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Rear Admiral Donald “Mac” Showers: From the Battle of Midway to Moonlight Maze and Beyond


Today we lost a great great man.  At 1:15pm today, Friday Oct 19, 2012, Mac Showers passed away peacefully at Virginia Hospital center in Arlington, VA.

Those of us who knew Admiral Showers will be full of sadness and we feel for his family. But this is also time to reflect on the wonderful accomplishments of this great leader in the intelligence community. He touched all of us in Naval Intelligence in so many ways, including giving his personal time to teach and mentor.  At the end of this post I’m copying in two very important stories that resonated with me because of their tight connections to the cyber conflict we all find ourselves in now.  I also provide a short piece on Mac from the US Navy’s site on the Battle of Midway.

But let me start with a short personal story.

Although I first met Admiral Showers in my mid-career course as an intelligence officer in the early 1990′s, I had the pleasure of learning from him in a operational intelligence conference organized in the fall of 1998 by my professional organization, the Naval Intelligence Professionals (NIP). This conference brought together great leaders and thinkers from the operational intelligence (OPINTEL) community to share lessons learned and ensure that these lessons were being captured for use.

That conference and Admiral Shower’s comments had a huge impact on me and my understanding of my craft. Hearing first hand from a man who had been in a war for national survival about intelligence and the importance of rapid all source fused intelligence and the importance of penetrating the adversary and of serving the commander was very important to me. His views on how to support a commander in operational decision making came at exactly the right time for me.  Immediately after that conference I was called on to be an operational J2, the director of intelligence for a military Joint Task Force.  This was a brand new JTF, the Joint Task Force for Computer Network Defense (JTF-CND). So as the first J2 I was tasked with creating the procedures we would operate under in support of our mission and our commander.  Having come directly from this conference Mac headed up I had no problem crafting the vision, mission, objectives and concepts for intel support to this mission.  If you are an intelligence professional touched by Admiral Showers or the many great leaders that studied under him you would recognize my intent as J2.  The JTF commander loved what his J2 shop proposed doing and in execution we served that new mission in ways that flowed directly from Mac’s teaching.  We had other mentors too, we invited in people like Bill Studeman, Rich Haver, Mike McConnell and many others, all who had learned from Admiral Showers.  The result: The first break in Moonlight Maze came from the all source methods taught by Admiral Showers. And so many other successful cyber intelligence activities also flow directly from his techniques and approach.

Oh he will be missed so much.

There are also some very important negative lessons I learned from history that Mac shared with us all.  My friend and comrade in Naval Intelligence J.R. Reddig is a great writer and a fantastic student of history and a close friend of Mac who has been documenting many of Mac’s activities in history. Two of J.R.s pieces on Mac’s views of the Battle of Midway are so very important to today’s cyber warrriors.  It turns out, the victory we all know about had something very wrong with it. Someone began leaking important, sensitive information to the US press. This information, if it would have been fully understood by the Japanese, could have altered the course of the war, and there are indications it was responsible for them changing their code in ways that extended the war for us.  We don’t know the full truth here, but one theory is two brothers who were trusted insiders were involved in these leaks. The analogies to today’s cyber conflict are very important.

Read J.R.s posts below Mac’s Midway story below:


Rear Admiral Donald “Mac” Showers

Less than a year prior to the Battle of Midway, retired Rear Adm. Donald “Mac” Showers had been commissioned on Sept. 12, 1941 as an Ensign. Soon after his commission, he received orders to Pearl Harbor’s code breakers. One of very few code breakers, Showers was assigned to Station Hypo under the command of Cmdr. James Rochefort. By the spring of 1942, Rochefort’s staff, which included Showers, were making positive strides toward deciphering the Japanese Navy’s crucial next move.

About that time, Japanese intercepts began to make references to a pending operation in which the objective was designated as “AF”, but not everyone was convinced. Showers was a key witness to the history, in fact the conversation regarding the significance of “AF” between Rochefort and Cmdr. Jasper Holmes took place at his desk. Both Rochefort and Holmes knew they needed to convince Adm. Chester Nimitz and Washington that the Japanese may be targeting Midway. Both believed that “AF” signified Midway based upon his staff’s earlier deductions that the “A” designators were assigned to locations in the Hawaiian Islands.

Rochefort’s staff assisted in drafting a naval message, in the clear, indicating that Midway’s installation’s water distillation plant had suffered serious damage and that fresh water was needed. Shortly after the transmission, an intercepted Japanese intelligence report indicated that “AF” was short of water – which satisfactorily alleviated any doubt.

Due to the cryptologic achievements of Rochefort and his staff, including Showers, enabled Nimitz to know when the attack on Midway would commence. Armed with this crucial information, he was able to get his severely outgunned, but determined force in position in time.

And from

26 June 2006


The battle of Midway is often considered to be the tipping point in the Pacific War, since before that the Allies had never won a decisive engagement, and thereafter they never lost one. The Japanese attack had been disclosed by brilliant cryptologic work by a small group of officer in a Navy basement at Pearl Harbor. Fleet Admiral Nimitz had based his strategy on their informed guesswork.

Knowing the real target, derived by a brilliant ploy by the cryptologists, Nimitz was able to ignore a diversion toward the Aleutian Islands, and concentrate his three remaining carriers on the main Japanese force approaching Midway atoll.

There were not newspaper correspondents at Midway, but there had been one at the battle of the Coral Sea a month before. That encounter had been a draw, and the loss of the carrier USS Lexington potentially a strategic disaster. But the Japanese had been stopped. The Tribune had a correspondent on board when the Lady Lex went down. He was a colorful Australian named Stanley Johnston, and he acquitted himself well on the dying ship, joining in the rescue of burned crewmen from the lower decks.

He was an athlete and a bona fide WW I hero, and was immensely popular with the ship’s company when the survivors were picked up and transferred to other ships for the trip back to America.

On the long trip home, he happened to spend time in the quarters of Lexington’s former XO, CDR Mort Seligman.

There is no suggestion that Seligman leaked anything to Johnston, but doubled up on space, the reporter wrote his account of the Coral Sea battle at a typewriter on Seligman’s desk, In the piles of papers was a report with the text surrounded by a blue border- the very same highlighting that is used today to graphically remind the reader that the information is to be protected and not left in a stack of papers at a desk shared by a newshawk.

The report contained the order of battle for the Japanese fleet. Johnston knew he was on to something, and copied the list for use when he got to America. That is what reporters do.

When he got back to Chicago, he reported to editor Pat Maloney. He was interested in an account of the battle at Coral Sea, and the high drama of the loss of an American carrier. But with the breaking news of the possibly decisive battle at Midway, there was news to be reported. And if there was not actually a corresponded on the scene, there was at least Johnston who could provide texture and context.

Maloney asked Johnston to write a side-bar on what Japanese ships might have been in the latest battle. Johnston complied, using the list that he had purloined from CDR Seligman. In the finest tradition of journalism, he would not reveal his source, since that might mean jail time for espionage, but he assured Maloney that the information was of the finest quality. He had even checked it against the same authoritative reference that all of us have used in editions down through the years, the venerable British publication “Jane’s Fighting Ships.”

A list is just a list, and nothing might have resulted unless someone who had actually participated in the battle read it. The problem was the cover story for the article, and the headline that Maloney created for it:


Maloney did not clear the story with censors, and to cover Johnston’s source, he attributed the information to “reliable sources in naval intelligence,” which it was, of course, and slapped on a fake Washington dateline.

When the early editions hit the streets, the phone lines to DC hummed with the news. The Navy Department was stunned. If the Japanese read the newspaper, there was only one possible conclusion: their Naval Codes had been compromised. Chief of Naval Operations Earnie King briefed President Roosevelt. FDR was inclined to send in the troops, shut down the paper, and try the publisher for treason.

The penalty for that, in wartime, was hanging. But close advisors changed the President’s mind. The Navy was concerned that a hotly contested trial would only reveal more sources-and-methods, and further compromise cryptologic operations against the Japanese. A grand jury, whose deliberations were sealed, declined to indict Publisher McCormick, editor Maloney or reporter Johnston.

The Japanese did not notice, not even when legendary columnist and radio commentator Walter Winchell accused the Tribune of basing the story on a decoded Japanese message.

The Navy held its breath, and although the Japanese periodically changed their code procedure, there was no indication that they knew the Americans had a pretty good grip on how their system worked.

The disclosure that the Tribune exploited to sell newspapers was not precisely a leak, since they essentially made up a story to fit a little bit of information they did not really understand.

Which brings us around to the war on terror and the New York Times. If Maloney had called the Navy and asked for clarification, would he have cooperated if he was told what the consequences of this story might be, and how many lives it might cost?

The Times is quite forthright about what they are doing. They are getting leaks, and they are publishing them. Whether crashing around in the Secret World will have consequences or not, the editors of the Times have made their decision. The Public needs to know. And apparently, so does the enemy.

All I can say is that I’m glad the Japanese did not read the Chicago papers, or listen to Walter Winchell. My Dad was a Navy pilot who flew Dauntless Dive-bombers, the very same ones that struck the Japanese carriers at Midway.

I’m pleased that he lived.

Copyright 2006 Vic Socotra

And From:

03 August 2010

None Dare Call It….

- Chicago Tribune Headline, Sunday 7 June 1942 disclosing ULTRA information.

I got stuck on something that might be treason this morning, not the Wikipedia leak thing, but one that happened in the months after the victory at Midway in 1942.

My disquiet seethed with the morning coffee. I should stay away from ancient evil, but I need to get to it to describe the burgeoning intelligence effort that took Mac from underlining message and arranging IBM punch cards to making rubber topographic maps of remote islands that no one ever heard about.

I spent the first hour waking re-reading parts of CAPT Eddie Layton’s book, “And I Was There” in preparation for today’s outing, which was intended to talk about 1943. But there are some unburied dead from the period after June, 1942.

I chuckled as I read about Joe Rochefort’s Deputy in the Combat Information Unit, Tom Dyer. Layton said that he had the best collection of pin-ups in the Pacific under the glass on his desk. I made a note to ask Mac about how lurid they were.

Of course, what was on the top of Dyer’s desk obscured them most of the time. He said later that Rochefort and the other analysts, including himself, kept most of the five-digit code groups in their heads, and the desks were covered with hundreds of partial decrypts. They worked port-and starboard watches most days, and around the clock before the Midway break that identified Admiral Yamamoto’s target.

A newly arrived Yeoman once cleaned off the desk when Dyer was sleeping, and there was holy hell to pay, since like the code groups that floated in endless strings through his brain, he knew where every page that lay above the pin-ups was. The effort paid off. With Jasper Holmes trick, the target was identified, and with superhuman effort, a Lieutenant named Joe Finnegan managed to construct a table that cracked the super-encryption on the date of the attack.

Admiral Nimitz crossed the Rubicon at a major inter-service conference on the 27th of May; he believed Eddie Layton’s prediction that the Japanese carrier would launch the attack “on the morning of 04 June, from the northwest on a bearing of 325 degrees.”

Eddie was spot-on, though there was uncertainty up to the last moment. The Japanese had made a pre-invasion change of additives, and HYPO was in the dark on the eve of battle.

I won’t attempt an account of the struggle itself, since better people have done that. In The Dungeon, Mac was placed on a desk under a bunny tube that would deliver messages by pneumatic pressure. Those quaint delivery systems were still in the fleet when I arrived decades later and the rattle of the arrival of the hollow projectile was always exciting. But only a few intercepts arrived as the titanic struggle raged.

What interests me as a Spook is what happened afterward.

(CAPT Joe Rocheford. Official US Navy Picture).

Washington had been predicting that the attack could happen in the middle of June, and fall upon either Alaska, or perhaps to the south. Had anyone in the Pacific paid attention to their better-resourced predictions, the Japanese would have been using the Fleet Post Office code they had assigned to Midway Island.

It is said that victory has many fathers, and defeat only one.

The Redman Brothers, Joe and John, in the Office of Naval Communications and OP-20G (Radio Intelligence Section), respectively, had immediate access to the senior brass of the Navy and took credit for providing the intelligence that enabled the victory.

Anyone who has been forward and afloat knows that the Shore Establishment always wins, and the chance of victory is enhanced the closer your desk is to the flagpole at the Pentagon, or in Mac’s time, at Main Navy.

Once victory was certain, historian Stephen Budiansky quotes Joe Rochefort told everyone at Station Hypo that he “didn’t want to see them for three or four days.” He expected everyone would just go home and catch some sleep. Instead, a house party on Diamond Head was convened. Budiansky quotes Rochefort as saying it was a “straight out-and-out drunken brawl” that lasted the entire three days. Then everyone shook off their hangovers and went right back to twenty- and twenty-two-hour shifts to tackle the new code book and additives that the enemy had introduced into JN-25 before the battle.

I need to ask Mac about that. Or retiring Associate Justice of the Supreme Court John Paul Stevens, a lawyer in civilian life who worked with him at HYPO.

I am more likely to see Mac at Willow.

But the real battle was just beginning thousands of miles east of Midway. The assertion that Washington’s Station NEGAT had been right was breathtaking enough, but there was an implied task contained in taking the credit for other people’s success. They had to discredit Joe Rochefort and Eddie Layton.

The coup engineered by the Redmans to oust Joe Rochefort is quite extraordinary.

The Chicago Tribune Affair reveals the banality of institutional evil. A war correspondent named Stanley Johnson provided the article on which the re-write man in the Windy City based the headline slugs up above.

Johnson was a classic exemplar of the knock-about, wise-cracking newshound. Born in Australian, he wore a big black mustache and had served in the Australian Army in World War I. He roamed Europe and Asia  for years after the war, and wound up as a stringer for the Tribune’s London bureau. He came to the U.S. after the fall of France and married a former showgirl he had met in Paris years before.

He became a U.S. citizen, and his free-wheeling ways brought him to the attention of the virulent FDR-hating publisher of the Tribune, Robert Rutherford “Colonel” McCormick. The Colonel had several axes to grind with Washington, and publishing Johnson’s florid dispatch was just part of his maverick campaign against it. He dispatched Johnson to cover the war in the Pacific, and Johnson wound up embarked in USS Lexington for the action. The Ship’s PAO may have failed to have him sign a secrecy agreement. In any event, Johnson was either shown or had inadvertent access to classified information, and did not view himself as bound to protect it.

Shudders ran through the Navy Department at the prospect that the Japanese would recognize the success at penetrating the JN-25 code would be apparent, based on the precise information about the Japanese order of battle contained in the sensational- and otherwise incorrect- article.

Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox leaned on the Colonel to shut down the publicity on sources and methods, and the Colonel reluctantly agreed to spike the story. It is possible that the disclosure, picked up by a couple other major dailies, might have passed without issue.

The Redman brothers seized on the substance of Johnson’s article, which they correctly deduced came from the classified 31 May Fleet Intelligence Bulletin to Commanding Officers identifying the disposition and identity of the Japanese forces defeated at Midway.

Eddie Layton goes on to describe the following leaks to legendary radio newshawk Walter Winchell, who made two broadcasts decrying the compromise while explicitly talking about it. The Redmans pushed for an indictment in Federal Court against McCormick and Johnson, managing to keep the matter going, and a matter of public record. The story broke out again on the 8th of August

Years later, Jasper Holmes wrote about the impact of the headlines and the following publicity engineered by the Redmans in hs book Double-Edged Secrets, “Any informed reader could only conclude that Japanese codes has been broken.”

Eddie Layton’s 1985 book lays out a case of staggering mendacity that followed triumph. The Redmans wrote mutually re-enforcing memos up the chain accusing Joe Rochefort of insubordination, and recommending HYPO be brought to heel, and be placed under an officer more to their liking.

The younger Redman, John, managed to get himself assigned to the CINCPOA staff as communications officer, and used a private coded circuit to keep Washington apprised of his progress on isolating the renegade code-breakers.

With all the news of compromised codes flying about, it should not have come of much surprise that the Japanese changed their version of the JN-25 code a week after the news of the Tribune indictments, and the work of the previous six months was rendered useless. It would take four months of round-the-clock work to recover the ground that was lost.

Fleet Admiral Bill Halsey always said it was the campaign in the Solomons that was the turning point of the war, not the battle of Midway. I suspect he felt that way because he was not there, being confined to his hospital bed during the fight.

But his point it taken. The see-saw battle to keep Henderson Field on Guadalcanal in American hands gave birth to the ironic unofficial motto of the Marines that the “Navy will always abandon you in a pinch.” The Tokyo Express roared in each evening by sea to re-supply the Japanese forces, and before it was done, two dozen men-of-war littered the floor of Ironbottom Sound. When the battle was over, in February of 1943, the Imperial Fleet never advanced again.

I will ask Mac his professional opinion on whether the single-minded campaign by the Redmans to wage war on Joe Rochefort might have disclosed the success of Station HYPO against the codes to the watchful Japanese.

Joe Redman put on the rank of Rear Admiral, and John made Captain. I understand ambition, but this might be something else. If what they did caused the Japanese to re-think their security, they might be guilty of something more than careerist aspirations.

You see, the Marines landed on Guadalcanal on the 7th of August, and when the JN-25 codebook changed the next week, the Americans were suddenly flying blind. How many people died as a result?

(Marines in the Field, Guadalcanal, 1942. Official US Navy picture).

Copyright 2010 Vic Socotra

Read the original blog entry...

More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.

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