- Historic Sites
The Big Leak
So big was the leak that it might have caused us to lose World War II. So mysterious is the identity of the leaker that we can’t be sure to this day who it was…or at least not entirely sure.
December 1987 | Volume 38, Issue 8
General Wedemeyer, still erect and mentally alert, recalled the atmosphere he encountered when he walked into the Munitions Building at 7:30 A.M. on December 5. “Officers were standing in clumps, talking in low tones. Silence fell, and they dispersed the moment they saw me. My secretary, her eyes red from weeping, handed me a copy of the Times Herald with Manly’s story on the front page. I could not have been more appalled and astounded if a bomb had been dropped on Washington.”
For the next several days Wedemeyer almost wished a bomb had been dropped and had landed on him. He was the chief suspect in the leak of Rainbow Five, which within the closed doors of the War Department was called the Victory Program. He had strong ties to America First, the leading antiwar group in the nation. Both he and his father-in-law, Lt. Gen. Stanley D. Embick, were known to be opponents of Roosevelt’s foreign policy, which they thought was leading the United States into a premature and dangerous war.
Embick and Wedemeyer viewed the world through realpolitik and military eyes. They did not believe the United States should fight unless it was attacked or seriously threatened. They scoffed at Roosevelt’s claim that Germany planned to invade South America, acidly pointing out that if Hitler were to land an army in Brazil, his reputed prime target, the Germans would be farther away from the United States than they were in Europe. Both men also knew that America was not prepared to take on the German and Japanese war machines.
At the same time, Wedemeyer and Embick were men of honor, true to their oaths of allegiance as officers of the United States Army. Although they disagreed with the President’s policy, there was no hesitation to obey his orders. “I never worked so hard on anything in my life as I did on that Victory Program,” Wedemeyer says. “I recognized its immense importance, whether or not we got into the war. We were spending billions on arms without any clear idea of what we might need or where and when they might be used. I went to every expert in the Army and the Navy to find out the ships, the planes, the artillery, the tanks we would require to defeat our already well-armed enemies.”
One conclusion he drew from his research was particularly alarming. There was a minimum gap of eighteen months between the present U.S. military posture and full readiness to wage a successful war. To discover this secret splashed across the front pages of two major newspapers for the Germans and the Japanese to read was dismaying enough. But it was the “political dynamite” in the revelation that Wedemeyer dreaded even more.
His civilian boss, Secretary of War Henry Stimson, declared that the man who had leaked Rainbow Five was “wanting in loyalty and patriotism,” and so were the people who had published it. Wedemeyer was summoned to the office of John McCloy, Assistant Secretary of War. He was not invited to sit down. He therefore stood at attention. “Wedemeyer,” McCloy said, “there’s blood on the fingers of the man who leaked this information.”
Frank C. Waldrop, at that time the foreign editor of the Times Herald, contributes another recollection of that emotional morning in the Munitions Building. He visited the War Department offices in pursuit of another story and encountered a friend on the War Plans staff, Maj. Laurence Kuter. “Frank,” a white-lipped Kuter said, “there are people here who would have put their bodies between you and that document.”
No less a personage than J. Edgar Hoover, the director of the FBI, was summoned to the office of Frank Knox, the Secretary of the Navy. Hoover called in the chief of naval operations, Adm. Harold R. Stark, and Rear Adm. Richmond Kelly Turner, who had been in charge of preparing the Navy’s portion of the Victory Program, and began interrogating them. Hoover asked if there was any dissatisfaction among naval officers with the plan. Turner, exhibiting his talent for political infighting, caustically informed him that all the Navy officers considered Rainbow Five “impractical of consummation” and “ill-advised.”
Later in this tumultuous morning two FBI agents appeared in Wedemeyer’s office and examined the contents of his safe. Their eyes widened when they discovered a copy of the Victory Program with everything that had appeared in the newspapers underlined. The sweating Wedemeyer explained that he had just done the underlining to get a clear idea of how much had been revealed. The two agents began an interrogation of Wedemeyer and other Army and Navy officers that continued for months.
Several Army staff officers said they strongly suspected Wedemeyer of being the leaker. An anonymous letter, obviously written by an insider and addressed to the Secretary of War, accused him and General Embick. Wedemeyer’s prospects grew even bleaker when the FBI discovered he had recently deposited several thousand dollars in the Riggs National Bank in Washington. He explained it was an inheritance and went on manfully to admit to the FBI that he knew Gen. Robert E. Wood, Charles A. Lindbergh, and other leaders of America First and agreed with some of their views. He often attended America First meetings, although never in uniform.