In June of 1942, the Chicago Tribune published a story about the Battle of Midway wherein it was made obvious that U.S. cryptanalysts had broken Japanese Navy’s code.
How did the Tribune come to have this information?
No American correspondents were at Midway, but a colorful Tribune reporter, Stanley Johnston, was with the carrier Lexington when it was sunk in the preceding Battle of the Coral Sea. Johnston was a giant Australian, a champion sculler and a World War I hero. He had been recommended for a Victoria Cross for his valor at Gallipoli and in France. When the Lexington was hit, he made heroic efforts to rescue badly burned sailors from the ship’s hold. He was very popular when transferred to another ship for transport back to the United States, and spent much of the time in the quarters occupied by the Lexington’s executive officer, Cmdr. Mort Seligman.
Johnston, writing his account of Coral Sea while in Seligman’s cabin, noticed a blue-lined paper that had the names of Japanese warships in an order of battle. He copied the list and later took this “dope” with him into the Tribune offices. His editor, Pat Maloney, was interested mainly in the Coral Sea account, but he accepted a sidebar on the Japanese order of battle at Midway, which Johnston hurriedly wrote. Johnston wouldn’t reveal his source, but assured Maloney he had checked the list against the authoritative reference, “Jane’s Fighting Ships.” Maloney rewrote the first two “muddy” paragraphs, then wrote a headline that was not justified by Johnston’s text:NAVY HAD WORD OF JAP PLAN TO STRIKE AT SEA
Maloney did not clear the story with censors, convincing himself that there was nothing in the guidelines to suppress news about the movement of hostile ships. And then, to protect Johnston’s real source, Maloney attributed the story to “reliable sources in naval intelligence” and put on it a fake Washington, D.C., dateline.
Charges of treason were contemplated, but the Navy refused to participate in a Grand Jury investigation in order to stop even more publicity for the story.
It’s too bad charges weren’t laid, because if the effort had succeeded we might not have had ABC News nattering about our penetration of Al-Qaeda’s internet communications system, Obelisk.
…the disclosure from ABC and later other news organizations tipped off Qaeda’s internal security division that the organization’s Internet communications system, known among American intelligence analysts as Obelisk, was compromised.
There has been speculation, which has been denied, that the White House is the source of the leak to the MSM. White House or not, someone leaked, and whoever it was should be charged with treason (with an exception I’ll note below).
Worse, perhaps, is that this is the third or fourth time the media has published top-secret information. The CIA “rendition” centers, the Swift bank data mining, and the covert surveillance of foreign terrorist phones were all front page news for the New York Times
In the present case, we know the information was released deliberately and would obviously damage an intelligence resource being used against Al-Qaeda, so the exception to a charge of treason I noted would involve a authorized release. Why do that? Well, there is specific traffic associated with starting up such a network, different from the steady state. Perhaps it is possible to detect new nodes we hadn’t before seen as they come in contact. Maybe it is actually possible to detect the “fist” of some of the people setting it up. Perhaps bots are being injected into the new Obelisk as I write.
Perhaps there was a reason for it as there was in another WWII intelligence ploy “Operation Mincemeat,” in the Spring of 1942. Let us hope so.