Would The New York Times or The Washington Post Have Reported the Patton Secret Before D-Day?
Some in the Mainstream Media will no doubt protest that exposing the classified programs disclosed recently by The New York Times and The Washington Post did not threaten national security because none of the programs - singly or together - are of sufficient importance to endanger the success of the U.S. in the Global War Against Terrorism.
Considered in isolation, perhaps there will be some truth to that contention, but let's apply the same logic to some previous war-time situations.
First, it will be recalled that Gen. George Patton was used as a decoy to fool the German High Command into thinking the D-Day invasion would happen at a certain point and in a specifc manner. Would the Times or the Post have published the truth about Patton's status prior to D-Day had they been privy to such knowledge?
Using the current logic regarding the NSA and other classified anti-terrorist programs exposed by the two newspapers, we would argue that disclosure of one general's whereabouts certainly would not have told the Germans much of anything of substance. German strategists would have only been able to make inferences based upon the news reports.
That is true but it is far from the whole story. Had the Germans known they were wrong in thinking Patton would lead the allied invasion, they would have realized two vitally important facts.
First, their basis for thinking Patton would lead the allied invasion would be clearly exposed as mistaken. Rethinking their analyses in light of the new information might well have given the Germans a far more accurate basis for their contingency planning.
The consequence might well have been multiple Panzer divisions waiting to slaughter the allied troops as they came ashore at Normandy, with a result that such a crushing defeat would have lengthened the war by many years.
Second, knowing Patton would not lead the initial invasion would have logically raised an important question in the Germans' mind. What would Patton be doing if he is not leading the initial attack?
Forcing a revision in their analyses on the basis of that question might well have given the Germans sufficient insight into possible Allied post-beachhead strategy to allow the enemy to reconstitute his forces such that a breakout would be impossible or more easily contained by counter-attacks.
Again, the consequence would be a disastrous defeat for the Allies, though in this scenario the result might well have been achieved by the Germans by imposing a Gallipoli-like statemate rather than a quick, crushing defeat.
The fog of war is such that any random piece of information can be the piece of information that enables one commander of the other to gain the victory. Neither has to know the other's order of battle, only that key piece of knowledge that uncovers the rest through logic and inference.
Confirming for al Qaeda that we can listen to their communications in a certain way may not be such a key piece of information, but who at the Times or Post is qualified or authorized to reach such a conclusion?
And what if in fact telling al Qaeda that we have such a capability amounts to a contemporary equivalent of telling the Japanese that we had broken their code early in the war and had been reading their dispatches ever since?