TCS Daily


Times Reveals Enigma Codes

By William S. Smith - June 29, 2006 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON (SatireNewsService) -- Yesterday, September 11, 1943, the New York Times reported that allied cryptanalysts had been, for several years, decoding top-secret Axis war messages. The Times story revealed that thousands of code-breakers working in a suburb of London had broken Germany's Enigma military codes. The vast operation, code-named "ULTRA", had succeeded in regularly reading secret military orders broadcast through the German airwaves. In addition, the Times reported that American code-breakers, in an operation called "MAGIC", had broken Imperial Japan's highly secret military code. MAGIC reportedly had successfully intercepted thousands of secret war messages from the Japanese high command to forces in the field and at sea.

"ULTRA and MAGIC were extremely powerful weapons in our arsenal," said General George Marshall U.S. Army Chief of Staff, following the Times revelations. "Our ability to read enemy orders in real time led directly to our great and critical victory at Midway as well as the defeat of Rommel in North Africa and the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto's plane last spring. ULTRA was considered an irreplaceable element of our future invasion plans for Europe and MAGIC would have played a powerful role in successfully concluding our war against the brutal Japanese military government."

The decision to publish the story has sparked passionate controversy and was preceded by intense lobbying of Times executives from President Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Churchill to withhold publication.

Mr. Churchill in a transatlantic telephone call reportedly pleaded with Times executives to suppress the story, stating that in wartime, "the truth is so valuable to our enemies that it must be protected by a bodyguard of lies and deceptions."

Mr. Roosevelt reportedly argued that the ULTRA and MAGIC operations had prevented "dastardly acts" by the enemy and that the revelation of these secrets would set back the allied invasion of Europe and the defeat of Japan "by years", causing the unnecessary deaths of possibly hundreds of thousands of Americans.

Times publisher Arthur Hays "Paunch" Sulzburger defended the decision stating: "it is in the public interest to know how this war is being fought. It is part of the continuing national debate over the aggressive measures employed by this administration and the British government." Sulzberger reported that Times executives weighed both governments' arguments carefully. However, in the end the Times determined that the possibility of government misuse was too great to ignore. "The program . . . is a significant departure from typical practice in how the government acquires information," said Sulzberger.

Peace groups and administration critics lauded the Times' decision to publish the story. "This administration has performed numerous illegal acts during this illegal war," said Norman Chomsky, professor of phrenology and astrology at MIT and a leading critic of the American and British war efforts. "We have attacked Italy, which never attacked us. We have illegally sold arms to the British, we have illegally targeted Admiral Yamamoto for assassination, we have illegally jailed and executed so-called 'German spies' without benefit of trial. This administration is far worse than the regimes of Hitler, Tojo or Mussolini. It is drunk on power."

Privacy advocates also questioned the ability of the users of MAGIC and ULTRA to maintain the rights of people who might have been innocently short-waving private messages to friends and relatives inside Germany and Japan as well as occupied countries. The ACLU issued the following statement: "The revelation of these highly-questionable systems, MAGIC and ULTRA, raises the need to have a public review system in place to determine whether any particular intercepted transmission is important to the war effort. Preferably these reviews would be by a court of law with established procedures and appellate review. Certainly the governments of Germany and Japan would have standing in such a situation."

Following the publication, Prime Minister Churchill called the action by the Times, "a devastating loss equal in consequence to defeat on the battlefield."

President Roosevelt condemned the revelations as "tremendously damaging to the allies, profoundly helpful to Hitler and Tojo, and utterly destructive to free men and women everywhere." The President called on Attorney General Francis Biddle to immediately take action to prosecute the Times for treason, saying: "I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us."

In the face of these unprecedented criticisms, Sulzberger has remained adamant. "It would be better that Hitler and Tojo win this war than that we give up our ability to publish these secrets," he said. "If we fail to publish, the so-called "Axis" wins," he said.

Bill Smith is a lawyer and writer in California.

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