Attempts to edit Edward Snowden out of cyber security history have prompted fierce debate about the role played by the NSA whistleblower, after famed spy museum Bletchley Park opted not to include the 2013 revelations and his role in them in a new exhibit. Bletchley Park, today a museum but formerly the clandestine UK site where Alan Turing and others cracked the Nazi’s Enigma code and arguably turned the fate of the Second World War, has courted controversy by electing to omit Snowden’s part in digital security in a new gallery, out of concerns that doing so might be interpreted as condoning his leaks.
The international Cyber Security Exhibition and Computer Learning Zone at Bletchley has been sponsored by McAfee, and is intended to educate attendees about “the ever-evolving cyber threat” the Bletchley Trust says. However, when questioned by UK ministers about whether Snowden’s actions of this year would be referenced, the Trust admitted that it intended to leave the whistleblower out.
The fear, director of communications Kelsey Griffin told The Guardian, is that citing Snowden “might imply it approves” of his activities. The former contractor to the US National Security Agency has made headlines this past year, after releasing a cache of documents confirming secret surveillance programs like PRISM in the US.
However, Snowden’s revelations have also included details of similar monitoring systems operated by GCHQ, the UK Government Communications Headquarters, of which Bletchley Park was effectively the predecessor. Documents shared only last week revealed that GCHQ had worked with the NSA to monitor hundreds of high-profile people working in economic regulatory bodies, humanitarian aid agencies, and elsewhere.
According to Griffin, however, name-checking Snowden in the new exhibit would be tantamount to making political statement on his actions, rather than falling under the remit of its “heritage” and “education” focus.
A spokesperson for Bletchley Park also indicated that it was at least in part down to the new exhibition’s sponsor that Snowden’s role would be overlooked. “McAfee said [it] would not be able to reference Snowden in any activity” it was suggested.
Despite attempts by some to minimize the focus on him, Snowden has remained a high-profile figure in recent weeks. Yesterday, he delivered UK TV station Channel 4’s now-traditional “Alternative Christmas Message“, using the brief period of television time to discuss why privacy matters in the modern world.
Meanwhile, Bletchley Park itself is no stranger to controversy around its own pioneers. Earlier this week, the Queen granted a posthumous Royal Pardon to Alan Turing who, in addition to his work cracking Enigma, was also instrumental in developing early computing technologies and algorithms.