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The Big Leak

July 2024
20min read

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.

Blazoned in huge black letters across page one of the December 4, 1941, issue of the Chicago Tribune was the headline: F.D.R.’S WAR PLANS! The Times Herald, the Tribune ’s Washington, D.C., ally, carried a similarly fevered banner. In both papers Chesly Manly, the Tribune's Washington correspondent, revealed what President Franklin D. Roosevelt had repeatedly denied: that he was planning to lead the United States into war against Germany. The source of the reporter’s information was no less than a verbatim copy of Rainbow Five, the top-secret war plan drawn up at FDR’s order by the Joint Board of the Army and Navy.

Manly’s story even contained a copy of the President’s letter ordering the preparation of the plan. The reporter informed the Tribune and Times Herald readers that Rainbow Five called for the creation of a ten-million-man army, including an expeditionary force of five million men that would invade Europe to defeat Hitler. To all appearances the story was an enormous embarrassment to a President who when he ran for a third term in 1940 had vowed that he would never send American boys to fight in a foreign war.

It also made a fool or a liar out of Sen. Alben Barkley, the Senate majority leader. On August 18, 1941, after Roosevelt and Churchill had met in Placentia Bay, Newfoundland, Manly had written a story based on another leak, reporting, without documentation, plans for an American expeditionary force. The next day, Barkley had risen in the Senate and denounced Manly for writing a “deliberate and intentional falsehood.”

In Congress antiwar voices rose in protest. Alarmed Democratic House leaders delayed consideration of the administration’s $8.244 billion arms bill for more than two hours. Republican Congressman George Holden Tinkham of Massachusetts declared that the nation had been “betrayed” and received unanimous consent for his motion to put the story into the Congressional Record . “The biggest issue before the nation today is the Tribune story,” said Republican Congressman William P. Lambertson of Kansas. “If it isn’t true, why doesn’t the President deny it?” In the Senate, Burton K. Wheeler, a Democrat from Montana and the leading antiwar spokesman, who had predicted Roosevelt would “plow under every fourth American boy,” declared that the story proved everything he had been saying.

Although Hitler had crushed France and the rest of Europe except for Great Britain and was now advancing through Russia, most Americans felt no great desire to stop him. The threat from Japan seemed even more remote, although the Japanese were clearly on the march to dominate Asia. Since 1937 their war with China had given them control of virtually the entire Chinese coast. In the summer of 1941 they had seized French Indochina. A majority of Americans favored aid to China and Great Britain, but polls revealed that 80 percent were opposed to declaring war on Germany or Japan. Many viewed with great uneasiness Roosevelt’s policy of escalating belligerence with Germany, which had U.S. Navy ships convoying war supplies as far east as Iceland and had already produced three clashes between U-boats and American destroyers.

Congress reflected this public ambivalence. On August 13, 1941, the House of Representatives had come within a single vote of refusing to extend the 1940 Draft Act. Only an all-out effort by the White House staff prevented a catastrophic political defeat. On September 11 Roosevelt reported that the USS Greer had been attacked by a German submarine and henceforth U.S. ships had orders to “shoot on sight” any German vessel in the proclaimed neutral zone west of Iceland. The President neglected to say that Greer had stalked the sub for three hours, in cooperation with a British patrol plane. As recently as October 27, 1941, Roosevelt had been reduced to using a map, forged by British intelligence, purporting to be a German plan to conquer South America. Without this device he would never have persuaded Congress to relax the Neutrality Act to let American vessels carry arms to British ports.

If the Tribune story caused consternation in Congress, its impact at the War Department could be described as explosive. The man who has provided the most vivid recollection is Gen. Albert C. Wedemeyer. “If I live to be a hundred,” he told me when I interviewed him in the spring of 1986, “December fifth, 1941, will still seem like yesterday.” Although only a major in the War Plans Division, Wedemeyer had already been tabbed by his superiors as a man with a bright future. In 1936 they had sent him to Germany, where he spent two years studying at the German War College in Berlin. When Roosevelt ordered the preparation of Rainbow Five, the forty-four-year-old major was given the task of writing it.

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.

Agents hurried to Nebraska, the general’s home state, to investigate his German origins. They were somewhat befuddled to discover his German-born grandfather had fought for the Confederacy. His Irish-American mother was interrogated and called him long distance to ask him what in the world he had done. She thought he was in danger of being shot at sunrise. General Wedemeyer smiles when he tells the story now, but in 1941 he found nothing about his ordeal amusing.

Wedemeyer was not the only officer discomfited. The FBI reported that an Army Air Corps major, who knew Charles A. Lindbergh, sweated profusely, blundered into bad grammar, and displayed other signs of extreme nervousness. “It appears definite that [he] has been involved in some War Department politicing [sic] or sculduggery [sic] about which he is considerably worried,” the agent concluded.

Meanwhile the White House was reacting to the leak in several ways. Although FDR “approved” Secretary of War Stimson’s statement, the President refused to discuss the matter at a press conference on December 5. But he allowed reporters to question his press secretary, Stephen Early, who claimed he was not in a position to confirm or deny the authenticity of the Tribune ’s story. Early blandly commented that it was customary for both the Army and the Navy to concoct war plans for all possible emergencies. Sensing that this was an absurd way to describe Rainbow Five, which included the President’s letter ordering its preparation, Early stumbled on to comment that it was also customary to ask the President’s permission to publish one of his letters.

The press secretary undercut himself again by admitting that this was an official, not a personal, letter, hence a public document. Then he lamely pointed out that the President’s letter made no mention of an expeditionary force—although the report called for seven million tons of shipping and a thousand ships to bring five million men to Europe.

On only one topic did Early seem forthright. He said that the newspapers were “operating as a free press” and had a perfect right to print the material, “assuming the story to be genuine.” It was the government’s responsibility to keep the report secret. Almost in the same breath he added that other papers were free to print the story, too, depending on whether they thought such a decision was “patriotic or treason.”

Obviously Early was practicing what contemporary Washington calls “damage control.” After his histrionics with Major Wedemeyer, John McCloy coolly informed Clarence Cannon, the head of the House Appropriations Committee, and John Taber, the ranking House Republican, that there were no plans for an American expeditionary force. They brought this assurance back to their colleagues; Cannon declared the whole story, which he implied was fictitious, was designed to wreck the appropriations bill. The next day the House voted the more than eight billion dollars to enlarge the Army to two million men.

In his diary Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes recorded his outrage at the Manly story. At a cabinet meeting on December 6, Ickes urged the President to punish the Tribune and the Times Herald . Attorney General Francis Biddle said he thought they could be prosecuted for violating the Espionage Act. Ickes recorded his bafflement that Roosevelt, although apparently angry, showed no real interest in prosecuting the Tribune .

Roosevelt was not motivated by any idealistic opinions about the First Amendment. Later, in June 1942, when a Tribune reporter printed certain censored details about the Battle of Midway, the President ordered Biddle to prosecute, and the Attorney General did so, even though he later admitted the case was so weak that “I felt like a fool.” A grand jury was convened in Chicago to take up the Midway case, and the FBI at that time contributed more than a thousand pages of materials it had gathered on the Victory Program leak with a suggestion that the jury investigate it as well. In the middle of the hearings, the government dropped the entire case.

In other branches of the government, the reaction to the big leak was quite different. Far from exhibiting the slightest embarrassment, the Office of War Information decided to send the story abroad by shortwave radio as proof of America’s determination to defeat the Axis powers. The British, hanging on by their fingernails against German air and submarine offensives, headlined it in their newspapers as a beacon of hope.

On December 7, 1941, the question of Rainbow Five’s impact on American politics became moot. Japanese planes swooped out of the dawn sky to devastate the American fleet at Pearl Harbor. The Victory Program had envisaged devoting almost all of America’s military strength to defeating Hitler. Japan, in that scenario, was to be handled by defensive strategies short of war. This posture reflected the perceived danger of a German victory over Russia and Great Britain if the United States did not intervene swiftly.

America’s military leaders had been worried by Roosevelt’s decision in June 1941 to embargo all shipments of oil to Japan when it seized Indochina, a cutoff that the Dutch and British imitated. The military feared that the Allies were goading Japan to the brink of war. When the Japanese sent negotiators to Washington to try to resolve the dispute peacefully, Gen. George Marshall, the Army’s Chief of Staff, had urged the State Department to make concessions to keep peace in the Pacific. In his book Going to War with Japan 1937–1941, Jonathan G. Utley has described how Roosevelt and Secretary of State Cordell Hull attempted to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with Japan, including its withdrawal from China—a diplomatic goal far too ambitious in the context of the political and military realities of 1941.

After Pearl Harbor everyone in the United States except the FBI lost interest in the Tribune story. But the secret information revealed by Chesly Manly acquired a second life in Nazi Germany. On December 5 the German Embassy had cabled the entire transcript of the story to Berlin. There it was reviewed and analyzed as the “Roosevelt War Plan.”

While his military advisers were digesting it, Hitler wrestled with an immense political decision. Should he declare war on the United States? The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor surprised him as much as it surprised Franklin D. Roosevelt. The Tripartite Pact signed by the Axis powers in 1940 had never been supplemented by specific agreements about coordinating their war aims. The German foreign minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, had promised Hiroshi Oshima, the Japanese ambassador to the Third Reich, that Germany would support Japan if it became embroiled with the United States. But neither he nor Hitler envisioned the kind of aggressive assault launched by Japan at Pearl Harbor. Oshima urged Ribbentrop to make good on his promise. Hitler’s reaction to Pearl Harbor made it clear that he had no overwhelming sense of obligation to declare war as a result of Ribbentrop’s unauthorized assurances.

Theretofore one of Hitler’s basic strategies had been to keep the United States out of the war by getting all possible leverage out of the strong isolationist sentiment in Congress and elsewhere. Even after Roosevelt had issued orders to American warships to “shoot on sight” at German submarines, Hitler had ordered Grand Adm. Erich Raeder, the navy’s commander in chief, to avoid incidents that Roosevelt might use to bring America into the struggle. After the war Col. Gen. Alfred Jodl, Hitler’s chief planner, said that Hitler had wanted Japan to attack Great Britain in the Far East and the U.S.S.R. but not the United States. Hitler had wanted “a strong new ally without a strong new enemy.”

On December 8,1941, President Roosevelt seemed to confirm the wisdom of Hitler’s policy in his speech to Congress, calling for a declaration of war against Japan. Condemning the attack on Pearl Harbor as a “day of infamy,” FDR did not so much as mention Germany. Most historians agree that in the wake of Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt could not have persuaded Congress to declare war on Germany. The nation’s rage was focused on Japan.

On December 6, just before Japan launched its attack, Admiral Raeder became a major player in the Reich chancellor’s global decision. He submitted to Hitler a report prepared by his staff that pointed with particular urgency to the most important revelation contained in Rainbow Five: the fact that the United States would not be ready to launch a military offensive against Germany until July 1943.

Raeder argued that this necessitated an immediate re-evaluation of Germany’s current strategy. He recommended an offensive on land and sea against Britain and its empire to knock them out of the war before this crucial date. He envisaged further incidents between American naval vessels and German submarines in the North Atlantic and admitted that this could lead to war with the United States. But he argued that Rainbow Five made it clear that America was already a “nonbelligerent” ally of Great Britain and the Soviet Union and that a declaration of war was no longer something Germany should seek to avoid by restraining its U-boats. Moreover, Raeder concluded that Roosevelt had made a serious miscalculation “in counting upon Japanese weakness and fear of the United States” to keep Nippon at bay. He was now confronted with a Japanese war two or three years before the completion of a two-ocean navy.

On December 9 Hitler returned to Berlin from the Russian front and plunged into two days of conferences with Raeder, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, the chief of staff of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (usually referred to as the OKW), and Reich Marshal Herman Goring, the commander of the air force. The three advisers stressed the Victory Program’s determination to defeat Germany. They pointed out that it discussed the probability of a Russian collapse and even a British surrender, whereupon the United States would undertake to carry on the war against Germany alone.

Meanwhile on December 9, Franklin D. Roosevelt made another address to the nation. It accused Hitler of urging Japan to attack the United States. “We know that Germany and Japan are conducting their military and naval operations with a joint plan,” Roosevelt declared. “Germany and Italy consider themselves at war with the United States without even bothering about a formal declaration.”

This was anything but the case, and Roosevelt knew it. He was trying to bait Hitler into declaring war. On December 10, when Hitler resumed his conference with Raeder, Keitel, and Göring, the Führer’s mind was made up. He said that Roosevelt’s speech confirmed everything in the Tribune story. He considered the speech a de facto declaration of war, and he accepted Raeder’s contention that the war with Japan made it impossible for the Americans to follow the grand strategy of defeating Hitler first that had been laid down in Rainbow Five.

On December 11 Hitler went before the Reichstag and announced that Germany and Italy had been provoked “by circumstances brought about by President Roosevelt” to declare war on the United States. His final decision, Hitler said, had been forced on him by American newspapers, which a week before had revealed “a plan prepared by President Roosevelt…according to which his intention was to attack Germany in 1943 with all the resources of the United States. Thus our patience has come to a breaking point.”

With a little extra prodding from the White House, the Tribune story had handed Roosevelt the gift that he desperately needed to proceed with the program outlined in Rainbow Five. Contrary to Raeder’s expectations, neither America’s military leaders nor the President altered the Europe-first cornerstone of the Victory Program. “That’s because it was sound strategy,” says General Wedemeyer, who went on to plan Operation Overlord, better known as D-day.

But for a few weeks the big leak developed yet a third life in Germany. The German army—as distinct from the Führer—greeted the Tribune ’s revelations as a gift from on high. Its offensive against Moscow and Leningrad was faltering in the freezing Russian winter. The generals seized on the Roosevelt war plan to reinforce a suggestion they had already made to Hitler: to pull back to carefully selected defensive positions and give them time to regroup and reinforce their decimated divisions.

In his book Inside Hitler’s Headquarters , Col. Walter Warlimont, the deputy chief of the general staff, revealed how little information the generals had on the United States, which made Rainbow Five all the more important to them. He told of receiving a phone call from Jodl in Berlin on December 11, 1941.

“ ‘You have heard that the Führer has just declared war on America?’ Jodl asked.

“ ‘Yes and we couldn’t be more surprised,’ Warlimont replied.

“ ‘The staff must now examine where the United States is most likely to employ the bulk of her forces initially, the Far East or Europe. We cannot take further decisions until that has been clarified.’

“ ‘Agreed,’ Warlimont said. ‘But so far we have never even considered a war against the United States and so have no data on which to base this examination.’

“ ‘See what you can do,’ Jodl said. ‘When we get back tomorrow we will talk about this in more detail.’ ”

On December 14 the OKW staff submitted to Hitler a study of the “Anglo-Saxon war plans which became known through publication in the Washington Times Herald .” The analysts concluded that to frustrate the Allies’ objectives, Germany should choose a “favorable defensive position” and terminate the Russian campaign. Next Hitler should integrate the Iberian Peninsula, Sweden, and France within the “European fortress” and begin building an “Atlantic wall” of impregnable defenses along the European coast. The “objective of greatest value” should be the “clearing of all British and Allied forces out of the Mediterranean and the Axis occupation of the whole of the northern coast of Africa and the Suez Canal.”

Admiral Raeder and Reich Marshal Goring joined in this recommendation in the most emphatic fashion. They told Hitler that in 1942 Germany and Italy would have “their last opportunity to seize and hold control of the whole Mediterranean area and of the Near and Middle East.” It was an opportunity that “will probably never come again.” To everyone’s delight Hitler agreed to these proposals. On December 16 the German Army’s supreme command issued Directive No. 39, calling for the cessation of offensive operations against Russia and a withdrawal to a winter line.

Between the time he approved these orders and their release by the supreme command, Hitler had returned to the Russian front, where he was astonished and enraged to find his armies reeling back under assaults from Russian armies whose existence his intelligence officers had failed to detect. When Directive No. 39 reached him, he flew into a rage and summoned Col. Gen. Franz Halder, the chief of staff of the German Army, and Field Marshal Walther von Brauchitsch, the commander in chief, and hysterically berated them. He declared that a “general withdrawal is out of the question” and insisted that Leningrad, Moscow, and the Don Basin had to be included in any permanent defensive line. On December 19 he fired Brauchitsch and took over command of the army.

If Hitler had stuck with his original decision and acted to frustrate the objectives of the Victory Program, he could have freed a hundred divisions from the eastern front for a Mediterranean offensive. Against this force the Allies, including the Americans, could not have mustered more than twenty divisions. Germany’s best general, Erwin Rommel, was already in Egypt, demonstrating with a relatively puny force what he could accomplish against the British and Australians.

There is little doubt that Hitler could have turned the Mediterranean into a German lake and frustrated the Allied plan to seize Africa and attack Europe from the south. The catastrophic German defeat at Stalingrad would never have occurred, and the Allied attempt to invade Europe at any point, particularly across the English Channel, would have been much more costly.

In 1955 the historian and former intelligence officer Cap. Tracy B. Kittredge reviewed these probabilities in an article in Proceedings of the U.S. Naval Institute . From the evidence he presented one can conclude that the leak of Rainbow Five almost lost World War II. This may be overstating the case. But captured documents make it clear that some of the best brains in the German army and navy tried to use the information to alter the course of the war and that only Hitler’s stubborn fury thwarted them.

One question remains unresolved. Who leaked Rainbow Five? General Wedemeyer survived the investigation unscathed and went on to high command. He attributes a good part of his salvation to his innocence. But he admits that Gen. George Marshall’s trust in him, which never wavered, also had a lot to do with it.

In the ensuing years a good deal of information has surfaced. We now know that the man who passed Rainbow Five to Chesly Manly was Sen. Burton K. Wheeler. In his memoirs Wheeler says he got the plan from an Army Air Corps captain. Senator Wheeler’s son, Edward Wheeler, a Washington attorney, recalls that the captain told his father, “I’m only a messenger.” The same captain had come to Wheeler earlier in the year to feed him secret information about the appalling weakness of the U.S. Air Force. Senator Wheeler never had any doubt, his son says, that the man who sent the messenger was Gen. Henry H. (“Hap”) Arnold, the chief of the Army Air Corps.

In 1963 Frank C. Waldrop published an article recalling his memories of the big leak. He told of having lunch after the war with the FBI man who had directed the investigation. The agent told him the bureau had solved the case within ten days. The guilty party was “a general of high renown and invaluable importance to the war.” His motive was to reveal the plan’s “deficiences in regard to air power.”

In a recent interview Waldrop added some significant details to this story. The FBI man was Louis B. Nichols, an assistant director of the bureau. Waldrop asked him, “Damn it, Lou, why didn’t you come after us?” Waldrop and everyone else at the Times Herald and the Tribune had hoped that the government would prosecute. They had a lot of information about the way the White House was tapping their telephones and planting informants in their newsrooms that they wanted to get on the record. Nichols replied, “When we got to Arnold, we quit.”

Murray Green, General Arnold’s official biographer, has vigorously disputed Arnold’s guilt. He maintained that all available evidence shows Arnold supported Rainbow Five, which did not, contrary to the imputation, scant a buildup of American air power. Even more significant in Green’s opinion was General Arnold’s continuing friendship with General Marshall. If the FBI had found Arnold guilty, Marshall would certainly have been told. The virtue Marshall valued above all others was loyalty. It was inconceivable to Green that Marshall could ever have trusted or worked with Arnold again. Forrest Pogue, General Marshall’s biographer, seems inclined to agree with this judgment.

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.

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