When a report in the Chicago Tribune in December 1941, just after Pearl Harbor, suggested that we had broken the Japanese codes, Franklin Roosevelt wanted Tribune Publisher Col. Robert McCormick prosecuted for treason, knowing full well that the penalty for treason in wartime was death. But Roosevelt was convinced by others that such a prosecution would only further alert the Japanese to the fact that we had broken their codes. Fortunately, the Japanese drew no such inference from the Tribune story, and Richard Norton Smith, in his admirable biography of McCormick, The Colonel, argues that the implication in the Tribune story that the codes were broken was not intentional and arose from the misediting, by Washington editors, of a dispatch by reporters elsewhere.
Is anyone in our government as exercised by the leak that resulted in the shutdown of the al Qaeda Internet network as Franklin Roosevelt was by the story that appeared to reveal that we had broken the Japanese codes? Someone should be, although I'm not suggesting a prosecution for treason.
By Michael Barone