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President Roosevelt’s Failure to Heed Intelligence Alerts About Pearl Harbor Was Significant

This installment of my leadership and success series is excerpted from my forthcoming book, “The Pearl Harbor Congressional Cover-Up.”  It illustrates the need for effective leadership to timely and accurately evaluate information intercepted from hostile sources.  The book is based in large part on the July 20, 1946 congressional report of a 10-member joint congressional committee, comprised of 6 Democrats and 4 Republicans, which investigated the December 7, 1941 attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii by air and naval forces of Imperial Japan.  The report, by an 8-2 vote (the Majority), exonerated President Roosevelt and other high ranking Washington officials of responsibility for the attack.   The two dissenters (the Minority) argued that, inter alia, President Roosevelt’s failure to heed the “bomb plot” intelligence alerts which forecast Pearl Harbor as a target were largely responsible for the unpreparedness of the United States for the attack.

Beginning September 24, 1941, several intercepted and decoded secret Japanese war plans messages indicated ships in Pearl Harbor were marked for attack; little information was passed on to Hawaiian commanders. The September 24, 1941 “Bomb Plot Message” and other related messages which followed it, revealed detailed information about Japan’s strategic interest in Pearl Harbor. The message was delivered to President Roosevelt and other high Washington officials on October 9, 1941.  The intercepted September and November 1941 “Bomb Plot” messages were of singular importance in revealing Japan’s intentions to target Pearl Harbor for an attack.

One of the Joint Committee members, Representative Frank Keefe (R-WI), described the relevance of the messages clearly and precisely: “The “bomb plot” or “ships in harbor” message, and those messages relating to Pearl Harbor which followed it, meant that the ships of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor were marked for a Japanese attack. No other American harbor was divided into sub areas by Japan. In no other area did Japan seek information as to whether two or more vessels were alongside the same wharf. Prior to this message Japanese espionage in Hawaii was directed to ascertain the general hereabouts of the American Fleet, whether at sea or in port. With this message Japan inaugurated a new policy directed to Pearl Harbor and to no other place, in which information was no longer sought merely as to the general whereabouts of the Fleet, but as to the presence of particular ships in particular areas of the harbor. In the period immediately preceding the attack Japan required such reports even when there was no movement of ships in and out of Pearl Harbor. The reports which Japan thus sought and received had a useful purpose only in planning and executing an attack upon the ships in port. These reports were not just the work of enthusiastic local spies gathering meticulous details in an excess of zeal. They were the product of instructions emanating from the government of Japan in Tokyo. Officers of the high command in Washington have admitted before us that this message, if correctly evaluated, meant an attack on ships of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor.”

The two dissenting Senators put it quite succinctly:  “The probability that the Pacific Fleet would be attacked at Pearl Harbor was clear from the “bomb plot” available in Washington as early as October 9, 1941, and related Japanese messages…The “bomb plot” message, and those messages relating to Pearl Harbor which followed it, meant that the ships of the Pacific Fleet in Pearl Harbor were marked for a Japanese attack.  No other American harbor was divided into subareas by Japan.  And no other American harbor had such a large share of the fleet to protect…On October 9th, 1941… Lieutenant Commander Kramer of Naval Intelligence in Washington promptly distributed the “bomb plot” message to the President, the Secretary of the Navy, the Chief of Naval Operations, the Director of Naval Communications, the Director of War Plans, and the Director of Naval Intelligence…”

Interestingly, buried in enumeration No. 10 of Supervisory, Administrative, and Organizational Deficiencies in the Military and Naval Establishments Revealed by the Pearl Harbor Investigation, as reported by the Committee members voting with the Majority, was the following remarkable finding, not only clearly revealing the Majority’s inconsistency but underscoring the highly important intelligence referred to above: “Washington and Hawaii possessed unusually significant and vital intelligence.  Had greater imagination and a keener awareness of the significance of intelligence existed, concentrating and applying it to particular situations, it is proper to suggest that someone should have concluded that Pearl Harbor was a likely point of Japanese attack.”

This was a telling admission by the Majority, that the lack of greater imagination and awareness of the significance of the intelligence in the hands of Washington and Hawaii caused the intercepted messages not to have been interpreted to signify that an attack on Pearl Harbor was being planned.  It was as close as the Majority came to admitting that the attack on Pearl Harbor was foreseeable, as the Minority claimed.  Note that the Majority failed to specify exactly what information was in the hands of Hawaii which led to this conclusion, because the record before the Committee showed that Hawaii had no such information.  That leaves unspecified personnel in Washington as being responsible for the lack of imagination and awareness.

The Minority’s summary of those civil and military authorities failing to perform the responsibilities indispensably essential to the defense of Pearl Harbor lists President Roosevelt at the top.  Undoubtedly, the President’s apparent failure to be alert as to the significance of the “bomb plot” messages was in large part at the heart of this summary.

Arnold G. Regardie

 

 

 

 

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