Pearl Harbor: Intelligence Failure

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Intelligence Failure at Pearl Harbor
Tuesday, 27 November 2012
Mathew MacDonald
997612178
Prof. Wesley Wark
Modern Espionage
HIS343

* Throughout time, many published works have criticized the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, with many scholars attributing the attack to a failure of the United States of America’s military intelligence. Initially, this conclusion seems reasonable seeing as it is highly improbable that the United States military, one of the most advanced of its time, could neglect to realize that a Japanese force was advancing on the headquarters of its Pacific Naval fleet. An intelligence failure at Pearl Harbor was caused by the fact that Washington Navy and Army officials failed to properly distribute available intelligence, make educated decisions based on unevaluated intelligence reports, take every defensive measure when sources suggested a Japanese surprise attack and utilize all intelligence sources due to a heavy dependency on MAGIC intelligence. *

When countries want to communicate with foreign embassies they want to maintain security so that other countries are not aware of their political or militant intentions. They encrypt their communications. The US cracked the Japanese cipher which was code named purple, and began to listen in on diplomatic traffic. The translations of the information they gained from this traffic, they code-named MAGIC. *

* An important part of the United States intelligence gathering before December 7, 1941 was code-named MAGIC. MAGIC was highly classified diplomatic communication between the Japanese government and its foreign ambassadors and consulates. Once American cryptographers were able to decode this Japanese information, which was code-named “PURPLE”, listening stations in the Philippines and Hawaiian Islands were able to intercept, record, and translate entire messages. These translated messages then were then code-named and referred to by the United States of America as MAGIC. Obtaining MAGIC gave the United States an advantage when it came to negotiations between the two countries regarding the economic sanctions that the United States of America had placed on Japan. United States officials were able to pre-empt Tokyo’s negotiating strategy. Despite the advantages that MAGIC provided for the U.S. Army and Naval services, very few Washington officials had access to MAGIC intelligence. The Navy reported its intelligence to the following officials: 1. The Director of Naval Intelligence

2. Chief of the Far East section of the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) 3. Chief of the War Plans Section
4. Assistant Chief of Naval Operations
5. Chief of Naval Operations, Harold R. Stark
6. Secretary of the Navy
7. Naval Aid to the President
8. The President
9.

The army’s signal intelligence was seen by:
1. Assistant chief of the G-2 staff
2. The Chief of War Plans
3. Chief of Staff
4. Secretary of War
5. Secretary of State

Only 13 Washington officials had access to MAGIC, making it extremely secure. Unfortunately, this meant that only one person could analyze the messages at a time, and: “It was, in effect, making each of the top officials his own intelligence officer… what he was receiving was raw, unevaluated intelligence. It had not been processed in any manner except for the decoding and translating….”

The varying analyses of MAGIC data complicated matters when it came to diplomatic relations with Japan: “Only if each of the recipients of “MAGIC” were an expert on Japan, knew the Japanese way of thinking…the relative power and ambitions of the army and the navy and the royal family…were aware of the vital needs of the economy for oil and raw materials…would it have been possible for him to convert the Japanese traffic into hard intelligence.”

Those translating MAGIC intelligence were not experts on any of these topics, and therefore Army and Navy officials...
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