The Imitation Game - WAS THERE a SPY in HUT 8?

WAS THERE a SPY in HUT 8? (Illustration) World War II Film World History Social Studies

In this image we see John Cairncross as he appeared during his student days at Cambridge University. Photo online via Spartacus Educational website.


Alan Turing was not a spy, and there is no evidence he covered-up any knowledge that John Cairncross was a spy.

Played by Allen Leech, in “The Imitation Game,” Cairncross was not a member of Turing’s cryptography team, and he never worked in Hut 8.

Andrew Hodges, whose book about Turing is the source for “The Imitation Game,” has commented on the film’s spy angle.  It is “ludicrous,” he says, to even imagine the scenario.

Further, because security at Bletchley Park was so tight, it is highly unlikely that Turing ever met Cairncross.  

What does Cairncross, an admitted Soviet spy, have to say about it?

Although he died in 1995, Cairncross wrote an autobiography - The Enigma Spy - which was published two years after his death.  In it he writes:

The rigid separation of the different units made contact with other staff members almost impossible, so I never got to know anyone apart from my direct operational colleagues.

There is no evidence that Alan Turing was one of Cairncross’ “direct operational colleagues.”

Cairncross never considered himself a traitor, even though he was a spy.  First arriving at Bletchley Park, in 1941, he believed his work was helping an ally - the Soviet Union - to win its own battles against Germany.

At page 20, of his book, Cairncross defends his actions:

I can undoubtedly be accused of recklessness, arrogance and naiveté for finally deciding, in the light of Britain's wartime plight, to deliver secret ENIGMA intelligence [ie, decoded German communications] to the Russians. But there is no way this can be called treason.

Passing Enigma secrets to the Soviets, Cairncross did make a difference in the outcome of the Soviet-German battle at Kursk. In The Independent's obituary, following Cairncross’ death in 1995, Tom Bower tells us more about it:

...his value to the Soviets was proven in February 1943 when he handed to his Soviet contact the original flimsy papers of the intercepts, containing the full details of the Wehrmacht's summer offensive along a 1,200 km front which would climax at the battle of Kursk.

Initially, the Soviets undertook a series of pre-emptive air strikes but simultaneously used Cairncross's information to develop a new anti-tank shell to penetrate the new, thick German tank armour.

In recognition of his critical assistance, Cairncross was awarded the Order of the Red Banner.

Cairncross’ role as a spy came out in 1951.  He made a deal with the government, however, so he was never prosecuted for his actions.  

Much later, in the early-to-mid 1990s, he was called the “Fifth Man” of the "Cambridge Spy Ring" (which Cairncross, who was still alive at the time, denied).

Whatever role Cairncross played as a spy for the Soviets, his actions did not negatively impact the speed of progress Turing and his code breakers were making at Bletchley Park. Something else helped the speed of that progress, however.

On the 21st of October, 1941, Turing and three of his high-level-Station-X colleagues wrote a secret letter to Winston Churchill. On the heels of the Prime Minister's recent visit to Bletchley Park, the men appealed to him for more resources.

Wasting no time in his response, Churchill issued an order which begins with these words:


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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5190stories and lessons created

Original Release: Dec 31, 2014

Updated Last Revision: Jun 02, 2016

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"WAS THERE a SPY in HUT 8?" AwesomeStories.com. Dec 31, 2014. Jan 26, 2020.
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