Today’s journalistic standards yesterday

If we were to repeat the past, I bet you’d find this story in the New York Times, circa July 1944

A secret code breaking group that both Prime Minister Churchill and President Roosevelt authorized has broken a German code and has been using that information to gather intelligence about planned German military assaults, the Times learned from government and military sources. These same sources have revealed that, despite having had access to the Code for more than two years, the British and American forces have not acted to block Nazi military initiatives, thereby resulting in the loss of thousands of American and British military personnel….

I am, of course, talking about the Enigma project at Bletchley Park. You’ve heard about it: Enigma was an early computer that was used to create codes. In theory, the only way to read a letter coded by the Enigma machine was to have another enigma machine and the specific code that would enable you to calibrate the receiving machine the same way as the sending machine. Through a series of planned and accidental events, the British ended up with a German Enigma machine (which had been modified) and a code book. Brilliant scientists and logicians then worked to break the code.

What happened next was . . . very little. The British and Americans suddenly had the ability to decode myriad German communications, including battle and attack plans. The allies could have instantly intercepted even the smallest of these planned attacks, but chose not to — even at the cost of allied soldiers killed in battle. What they realized is that this information would enable the allies to position themselves to win ultimate victories against the Nazis, not just scattered battles. However, if they went after the scattered battles, the Nazis would quickly realize their Code was compromised, and change the code. This, of course, would leave the allies with nothing at all.

So, the allied command structure made the difficult decision to turn a blind eye to useful short term information so as to obtain a maximum long term benefit. Would you have made the same decision? I’d like to think I would. I also know that, if the New York Times in those days was as hostile to the Roosevelt administration as it is now to the Bush administration, the Times would have outed this information at the earliest possible opportunity, and would have done so in a way most likely to injure the administration — war effort be damned.

Be Sociable, Share!


  1. mamapajamas says

    Precisely so. After all, the Nazis must have KNOWN that the Allies were working to break their codes. Why would it be a big surprise to the Nazis to learn that they were broken? (rolling eyes)

    I’m getting REALLY tired of hearing from people who think that the Islamofascists are all-knowing, all-seeing gurus who already knew that their phone calls and bank records were being tracked, when it’s pretty clear from the successes in catching them that they most certainly did NOT know.

    It’s like the business during the Afghan War, when… was it CNN?… broadcast a story where they babbled that the military looking for OBL were tracking al Qaeda’s satellite phones. Al Qaeda promptly stopped using satellite phones, and we lost a great tool for tracking the SOBs. Should they have “known” that we were tracking their satellite phones? They SHOULD have, but they apparently are NOT the techno-gurus that many on the left would have them be. Just as there is no reason to believe that, while they may have been aware that phone and bank transaction may have been tracked, they knew precisely how it was being done. They wouldn’t have done it that way if they knew. QED.

    Thanks to the NYT, they now KNOW for sure what was being done and how.

  2. says

    The other example that comes to mind is the Japanese balloon invasion of the US, in which incendiaries were attached to high altitude balloons. The balloons eventually lost their lift, the incendiaries fell, and fires started.

    The media never reported the fires because the government asked them not to. The Japanese monitored our media reports, saw nothing, and figured the technology wasn’t working. The program was scrapped before any real damage could be done.

    Today the media would report it because, after all, the Fourth Estate is the grandest and most ominipotent estate of all.

  3. says

    Democrats have the ruthlessness, but obviously their core supporters don’t know one iota about cloak and dagger tradecraft.

    It is a big problem when you have to fight the Democrats that leak and the enemy at the same time that are feeding off of the leaks. It’s like fighting a two front war, and our two fronts (conventional and propaganda) are already unbalanced and being set back in the propaganda front.

    So it is now a 3 front war.

  4. says

    BW, are you aware that your photos are covering at least part of your prose — it’s not just in this post, either….it’s happening now and then, elsewhere. Frustrating, that…

    I’m a pretty big free press diehard, but this kind of abuse of power needs a long, hard look. If there are newspapers who use their franchise to support the enemies of the United States, and directly to undermine the war effort of this nation, then they need to face the full consequences of these actions.

    Do we have a law that covers this type of activity? Should leakers, reporters, and editors be dealt the real-life consequences of misuse of the free press? Or is this not misuse?

Leave a Reply