Secrecy News

The Need for a New Law Against COMINT Leaks (1944)

There is a “great need” for legislation that will specifically prohibit and punish unauthorized disclosures of communication intelligence (COMINT), the U.S. military argued in a newly-released 1944 report (pdf). Such a law was in fact enacted in 1950.

“Unauthorized disclosures… have jeopardized, on several occasions, the results of many years of arduous research and have endangered the safety of our armed forces,” according to the report.

The document provides “an historical resume of some of the famous publicity leaks of the past generation,” including an account of Herbert Yardley’s “Black Chamber” and a chapter on the “effects of publicity leaks on U.S. cryptanalytical activities,” in order “to demonstrate the need for greater security precautions.”

“It is recognized that a satisfactory solution of this problem will probably encroach upon the freedom of the press and freedom of speech,” the authors write in the late World War II-era report. “The issues at stake are so important, however, that some action must be taken in the interest of national safety.”

The 1944 report was released by the National Security Agency in response to a request from researcher Michael Ravnitzky, who provided a copy to Secrecy News.

See “The Need for New Legislation Against Unauthorized Disclosures of Communication Intelligence Activities,” report to the U.S. Army-Naval Communication Intelligence Coordinating Committee, Special Report No. 1, June 9, 1944.

In 1950, Congress enacted legislation to protect communications intelligence from unauthorized disclosure (18 U.S.C. 798). That statute embodied several of the specific recommendations formulated in the 1944 report.

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