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Bradley Manning and His Debt to Room 40

it's a tough world

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 31, 2013.

Here are the fetal issues that gave us Bradley Manning and Wiki Leaks.

In August of 1914, England started the modern security state when the Royal Navy severed all telegraph undersea cables used by the Germans and forced Germany to use their powerful shortwave towers to chat with their fleets and diplomats around the world. Germany had assumed this would happen and had developed sophisticated codes and ciphers which they were sure nobody but a German could figure out.

England, as was its habit, opened its doors to the weird minds that gravitate towards the solving of puzzles, crosswords, and physics horrors, at one time put them in a room of the Admiralty blandly called Room 40 which for most of the war was under Admiral Reginald Hall, and with Alfred Ewing mastered German coding that eventually provided a furious President Wilson with the Zimmerman Telegram, the event that actually pushed America into the war. Aside from Rm. 40, only the Prime Minister, a Sea Lord, and a few British Admirals knew of its existence. Fewer got the info.

The Royal Navy is important. It's need for oil created the Middle East horrors of today, and the breaking of the German codes led directly to our successful computers.

Room 40 also had the advantage of captured code books for the variations of diplomatic and naval code. Every time the German High Seas Fleet geared up and left port, they were met in the middle of the North Sea by the British. This bothered the German admirals, who only succeeded in surprising England with some coastal raids of no import, but at no point did it occur to anyone that Britain had broken their code, or was capable of so doing. So they never changed it beyond routine progressions. Their security apparatus fixated, as all security apparatus seems to do, on postulated civilian traitors and neutral fishing boats secretly signaling England.

It was only after World War Two that the existence of Room 40 became widely known, and there are still things it uncovered kept secret. One of the great damnations of such an ability to read enemy code and know their intentions is that you cannot react every time, and have to save important defense for important attack. If you were there every single time the enemy moved or close to it, even the vain German military and navy would conclude the obvious. So, you let people die as if you did not have the info in order that a much greater number of people will live. In WWII, after Britain had broken most German codes again, sometimes German planes snuck past radar and other defenses in raids of which English intelligence was aware but did not alert the public. Or, so some stories go, and they're plausible and rather likely.

The big deal in this is a conspiracy theory about the Lusitania, a huge liner sunk in 1915 by a German submarine off the coast with much loss of life. The big story that made the media was of the nursery baskets of infants thrown into the water in an attempt to save them as the ship sank in fifteen minutes. Swimmers couldn't save them all, and the baskets slowly sank with their crying cargo. True and awful tale. That England was illegally using the ship for ammunition delivery somehow failed to appear in print. That Room 40 may have known the liner was being stalked and did not warn them is also a plausible theory, and the charge has been made.

The syllogism to Bradley Manning and the US is far from exact. War is now arguably perpetual, and the US is ridiculously powerful. Manning gave Wiki Leaks tons of raw data, some of it embarrassing to us, some of it arguably evidence of war crime. This week, he was found guilty of lots of crime but not of treason, per se. He did not aid or abet any known enemy. Of course, it he had actually done so, would this be admitted lest an enemy change a code?

Today, everyone assumes the US can read and decode anything instantly. Everybody knows phone companies had our phone records before the NSA, everybody knows satellite photographs are good enough to comment on your pores. State security wants the public to think it knows nothing or everything. And the government doesn't know what status to pretend to.