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"Security First" from Intelligence Bulletin, December 1943

[Intelligence Bulletin Cover]  
The following report on military security measures was printed in the December 1943 issue of the Intelligence Bulletin.

[DISCLAIMER: The following text is taken from the U.S. War Department Intelligence Bulletin publication. As with all wartime intelligence information, data may be incomplete or inaccurate. No attempt has been made to update or correct the text. Any views or opinions expressed do not necessarily represent those of the website.]



Every member of the Army, the Navy, the Marine Corps, and the Coast Guard has a personal stake in the matter of safeguarding military information. Even so, the most patriotic individual is always hi danger of forgetting that the enemy cleverly tries to collect "small" facts and dovetail them so that the "big" fact will emerge. A man may be eager to preserve the nation's safety and his own, but the moment he forgets that the enemy's intelligence services work subtly, instead of in a predictable manner, he becomes easy prey for the Axis.

We fight the enemy not only with guns, but with silence.

The security campaign will not end until the war itself ends. This is why the Intelligence Bulletin reports, from time to time, new and helpful security information. This month a thought-provoking item has been paraphrased from an article published in a South African Air Force pamphlet. The paraphrase is presented below. It is followed by a note on unintentional compromising of security by Americans at home, and how servicemen can remedy this. The section concludes with an extract taken from a War Department pamphlet.


We hear a great deal about "careless talk," but very little about "careless questions." Careless asking is all too often responsible for careless telling! While careless telling is seldom intentional, seemingly careless asking sometimes is deliberately and scientifically planned.

The enemy agent—or the stooge whom he is bribing or blackmailing—has motives very different from those of one's mother, wife, sweetheart, or best friend. Unfortunately, they all ask their questions in the same casual, natural way.

Every day the most innocent catch phrases, such as "What's new?" "How's everything?" "What's the dope?" and "What do you know?" lead to the committing of blazing indiscretions.

Love makes most people possessive. The people who love us—and this is especially true of women—are always eager to project themselves into our lives, to share our experiences, at least with their minds and hearts. We are accustomed to talk freely with them. The habit, ingrained in so many of us, of "getting it off our chest" to the person we love is hard to overcome. Breaking the habit is particularly hard for those of us who loyally observe the tradition of writing home every week.

In the armed forces the relationships between different ranks are inevitably responsible for certain types of careless questions. The Senior asks the Junior a question, perhaps out of politeness, or perhaps because of an impulse to patronize. Junior is too overawed to identify the question as "careless." The Junior asks the Senior a question, perhaps because the Junior wishes to appear a superior fellow who is going places, or perhaps because he thirsts for information that is none of his business. The Senior, especially if he has only recently been promoted, is likely to find such questions irresistible. Nor must we forget the Senior-to-Senior and Junior-to-Junior combinations. Naturally, we don't want our equals to get a jump ahead of us. We want to know all the dope (only we try to excuse ourselves by saying solemnly that we want to "keep ourselves up to date"). In the service, then, we fall into the habit of answering careless questions, just as we do when we are speaking or writing to the people we love.

What are the mechanics of the careless question? It may be written, spoken directly, or telephoned. It isn't always easy to answer exactly as we should, and in a courteous manner. Because we are ordinary human beings, we would prefer to talk freely. Moreover, our reaction to the "careless question" is affected by our familiarity with faces and our personal affections or dislikes, and by our uncritical acceptance of uniforms and insignia. These things are largely responsible for our failure to detect questions of this type and, in so detecting, to avoid giving a dangerous answer.

The written question gives us more time for reflection than does the question spoken directly or telephoned. For this reason the written question is a little less dangerous—but only a little!

The directly spoken question involves an added danger because of the rapid speed at which the average conversation is conducted. Although one can see and identify the speaker, analyze the tone of his voice, and study his facial expressions, the conversational "rate of fire" makes it impossible to examine every question deliberately and carefully. However, if we are able to show presence of mind, we can gain time by asking a noncommittal counterquestion. This gives us a moment in which to reflect.

The telephoned question is by far the most dangerous. It is impossible for the staff of any switchboard to check the origin of each telephone call and the credentials of each caller. Nor, in fact, is it the staff's duty to do so. It must be assumed that an enemy agent will have no trouble whatever in reaching by telephone anyone with whom he wishes to speak. We all are so accustomed to poor connections, people omitting or mumbling their personal identifications, sudden requests for information, continually changing personnel, and so on, that we are a little hesitant about asking those who telephone us—often very high officers—to speak up, give their name and rank, specify their job, hang up and let us ring them back, and so forth. Internal and private lines are not absolutely safe, either. There is no such thing as a telephone line that can't be tapped.

In fact, the telephone is the happy hunting ground of the bluffer who is an expert at asking questions which will sound casual. In using the telephone, moreover, he exposes his person to no risk at all.

It must be stressed again that an enemy agent asks his "careless question" deliberately, whereas a friend will employ the selfsame manner without any ulterior motive. The fact that the technique is the same is what causes all the trouble. We simply fall into a habit of answering questions asked in a casual, friendly tone. And sometimes, even if we do not answer a question outright, we are likely to reply in such a manner as to confirm or deny a statement related to a military secret. We may do this merely by implication.

The question is what counts. It constitutes the first danger to military security. The answer constitutes the second danger, of course.

The seemingly unimportant question, the seemingly unimportant answer. The light-hearted question, the lighthearted answer. The flattering question, the flattered answer. The annoying question, the annoyed answer. The careless question, and the careless answer.

Axis ammunition!


Several reports have been received relating how parents, relatives, and friends of men overseas are unintentionally violating security regulations. These violations involve the engraving on gifts of such secret information as the name of a soldier's unit and his arm of service. If soldiers with such information on their persons should fall into the hands of the enemy, it would greatly facilitate the latter's intelligence work. In one instance the unsuspecting parents of a soldier overseas purchased him an expensive identification bracelet with the following engraved on it: his name, rank, serial number, APO number, Company D, 300th Port Battalion, Transport Corps. Luckily, a service-connected friend of the parents saw the engravings before the gift was mailed, and pointed out the security violations. Only the soldier's name, rank, and serial number should have been engraved on the bracelet.


So that troops in theaters of war may make full use of the weapon of surprise, it is of the utmost importance that all officers and men understand the seriousness of their responsibility for safeguarding military information. Enemy intelligence acquires much of its knowledge about impending operations by piecing together bits of information carelessly circulated by individuals who do not realize the importance of such bits of information. No officer or enlisted man in the U.S. Army has any excuse for failing to understand that the disclosure of such information constitutes a serious breach of military discipline. The following examples of security violations are cited and will be brought to the attention of all personnel to serve as a warning:

a. A private stationed in a staging area wrote a letter to a girl in which he listed several APO numbers with their geographic locations. The private was tried by a general court-martial and sentenced to 6 months at hard labor with forfeiture of $30 per month for 6 months.

b. A lieutenant colonel stationed in a large city had access to information involving troop movements and other matters vital to national security. One evening the lieutenant colonel told a woman over a public telephone that he was flying overseas the next day and named his destination and probable time of arrival. A high ranking officer was mentioned as being a passenger on the same airplane. The lieutenant colonel was relieved from active duty with the U.S. Army and reverted to inactive status.

c. A private disclosed to a group of civilians the location of a regimental ammunition dump, the number of rounds of ammunition on hand at the dump, and the number of men on guard. One of the civilians reported the incident, stating that he had not known of the ammunition dump's existence before the soldier told him. The private was tried for disclosing military information knowingly and wilfully, found guilty, and sentenced to confinement at hard labor for 3 months with suspension of $20 per month for a like period.

d. A major, while serving on a staff in an active theater of operations, wrote letters to friends in the United States which disclosed order of battle and casualties, and contained violent criticism of superior officers, including the general in command of the entire operation. He was severely reprimanded by the chief of staff of that command, transferred to a home station, and reduced to his permanent grade of first lieutenant.

e. A major, while on temporary duty in the War Department, sent a cable in the clear to the commanding general of the U.S. Army forces in an overseas theater advising him that he was being replaced by another officer. For disclosing this secret information, the major was reduced to his permanent grade of second lieutenant.

f. A sergeant, in conversation with two United Nations noncommissioned officers and in the presence of civilians, disclosed exact details of a new and secret type of combat airplane. The information revealed might have impaired the effectiveness of the airplane and resulted in serious loss of lives among United Nations forces. In any event, the information would have been of great value to opposing forces, enabling them to adjust their combat methods to meet this new weapon. The sergeant was sentenced to 5 years' imprisonment, total forfeiture of pay and allowances, and dishonorable discharge from the U.S. Army.

g. A major in an advanced base of operations sent several rolls of film to the United States without censorship. Many of the pictures taken were of military installations. The major was court-martialed and forfeited $50 a month for 6 months.

h. A sergeant in a theater of war disclosed results of enemy action, casualties, and location of an APO address. He was court-martialed, restricted to the detachment area for 3 months, and required to forfeit $20 a month for the same period.


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