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Hijacking Enigma: The Insider's Tale

Hijacking Enigma: The Insider's Tale

by Christine Large

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The theft from Bletchley Park in 2000 of the legendary Enigma machine, the device used by the Allies to decode German messages during World War II, was an altogether novel and frightening twist on recent history. Closely followed by the British media, the theft of the Enigma machine was later revealed to be part of a well-orchestrated hate campaign against


The theft from Bletchley Park in 2000 of the legendary Enigma machine, the device used by the Allies to decode German messages during World War II, was an altogether novel and frightening twist on recent history. Closely followed by the British media, the theft of the Enigma machine was later revealed to be part of a well-orchestrated hate campaign against Bletchley Park's new director, Christine Large. Hijacking Enigma is her story, a harrowing insider's look at what's it's like to be at the centre of a complex cat-and-mouse game and media frenzy.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"...this book is an excellent read, and well paced throughout. It is also surprisingly, full of humour." (Sunday Mercury, 28 March 2004)

"...with spies and detectives, history and extortion , this is more astounding than a Bond film." (Good Book Guide, April 2004)

"...detective story that describes the cat-and-mouse plot played out between the police and the thief of ...[the] Enigma machine..." (Museums Journal, April 2004)

"...a fascinating story with many photographs and flashbacks..." (Cryptolgia, July 2005)

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Hijacking Enigma

The Insider's Tale

By Christine Large

John Wiley & Sons

Copyright © 2003

Christine Large
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-470-86346-3

Chapter One

Alice digs in

The surveillance officer's identity has been protected for security

The sun split the black horizon, casting shards of copper light
across flat, khaki fields. From the hollow tree beyond the
wide clearing encircling the graveyard, officer Sandy McGovern
had a rare vantage point. He trained his infrared binoculars on
the craggy shadows that cloaked the somnolent tombs. Still no

Last night, the church ringers, practising English hymnal
music, had broken the tedium. The original bells at St Chad's,
Longford, were mentioned in a parish record of 1650 but had
presumably been recast when the church was restored. Across
the level, open countryside, the sound had chimed true. Officer
McGovern imagined large mugs of steaming hot tea and freshly
baked home-made cakes. The local clergyman, the Reverend
Michael Bishop, ran a spotless parish and he and his trustees
had been very understanding about McGovern's operation, once
the circumstances had been explained. Consecrated ground
would not be affected by the incursion, which was a matter of
nationalsecurity, McGovern had said. He couldn't tell them
what the local connection was, of course, but it was left in the
air that drugs might be involved.

The brief was engraved in the minds of McGovern and
his team. On 1 April 2000, an extremely rare and valuable
Enigma machine had disappeared from Bletchley Park in
Buckinghamshire, England, right from under the noses of the
museum's staff. An unprecedented police and special services
exercise had been mounted to track down the stolen property,
but the trail had set as cold as leftover porridge. Then, the
menacing letters and phone calls had started coming. With
great patience and skill, the police had led the perpetrator into a
trap, which it was McGovern's job to spring. So now, on a dank
October morning he was waiting, interminably waiting, for the
guilty man to turn up and collect the £25 000 ransom he had
instructed Bletchley Park's director to bury at the graveside of a
certain Alice Fletcher. 'Oh yes,' the officer thought, 'he'll certainly
collect his dues. When he shows up. If.'

McGovern eased into a familiar exercise routine designed to
keep his constricted limbs ready for action and his brain alert.
'Seventy-nine, eighty, eighty-one ...' as he pumped the blood
through his weary calf muscles, next the thighs and so on. An
almost weightless silvery suit, designed for Arctic conditions,
insulated him from the freezing nights, three of them, while he
had kept watch over the collection point. Underneath the sci-fi
material were layers of standard-issue police clothing, tested by
special operations units on North Sea oil rigs and stakeouts in
Highland winters. Thin, flexible attire, so he could move swiftly
when the moment came.

The pale sunlight was too weak to warm the night-chilled
earth and wisps of mist banded together, snaking across
the plain, wreathing the graves in melancholy drapes. Friday,
27 October stretched out impassively. McGovern drew along
draught from the water reservoir taped to the inside of his
suit and he chewed resignedly on the compact, high-protein
rations that were part of the sophisticated survival kit.
Despite the training, he was weary, very weary. Two bitter
nights with scant rest and the prospect of another day holed
up in the meticulously appointed hollow tree. His son's
birthday was on Saturday and, with the best will in the world,
he wanted to be home with the little feller, not awaiting the
pleasure of a the suspect's company. 06.59. He clicked on
a miniature radio to file his hourly report, so far, entirely

At 15.00 the same day, there was life in the graveyard.
McGovern shielded his eyes against the late afternoon's glare
and spotted a tall, soberly dressed man, whose face he could not
clearly see, making his way towards the worn wooden archway
with rickety palings, which were age-bleached and stained
green, as if colour had crept from the short weeds curling under
the stakes. Either side, thinning trees swayed like ageing dancers,
ushering the visitor through the entrance. He ducked under the
crossbeam inscribed in capitals, 'In Memoriam 1914-18.' Left and
right of the centre, two short beams curved up to the roof and
between them was a straight strut aligned with the undecorated,
weathered, wooden cross atop the apex. The man crunched
up the pebble aisle, though McGovern could not hear him, and
stopped by a gap in the left-hand row of head-high, conically
obese bushes. He looked up to the sparsely populated crows'
nests teetering in denuded poplars opposite the entrance, and
then scanned the black tombstones, whose faces were made up
with gold. More recent residents wore flower garlands, so it was
to the older, church-window-shaped memorials by the hawthorn
hedge at the back that he turned his attention. Through two
yellowing bushes the man saw the appointed destination, 'Chez
Alice,' registered McGovern.

Except for the fact that it was a Friday, the lone figure
was indistinguishable in appearance from the general run of
Sunday afternoon visitors come to pay their respects to the dear
departed, with a peaceful demeanour and measured gait. Yet he
carried no flowers and tucked under his armpit was a spade. The
man was obviously not a cleric or a church worker - he looked
too young and prosperous for that - and when he took off his
quality dark blue overcoat to hang it neatly over an adjacent
gravestone, McGovern could see the glint of a substantial watch
around his wrist.

Apparently unconcerned by any prospect of discovery, the
man kicked away walnut-toned leaves that had curled up in
tubes as they dried, and drove the blade of the spade into the
ground behind the grave. 'No qualms about disturbing Alice,
then,' was the idea that momentarily interrupted McGovern's
watchfulness. The arched stone adjoined a simple rectangular
plinth in the same material. There was scant decoration but for
the tracery of pilasters at the side and under the apex, a celestial
frieze that acid rain and winds had buffed away. Mouldy
pockmarks stretched up towards the commemoration, 'In Loving
Memory, Alice Fletcher, Longford who died October141923 aged
54 years. "Peace, Perfect Peace."' McGovern's subject cut out a
neat square of turf, laid it to one side and pressed on, digging
purposefully. Suddenly, he stopped, cast away the spade and
dropped to his knees, plunging both hands into the hole. Soft,
fecund earth piled up haphazardly around the grave. Animated,
he crouched right over the dig, his arms no longer visible above
the surface. Out came a bulky package. The man held the find
above his head, as if in unacknowledged triumph. Right by the
graveside, he removed the oilcloth wrapping and tore through
the water proof layers of insulated plastic and heavy-duty tape
that had deterred rodent predators. Then he tidied up the
evidence, put on his police cap and went back to the waiting
patrol car.

McGovern's radio crackled into life. 'We're pulling out. Get
moving.' The stakeout operation was officially over, called off by
the chief. Inside the package there was videotape, with a message
recorded by the police for the de facto owner's representative, the
middleman, but he had chosen not to take the bait. The tape had
been recovered by one of McGovern's colleagues. 16.00. 'Screw
you. Mission aborted. Thank God it's Friday!' and McGovern
went home, exhausted, stiff, boiling with frustration, to buy his
son a birthday present.

Two hours later, the middleman turned up.

His protruding pale blue eyes had surveyed the scene from
afar and concluded that his instructions had been carried out.
He and his partners in crime had led the police, the media and
the Bletchley Park Trust, which operated the famous wartime
codebreaking site, by the nose so far. Why should anything
change? The middleman had carefully selected St Chad's, which
he knew, as a local, because it was in an exposed position,
isolated in the Derbyshire countryside in the middle of a triangle
between Derby, Church Broughton and Ashbourne. Any police
surveillance would be obvious from a long way off. Oh yes, he
was a careful man, nobody's fool and now he was about to
collect the cash that would pay off the thieves who had stolen
the machine and fulfil his client's objective. He himself was
mainly interested in the money, though the assignment had
been more amusing and challenging than many of his projects.

It was early evening, with dusk beginning to seep through the
far-off foliage and darken the already obscure churchyard. He
padded towards Alice Fletcher's tomb. Satisfied that the ground
had been disturbed and that his reward was close at hand, he
pulled on a pair of gloves, standard precaution; glanced around
again, constantly vigilant; saw no lights or sign of human
activity and started to dig. He was working quickly, couldn't
rule out being interrupted; today wasn't a music rehearsal
day but you could never be quite sure; had to get clear in case
some dutiful relative or unfortunate historian should visit at the
weekend; dug deeper, still nothing; empty? There must be some
mistake. Empty! Had someone beaten him to it? Inconceivable,
he ran a very tight ship. Could his client have double-crossed
him? Even if his client had wanted to intervene, the fear of
being found out would have kept him at a distance. Had there
been a mistake over the grave? No chance, not remotely
possible. Well, no chance now for his adversaries. He flung the
spade angrily aside and it sparked in the gloomas it hit a chunk
of flinty rubble. Breathing heavily from the effort, he drew
himself up to his full height. Tall and lean, he tensed his
cheekbones, narrowing his cold, angry eyes. He crisped long,
hostile fingers under their covering and slowly, deliberately
retrieved the spade, made good the disruption. Alice Fletcher
could resume her slumber but he planned to make sure that
I, the Bletchley Park Trust's director, would be punished with
some sleepless nights. Furious, he slid away from the scene in his
nearby, well-honed Jaguar.

Next day, I received a message. The speaker felt that he had
been betrayed. The Enigma machine would be destroyed. The
hijacker was about to exact revenge.

Although the modern-day hijack dates back to 1 April 2000, it
was by no means the first time that Enigma had been stolen to
order. It could well be the most hijacked machine in history, a
history of obsession, compulsion and impossible odds.


Excerpted from Hijacking Enigma
by Christine Large
Copyright © 2003 by Christine Large.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher
The hijacking of the Enigma  machine and its dramatic return to the glare of the Newsnight programme certainly brought Bletchley Park to the public’s  attention in a way that the villain who perpetrated the crime had probably never intended. There are many excellent books and articles and a website covering the various aspects of Bletchley Park’s  codebreaking activities and the uses made of  its secret intelligence in helping to win the war. Christine Large has now cleverly succeeded in bringing the story up-to-date in Hijacking Enigma  by linking codebreaking and the successful police work in recovering Bletchley’s jewel in the crown, the German Secret Service, Abwehr machine. The skills are remarkably similar; determination to crack the problem whatever the odds, lateral thinking and connecting seemingly unrelated evidence, exploiting the psychology of the quarry and waiting for him to make the fatal careless mistake that allows a ‘way in’, the art of double cross and above all  total commitment to the job and keeping your mouth shut in the knowledge that men’s lives depend on it. Christine Large, the Director of the Bletchley Park Trust, who has herself  demonstrated a remarkable commitment to the job and resourcefulness, says that she hopes that the wartime Bletchley ethos might inspire a ‘new generation of pathfinders’. The Trust’s efforts and aspirations  deserve all the support the public can give and it is to be hoped that the heritage bodies will come together to ensure the  long-term future for Bletchley Park that it deserves; this book cannot but help the cause.

Mavis Batey, World War II codebreaker at Bletchley Park.

Congratulations, I enjoyed the book enormously. The construction is ingenious and it is pacey and well-written.

Sir Christopher Chataway.

An intriguing book - two intertwined tales of mystery and intrigue.

Adam Hart-Davis, TV presenter and best-selling author of What the Romans Did for Us.

A mystery worthy of the codebreakers of Bletchley Park.

Robert Harris, best selling author of Enigma, Pompeii and Selling Hitler.

An astonishing tale of mystery with more twists than a Jeffrey Archer novel.  

Michael Smith, best-selling author of Station X: The Codebreakers of Bletchley Park and other works.

With delightful irony, this book combines the fascinating history of Enigma with a modern detective story. Hijacking Enigma gets right under the skin of the investigation, in which the famous Enigma machine was instrumental in its own recovery. I have heard it said many times that ‘you don’t get many of these in your career!’, meaning this type of extraordinary, high-profile case, where an intelligent criminal plays a cat-and-mouse game with his prey. The full essence of the police work is vividly captured in the story, which features many unusual characters and events.

Sir Charles Pollard, Chairman of the Justice Research Consortium, and former Chief Constable of Thames Valley Police.

Meet the Author

Christine Large continues a line of individualistic Bletchley Park directors. Her career began with a law degree and includes private sector business roles and voluntary work. She has been employed by the National Federation of Women’s Institutes, has been a university lecturer in business studies, a CBI London council member, chaired the governing body of London’s largest state primary school and chaired a national charity.
She helped Bletchley Park as a volunteer for eighteen months before being appointed its director in 1998. Christine’s mother-in-law worked at Bletchley Park during the war and her father-in-law retrieved Allied spies from overseas for Special Operations Executive. Her mission is to build on the codebreaking pioneers’ work, transforming the site into a heritage park famed for education and technology innovation.
Christine lives in London and is married with two daughters. Her hobbies include playing the cello and learning Russian.

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