The Schiensh of Bond: From Russia With Love

A Bond film a month until Bond 23 is released, BlogalongaBond continues in From Russia With Love – an ode to a MacGuffin.

From Russia With Love is blessed with the most joyous of movie plot devices – the MacGuffin. This particular MacGuffin is, scientifically speaking, pretty much the most interesting thing about the film. FRTL strongly benefits from a plot devoid of ridiculous gadgets; Major Boothroyd’s issue to Bond consists entirely of a suitcase of concealed weapons and a camera containing a recording device. In fact, the Russian Lektor decoding device is such a beautiful text book example of a MacGuffin that I thought it was worth focussing on.

According to Wikipedia

The defining aspect of a MacGuffin is that the major players in the story are (at least initially) willing to do and sacrifice almost anything to obtain it, regardless of what the MacGuffin actually is.

The Lektor spends most of its time in a brown box MacGuffining, and no time actually decoding.

What is the Lektor device?  Well, when HQ is sending out orders it wants to keep secret from the enemy it sends them in code. The Egyptians were well on top of this, the Greeks who love stealing a good idea picked up on it and it has been an important component to military history ever since. But rather than just replace each letter with a number or other primary school methods, clever methods of encrypting data were invented. For a history of codes, you could do worse than read Simon Singh’s The Code Book (or there’s a PC only free download). During the cold war, clearly the Russian Consulate in Istanbul was receiving coded orders from Moscow. It would have been hugely useful for MI6 and the CIA to get their grubby mitts on a Lektor in order to decipher Russian communications and gain knowledge of Russian plans.

According to Tatiana’s description of the thing, it is both self-calibrating and manual with an in-built compensator with both symbol and code keys (whu?):

…(the message) It is inserted in a slot. And the message comes out on a paper roll from another slot on the other side…

…Once when it was being repaired I saw the inside. There were many perforated discs made, I think, of copper…

From this description of the Lektor device, it sounds like a sort of electro-mechanical rotor machine… which, for war and mathmatical nerds sounds a bit like one of these:

Because of the number of different configurations of the machine, the Enigma code was notoriously difficult to break.

During the Second World War, the Germans were using Enigma to code their naval orders. Fortunately, just before the war started the Polish cipher bureau shared their success in deciphering German Enigma codes with the British and French. This intelligence formed the basis for the Allies’ own attempts at Enigma decryption at Bletchley Park in project Ultra. Brilliant mathematician Alan Turing designed a machine called the Bombe to determine the daily configurations for German Enigma machines. This machine enabled multiple set-ups to be tested simultaneously.

Turing is considered the grandpappy of computing, although his life was tragically short. He allegedly committed suicide after being convicted of homosexuality (under the same laws as Oscar Wilde). He was granted a pardon in 2009 by Gordon Brown. Next year is the 100th anniversary of his birth and shall be Alan Turing year. Incidentally, Bletchley Park has just bought Alan Turing’s papers for the National Codes Centre museum – see, I managed to be topical as well.

Presumably, since the role of cracking Enigma in WWII was only revealed in the 1970s, and FRWL was made in 1963, FRWL was made without the general public knowing that there was a concerted war effort devoted to cracking codes such as Enigma, and Lektor. However, Fleming as a British Naval Intelligence officer was involved in planning a mission to acquire Enigma codes. It didn’t go ahead, but he would appear to have been aware of this effort.

But you lot don’t watch Bond Movies for the science or historical accuracy. Fine, here’s Tatiana looking hot *grumble*

Schiensh will return to BlogalongaBond next month for Goldfinger.

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