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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
The twelve hundred pages of the FBI investigation, made available to this writer under the Freedom of Information Act, are an ironic counterpoint to what Nichols told Waldrop. A memorandum summarizing the investigation, sent to the Attorney General with a covering letter from Director Hoover, on June 17, 1942, concluded: “Owing to the number of copies [there were thirty-five copies of Rainbow Five distributed to the Army, Navy, and Army Air Corps] and the several hundred Army and Navy officers and civilian employees in both the War and Navy Departments having legitimate access thereto, it has not been possible to determine the source….”
A wild card explanation of the mystery emerged in 1976. In William Stevenson’s book A Man Called Intrepid , about the British spy William Stephenson, the author asserted that the leak was conceived and orchestrated by Intrepid as part of his plan to bring America into the war on Britain’s side. “The Political-Warfare Division of the BSC [British Security Coordination, the secret group that Intrepid led, with President Roosevelt’s knowledge and cooperation] concocted the Victory Program out of material already known to have reached the enemy in dribs and drabs and added some misleading information,” Stevenson wrote. On November 26 James Roosevelt, the President’s son, supposedly told Intrepid that the Japanese negotiations had collapsed and war was inevitable. The Army Air Corps captain was sent to Wheeler with the supposedly fake document to create a newspaper story that would provoke Hitler into a declaration of war.
The only verifiable fact in this version is the date, November 26,1941. That was indeed the day on which negotiations with Japan broke down. But it is clear from the reaction of Stimson and others in the War Department that they did not regard Rainbow Five as material already known to the enemy. The rest of Intrepid’s story must be dismissed as fabrication.
Nevertheless, Stephenson’s story suggests in a murky way the identity of the man who may have engineered the leak. “I have no hard evidence,” General Wedemeyer told me, “but I have always been convinced, on some sort of intuitional level, that President Roosevelt authorized it. I can’t conceive of anyone else, including General Arnold, having the nerve to release that document.”
Not everyone accepts this idea. Forrest Pogue says he never got a hint of it from his many conversations with General Marshall, while writing his biography. Pogue says he is inclined to doubt high-level conspiracy theories. Frank Waldrop says, “I’d like to believe it, because that confrontation with Larry Kuter in the Munitions Building bothered me for a long time.” Nevertheless, Waldrop finds it hard to believe that FDR would have “thrown gasoline on a fire.” That was the way he and other isolationists regarded the political impact of the leak.
But no other explanation fills all the holes in the puzzle as completely as FDR’s complicity. Although Intrepid’s specific claim to have concocted the leak is preposterous, his presence in the United States and his purpose—to bring America into the war with Germany—are admitted facts. That he was here with the knowledge and connivance of the President of the United States is also an admitted fact. Would a President who had already used faked maps and concealed from Congress the truth about the naval war in the North Atlantic hesitate at one more deception—especially if he believed that war with Japan was imminent?
This explanation enables us to understand why General Marshall, who was told of the deception soon after it was launched, never blamed Arnold. It explains FBI Assistant Director Nichols’s cryptic admission that the bureau “quit” when it “got as far” as General Arnold. Nichols would seem to have been implying that the FBI knew the real leaker was someone above Arnold in the chain of command. The explanation also makes sense of Marshall’s continuing trust in Wedemeyer, on whom such dark suspicions had been cast. It also explains Roosevelt’s reluctance to prosecute the Tribune . What Intrepid’s story tells us is the purpose of the leak: to goad Hitler into that desperately needed declaration of war.
Only FDR and a handful of other men, all of whom have joined him in the shadows, could confirm this scenario. If it is true, it is an extraordinary glimpse into the complex game Franklin D. Roosevelt was playing on history’s chessboard in the closing weeks of 1941.