better be clenched the next time we meet...
 
  • #23
arildno
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Oh ****ing great... you just led me down a funnel into a tunnel heading straight toward a joke that I once promised you that I wouldn't make. You set me up, you little bastard! Oooowww... you'd better be clenched the next time we meet...

Are you backing out?

I WANT JOKE!!


(I'm always as clenched as I possibly can be, I hope that will be enough...)
 
  • #24
Danger
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Are you backing out?

I WANT JOKE!!
Yes, I am backing out. I was just pointing out that there is a joke to be had, but it would be in very poor taste to express it.

(I'm always as clenched as I possibly can be, I hope that will be enough...)
I would love to take that as a challenge, but since I'm hung like a hamster you have nothing to fear. :biggrin:
 
  • #25
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Sorry, but non-sequitor. Equating either sexual or political orientation to one's duty/loyalty to one's country does not compute.

Error...

Error...

Error...
 

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