Skip to comments.Historical Perspective: Intelligence and the 1944 Election [Title Not in Original]
Posted on 11/06/2003 6:17:47 AM PST by TastyManatees
Historical Perspective: Intelligence and the 1944 Election [Title Not in Original]
(On Screen): On December 7 1941, six Japanese aircraft carriers moving under strict radio silence reached a point northwest of Oahu and launched several hundred planes to make a strike against the American fleet anchored in Pearl Harbor. The strike leader radioed back "Tora Tora Tora", a predetermined message which meant that they had achieved surprise and the Americans were not ready. Two major strikes over the course of a couple of hours sank or badly damaged the majority of America's battleships in the Pacific, and caused much other damage. By sheer good luck, the three American big-deck carriers assigned to the Pacific fleet were away at the time. War had come to the United States, whether it liked it or not.
The US had stayed uninvolved during the first two years of the war. Roosevelt had tried to help as much as he could, and indeed he pretty seriously bent some rules and went beyond some constitutional limits. For instance, the US Navy had been involved in a shooting war in the Atlantic for several months before the Japanese attack, and the first Americans to die in combat in World War II were crewmen on an American destroyer which was sunk by a German sub while escorting a convoy, long before December 1941.
But the popular will in the US was to stay the hell out of it, and despite being the closest this nation has ever had to an imperial president, not even Roosevelt could ignore that. So he got funding to build up the US Navy, and he got funding to start increasing the size of the US Army, and to begin to build and acquire the equipment needed to fight a war. He even managed to make a deal to give fifty American destroyers to the British which could be used by them for convoy duty, and got Lend-Lease passed when the UK began to run out of dollars with which to buy vital supplies from the US. What he couldn't do was to actually join the war.
There was little secret that Roosevelt felt that the US should be involved in the war. He feared that the UK and USSR might be defeated, leaving Hitler dominant in Europe. In the summer of 1940 the UK had come within a whisker of defeat, and in the autumn of 1941 the German attack against the USSR had been devastatingly effective, and also came within a whisker of complete victory. It was by no means clear that the war would continue for much longer; one or both of them might be forced to make terms and cease resisting.
Roosevelt was also deeply worried about the ongoing Japanese wars of conquest in SE Asia, as Japan had conquered Korea and Manchuria and Formosa, and had invaded America's ally China. He arranged to provide "unofficial" military support to the Chinese in the form of the "Flying Tigers", a unit of American fighters which was nominally volunteers but which was in practice an American squadron.
But he feared that if the US didn't go to a war footing industrially, and start committing troops, that the Axis might well win. (And in fact, if the US had not gotten involved in the war, it's entirely possible that the Axis would have won.) Unfortunately, there seemed little he could do to convince the majority of American voters.
The attack on Pearl Harbor changed everything. Congress passed a declaration of war against Japan. And after Germany and Italy declared war on the US, Congress then declared war on Germany and Italy. The prevailing American attitude about the war changed from "Hell, no!" to "Remember Pearl Harbor!"
Obviously no one could truly want American sailors and soldiers to die the way they had at Pearl Harbor, let alone losing so many ships, but despite the horror and the terrible losses sustained by the US Pacific Fleet, it was a political God-send for Roosevelt. And many were suspicious: had he known it was coming and deliberately let it happen? There are some even today who still claim he did.
If the Japanese plans had been detected but Roosevelt had deliberately refused to act to prevent it, he would have committed high treason. But that depended entirely on a question made far more famous later, during an investigation of a different president: What did he know, and when did he know it?
There were basically three possibilities, or various shadings between them: US intelligence had learned of the attack and Roosevelt had let it happen; US intelligence had not learned of the attack because US intelligence was incompetent; or US intelligence had not learned of the attack because the Japanese had been scrupulous about operational security. In the third case, all you could really do was shake your head and acknowledge that the enemy had pulled a masterstroke. But in the other two cases, it could imply that the administration should be replaced.
Just what had American intelligence learned about Japanese plans during 1941? Was there enough information to have determined that an attack was coming, and if so, were the pieces put together in time to save the US fleet? That's what had to be determined in order to discover the truth.
Unfortunately, trying to ask those questions while the war went on would have been severely damaging to the ongoing war effort. If there had been such a wideranging and deep investigation of American intelligence, it would have been nearly impossible to avoid revealing a lot of the means they had been using to gather intelligence, and since a lot of those means were still being used as the war went on, it might have told the nation's enemies how to shut off that intelligence.
By far the most important of those intelligence sources was codebreaking. Codes and ciphers are extremely difficult to crack, and one of the most important sources of American intelligence was known by the code name Purple. It was the top level Japanese diplomatic cipher, and the Americans had spent years analyzing it and had reached the point where they could read every message in it.
Purple had been used by the Japanese to transmit a diplomatic message to the Japanese embassy in Washington shortly before the attack, with emphatic orders that the message be delivered before a particular time. The message stated that Japan had decided to break off further negotiations with the US, but it did not formally declare war, nor did it contain any specific information about what kinds of attacks might have been planned nor where they might strike, or even that any such plans existed. The Japanese ambassador had a hard time finding an aide who could type with an English typewriter, and as a result he actually delivered the message to the American Secretary of State after the attack had taken place.
But in fact American code-breakers had read that message and when the Japanese ambassador handed it to him, the Secretary of State already knew what it contained. And though the message said nothing about pending attacks, the accompanying instructions regarding when the message had to be delivered were clearly an ominous sign. Based on it, alerts had been sent to various American commanders in the Pacific, including to Pearl Harbor. But the message did not arrive soon enough to help, and in any case all it said was that thus-and-so a time on thus-and-so day seemed to be critical and to be alert. The time in question was the time when the first bombs began to fall.
Intelligence sources are very fragile; they're difficult to acquire and easy to destroy. And none are more fragile than crypto assets. The effort of cracking a code or cipher was immense compared to the effort for the enemy of changing it, and it was important to not give the enemy any reasons to worry.
Which is why Army General George Marshall, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and one of the finest men this nation has ever produced, was extremely worried about the 1944 Presidential election campaign. The Republicans nominated Thomas Dewey, the governor of the state of New York, and showed every sign of wanting to use Pearl Harbor as a major campaign issue, including the entire question of American intelligence and whether it had actually revealed the details of the Japanese attack plan in time to foil it.
In fact it had not; Purple was not used by the Imperial Japanese Navy, and the code used for flag traffic to transmit high level operational plans had not been cracked at the time. Japanese operational security had in fact been excellent during the run-up to war.
Marshall worked for the Roosevelt administration, but properly saw himself as being non-partisan. He did not feel it was proper for him to take sides in the campaign.
But he was also deeply worried that the Republicans might use the question of American intelligence, especially code-breaking, as an issue in the 1944 campaign. He was afraid that a lot of high-profile discussion of American codebreaking might well spook both the Japanese and Germans into changing a lot of their other codes and ciphers. That would have been a military disaster. Marshall wasn't interested in who won the election, but he damned well cared who won the war, and when, and how many casualties it might involve.
So he wrote a letter to Governor Dewey, and placed it in an envelope stamped Top Secret, For Mr. Dewey's eyes only and sent a high level officer as a courier to deliver it and to insure it not fall into the wrong hands. Dewey opened the letter, read the first two paragraphs, up to this:
What I have to tell you below is of such a highly secret nature that I feel compelled to ask you either to accept it on the basis of your not communicating its contents to any other person and returning this letter or not reading any further and returning the letter to the bearer.
Dewey had also seen the word "cryptograph" further down, without trying, and he stopped reading and handed the letter back and explained that he did not want to read it any further. The courier returned to Washington and reported to Marshall.
Marshall could not accept that. The issues involved were too important. So he rewrote the letter and again had it delivered to Dewey. The new letter read as follows:
My dear Governor: Colonel Clarke, my messenger to you of yesterday, September 26th, has reported the result of his delivery of my letter dated September 25th. As I understand him you (a) were unwilling to commit yourself to any agreement regarding "not communicating its contents to any other person" in view of the fact that you felt you already knew certain of the things probably referred to in the letter, as suggested to you by seeing the word "cryptograph," and (b) you could not feel that such a letter as this to a presidential candidate could have been addressed to you by an officer in my position without the knowledge of the President.
As to (a) above I am quite willing to have you read what comes hereafter with the understanding that you are bound not to communicate to any other person any portions on which you do not now have or later receive factual knowledge from some other source than myself. As to (b) above you have my word that neither the Secretary of War nor the President has any intimation whatsoever that such a letter has been addressed to you or that the preparation or sending of such a communication was being considered. I assure you that the only persons who saw or know of the existence of either this letter or my letter to you dated September 25th are Admiral King, seven key officers responsible for security of military communications, and my secretary who typed these letters. I am trying my best to make plain to you that this letter is being addressed to you solely on my initiative, Admiral King having been consulted only after the letter was drafted, and I am persisting in the matter because the military hazards involved are so serious that I feel some action is necessary to protect the interest of our armed forces.
I should have much preferred to talk to you in person but I could not devise a method that would not be subject to press and radio reactions as to why the Chief of Staff of the Army would be seeking an interview with you at this particular moment. Therefore I have turned to the method of this letter, with which Admiral King concurs, to be delivered by hand to you by Colonel Clarke, who, incidentally, has charge of the most secret documents of the War and Navy Departments.
In brief, the military dilemma is this:
The most vital evidence in the Pearl Harbor matter consists of our intercepts of the Japanese diplomatic communications. Over a period of years our cryptograph people analyzed the character of the machine the Japanese were using for encoding their diplomatic messages. Based on this a corresponding machine was built by us which deciphers their messages. Therefore, we possessed a wealth of information regarding their moves in the Pacific, which in turn was furnished the State Department--rather than as is popularly supposed, the State Department providing us with the information--but which unfortunately made no reference whatever to intentions toward Hawaii until the last message before December 7th, which did not reach our hands until the following day, December 8th.
Now the point to the present dilemma is that we have gone ahead with this business of deciphering their codes until we possess other codes, German as well as Japanese, but our main basis of information regarding Hitler's intentions in Europe is obtained from Baron Oshima's messages from Berlin reporting his interviews with Hitler and other officials to the Japanese Government. These are still in the codes involved in the Pearl Harbor events.
To explain further the critical nature of this set-up which would be wiped out almost in an instant if the least suspicion were aroused regarding it, the battle of the Coral Sea was based on deciphered messages and therefore our few ships were in the right place at the right time. Further, we were able to concentrate our limited forces to meet their naval advance on Midway when otherwise we almost certainly would have been some 3,000 miles out of place. We had full information of the strength of their forces in that advance and also of the smaller force directed against the Aleutians which finally landed troops on Attu and Kiska.
Operations in the Pacific are largely guided by the information we obtain of Japanese deployments. We know their strength in various garrisons, the rations and other stores continuing available to them, and what is of vast importance we check their fleet movements and the movements of their convoys. The heavy losses reported from time to time which they sustain by reason of our submarine action, largely result from the fact that we know the sailing dates and routes of their convoys and can notify our submarines to lie in wait at the proper points.
The current raids by Admiral Halsey's carrier forces on Japanese shipping in manila Bay and elsewhere were largely based in timing on the known movements of Japanese convoys, two of which were caught, as anticipated, in his destructive attacks.
As another example of the delicacy of the situation, some of Donovan's people (the OSS) without telling us, instituted a secret search of the Japanese Embassy offices in Portugal. As a result the entire military attache Japanese code all over the world was changed, and though this occurred over a year ago, we have not yet been able to break the new code and have thus lost this invaluable source of information, particularly regarding the European situation.
A further most serious embarrassment is the fact that the British government is involved concerning its most secret sources of information, regarding which only the Prime Minister, the Chiefs of Staff and a very limited number of other officials have knowledge.
A recent speech in Congress by Representative Harness would clearly suggest to the Japanese that we have been reading their codes, though Mr. Harness and the American public would probably not draw any such conclusion.
The conduct of General Eisenhower's campaign and of all operations in the Pacific are closely related in conception and timing to the information we secretly obtain through these intercepted codes. They contribute greatly to the victory and tremendously to the saving in American lives, both in the conduct of current operations and in looking towards the early termination of the war.
I am presenting this matter to you in the hope that you will see your way clear to avoid the tragic results with which we are now threatened in the present political campaign.
Please return this letter by bearer. I will hold it in my most secret file subject to your reference should you so desire.
(Sgd) G.. MARSHALL
Dewey obviously was no supporter of Roosevelt, and genuinely believed that it would be in the interests of the nation that the Republicans win in 1944. But Dewey was also a patriot, and respected General Marshall enormously. He knew that Marshall would not have taken such an extraordinary step if the issues involved were not highly critical.
Dewey decided that it was more important to defeat the Germans and Japanese than to defeat Roosevelt. He decided that it was more important that the US be victorious than that the Republicans be. He made sure that the issue of intelligence failure would not be raised during the campaign. If he had used that issue, he might have won; as it was, he lost badly.
Or rather, he lost very well. I have an enormous amount of respect for Dewey because of the decision he made.
Marshall was deeply grateful, and later on a couple of occasions let Dewey see top secret information derived from codebreaking which was affecting the course of the war, so he could see just how vital it had actually been. If Dewey had acted other than as he did, the war might well have gone on another year, with thousands of additional American casualties.
Dewey was an American first, a Republican second. I wish that Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WVa) was an American first, but I am by no means certain. Rockefeller is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Democratic committee staffers appear to have written a document for him describing how to use an investigation into American intelligence regarding Iraqi WMDs to best affect the 2004 election campaign. It's not clear exactly who wrote it, but Rockefeller acknowledges that it came from his staff, saying that it had not been intended for public release. (I should think not.)
Someone leaked a copy of it to Fox News:
Fox News has obtained a document believed to have been written by the Democratic staff of the Senate Intelligence Committee that outlines a strategy for exposing what it calls "the administration's dubious motives" in the lead-up to the war in Iraq.
The memo, provided late Tuesday by a source on the Committee and reported by Fox News' Sean Hannity, discusses the timing of a possible investigation into pre-war Iraq intelligence in such a way that it could bring maximum embarrassment to President Bush in his re-election campaign.
Among other things, the memo recommends that Democrats "prepare to launch an investigation when it becomes clear we have exhausted the opportunity to usefully collaborate with the [Senate] majority. We can pull the trigger on an independent investigation of the administration's use of intelligence at any time but we can only do so once ... the best time would probably be next year."
The last paragraph of the memo reads, "Intelligence issues are clearly secondary to the public's concern regarding the insurgency in Iraq."
Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., appeared clearly shocked by the memo, which Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W. Va., ranking member on the Intelligence Committee, acknowledged was written in draft form and not meant for distribution.
Could such an investigation take place without revealing much of what kinds of data we had, and by implication how we learned it? We still have enemies, and many of the kinds of intelligence sources we used to learn about Saddam are also being used to monitor them.
Early in the struggle in Afghanistan, bin Laden released a couple of video tapes where he exhorted Muslims to oppose the US. In those videos he was standing in front of a striated rock outcrop, and an American geologist who had worked in the region recognized the striations and knew that it meant bin Laden could only be in a relatively small area of Afghanistan. He communicated that information to American intelligence.
Unfortunately, he also told the news media. In the next video tape, bin Laden stood in front of a tarpaulin which covered whatever might have been behind him. It may have been taped in the same location, but there was no longer any way to tell. And I have no doubt that many shadow warriors cursed that geologist for his utter stupidity.
Many of us are convinced that bin Laden died in December of 2001 in a bombing attack in Afghanistan, but it's possible that if that geologist had kept his mouth shut, we might have bagged bin Laden even earlier.
There may well be a serious question whether American intelligence failed before September of 2001. There may be serious questions about our intelligence regarding Iraq before we invaded there. But there's also a serious question whether a public investigation of those questions while the war continues might cause more harm than good, and cost a lot of American servicemen, or American civilians, their lives.
I don't expect the Democrats to forfeit the election or to refuse to contest Bush. On the contrary, I feel they have a duty to try to win, even though I think they don't have a snowball's chance of doing so. But I also feel they have a duty to make sure that the election campaign doesn't threaten national security or the progress of the war. I expect them to be Americans first, Democrats second.
Or rather, I don't expect them to be.
Update: Mike at Cold Fury comments.
Update: Trent Telenko sends a link to a transcript of the actual memo.
On the topic of the Striking Force (nee Kido Butai) maintaining strict radio silence (i.e., all frequencies at all times) ... a myth known then and known now.
On the topic of code breaking of the Japanese Navy's operational code (viz., Naval Code D, five-numeral code, five-digit code, ... or similar; the terminology and its variants of JN25 being a red-herring in 1941), it might be seen as odd that none of the materials on this effort have ever been released ... not from the Americans, nor the British, nor the Dutch, ... while a plethora of German ENGIMA/ULTRA documents have been so released, beginning in in the 1970's ... very curious that.
Even more curious ... not even all of the intercepted Japanese diplomatic traffic (aka PURPLE/MAGIC) has been released ... another oddity.
BTW, "Purple" was the diplomatic code, and everyone knew war was coming. Most thought the "Purple" intercept meant an immiment attack on Singapore. There is a great discussion of this by the code-breakers themselves, the vets, at the Naval History sites. I am regularly in touch with several of these aging vets. One of the more interesting new developments is a radio tracking of FALSE Japanese signals sent out that indicated the fleet was moving south, toward Singapore.
[I'd add, however, that the public vindication of Admiral Kimmel and General Short are ... far too long overdue. As that, ispo facto, means that the United States government to forced to say that it has lied ... as it has knowingly in the past ... so be it.]
So glad to hear from you again ... and that you are still out there in America's heartland.
I wonder why, when FDR makes that well-known comment ... "This means war." ... in the present of Lt. Schulz and Harry "the Hop" Hopkins ... that a FLASH IMMEDIATE message was not quickly sent to all commands. Very curious that ... just as Rochefort's comments in the Hewitt Inquiry regarding radio deception ... very odd, that.
I'd suggest that you might want to review Gannon's "Pearl Harbor Betrayed" from 2001 - brush up on what resources were available at Pearl Harbor ... also a certain letter on page 282 of that text may be worth a quick scan.
Again, glad that you are back.
An exchange ... nonesuch from/to this quarter. But many thanks for the concern ...
Oh, those questions, still stand.
Were the codebreakers and cryptologists---the vets who are still alive---traitors who received and interpreted material and, in your words, "covered up" for FDR?
Or were they incompetent and didn't realize what they had?
Please answer this question. You ducked it in the other exchange. It's real simple. Which is it?
Are you are not neglecting the sequence of questions ... recall that mine were first ...
That AKAGI message would be a good start ... Please advise.
And recall - even dialectically, also whose oath and whose honor?
I certainly agree---this is the point of my post---that EVERYONE, including all the codebreakers, thought that the real J. offensive was south. Modern Americans do not grasp the phenomenal ambitious nature of the Japanese offensive in the Pacific, essentially striking three major targets simultaneously as you point out.
My only point was that commanders on a "war footing," which K. and S. should have been, would have found a way to get recon aircraft up and to at least show some FREAKING concern.
Were the codebreakers traitors? Or were they incompetent? Which is your position?
Also, especially thanks for the prescient remarks regarding torpedeos. The US Navy was fully aware of the success at Taranto and decided that torpedeos nets were not urgently needed at Pearl Harbor ...
On wanted war versus say national survival because of the total oil embargo, losses in China, ... many facets of that aspect to consider.
Again, many thanks.
Just how is a question regarding the AKAGI message "fraudulent?"
To repeat, the question, Why have none of the source materials used to develop this COMSUM14 of Novemebr 30, 1941 " ... AKAGI heard on tactical circuits ..." even after a myriad of FOIA requests ... ever been released?
How, specifically, how is that a "fraudulent" question? Many thanks here.
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