Bletchley's cybersecurity exhibit will not mention Edward Snowden; McAfee's sponsorship blamed

Bletchley Park's historical exhibit on cybersecurity will not mention Edward Snowden -- possibly the most significant figure in the world of contemporary cybersecurity -- because its corporate sponsor, McAfee, has prohibited them from doing so. A collection of MPs and other government figures have written to Bletchley Park museum to urge them to reconsider. As the Tory MP Dominic Raab says, "Either it's a history exhibition or it's not."

The omission raises disturbing questions about the integrity of Bletchley Park as an independent historical institution, and of the quality of oversight it receives from its board. If the McAfee sponsorship came with the kind of strings attached that prohibited neutral exploration of relevant, even crucial, factual material, it's a sponsorship that never should have been accepted.

I have a letter from the Friends of Bletchley Park on my desk at the office, and I was planning on renewing my membership when I got back from the holidays. This has made me rethink my support of the institution, and now I'm not so sure. I certainly hope that Bletchley reconsiders this decision and upholds its reputation as an institution committed to integrity and education.

Kelsey Griffin, Bletchley Park's director of communications, said the exhibition was likely to avoid any mention of Snowden. "It is not within the remit of Bletchley Park trust to make political statements," she said. "We are very much a heritage institution and involved with education. So that will be the focus of the cyber-security exhibition – drawing lessons of the past for the future."

The international cyber security exhibition and computer learning zone is the result of a five-year sponsorship from the US anti-virus software firm McAfee.

The content has yet to be decided, but the museum and McAfee are reluctant to acknowledge Snowden's relevance. "McAfee said [it] would not be able to reference Snowden in any activity," a spokeswoman for Bletchley Park said.

Bletchley Park accused of airbrushing Edward Snowden from history [Matthew Weaver/The Guardian]

Notable Replies

  1. It speaks to the degree of official neglect that Bletchley would have to blame pressure from an American corporation, rather than something closer to home (Incidentally, I haven't seen McAfee's name come up before in this ongoing saga. Are they just being evil on principle, or is there an other shoe waiting to drop? AV vendors would be natural targets for...cooperation... if you want your software bugs to stay bugged. And now that Intel owns them, new possibilities!)

    Time was when Bletchley Park was Britain's crypto-cracking SIGINT-spook shop. Now GCHQ doesn't even seem to care enough to preserve them as a heartwarming piece about spying on Nazis using groundbreaking theoretical and applied techniques.

  2. I wonder if the official sponsorship notice will include a potted history of the company's founder?

  3. It raises the question why the hell does an american company acts as the long arm of the US government and tries to enforce US government opinion/policy? Two scenarios come to my mind: There is some kind of soviet-style overlap/control between US industry and US government or it raises suspicions that McAfee (and possibly other US IT security companies) has a similar deal like RSA going on.

  4. I suspect that it's some of column A and some of column B:

    I haven't seen any confirmation of McAfee malfeasance; but the NSA's interest in not having fed malware flagged as such would be obvious, and their value as free (and talented) advice on malware that they don't approve of is probably worth something, so certain suspicions arise.

    As for the 'overlap/control', I wouldn't really call it "soviet-style" (in capitalist America, the 'regulatory capture'/lobbyist-driven spending model is probably more accurate than the state-owned-and-politically-controlled-industries Soviet model); but the 'revolving door' between public and private sector positions creates strong financial and social ties between state agents and private sector actors who do business in places where the state is active as a customer or regulator. Even in absence of direct suitcases-full-of-cash type payoffs, people are social animals and cover for their buddies.

    What I find most baffling is not that McAfee would prefer that the matter not be discussed; but that they'd be dumb enough to risk the Streisand effect: So, either a computer-nerd museum puts up an exhibit that includes some stuff that's already been splashed across the net and the newspapers and some people who, for the most part, probably had already heard about it, see it again. Or, "American Security Corporation Censors Museum!". Who came up with that plan?

  5. Ahh, the smell of cordite and hypocrisy fills the air. If an exhibit is being censored by McAffee for fear that it "might imply it approves of Snowden's actions' , perhaps an exhibition mentioning Enigma implies their approval of Nazi actions. And no, this is not an example of Godwin's Law, but a legitimate contextual reference to the history of WW2. (Disclaimer: My mother was "one of the girls in Hut 6" at Bletchley Park and last week she received a certificate of appreciation and medallion from the much maligned GCHQ. She is a pacifist and a Quaker. I don't know whether to be proud or just roll around laughing.)

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