What Did FDR Know? – Part 5

My dad’s oldest brother, Uncle Yutaka, in the back row, center. He is posing with the Block kitchen crew at the Minidoka, Idaho “War Relocation Center”, circa 1944. Notice their living quarters behind them.  They lived in plywood barracks covered only with tar paper.  There was no plumbing nor toilets installed.  Photo courtesy of my stateside cousin, Janice (Kanemoto) Hew.

So you likely see from reading Parts 1 through 4 of “What Did FDR Know” that Japan really never had a chance…  A chance to win WWII.

Their chances were nearly nil largely due to the US breaking two key Japanese codes.  One was JN-25, the code used by the Imperial Japanese Navy.  The other, as we’ve read, was “Purple”, the secret cipher used by the Japanese diplomats.  Simply put, we knew exactly what they were doing as well as what they were going to do in all aspects.


 A Family Example of What Happened

My father’s draft card before Pearl Harbor, postmarked December 13, 1940.  As a US citizen, he was eligible for the draft and classified 1(A):



My dad’s revised draft card mailed to him while imprisoned at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”, postmarked January 19, 1943.  This is now official notice he was now classified 4(C) – Enemy Alien.  The address bears his address (block number) at the Tule Lake “War Relocation Center”:



Interestingly, the cards are creased as he was required to carry it in his wallet at all times.  All American males of draft age were…even if they were imprisoned in a dusty, barren dry lake bed in California stripped of all rights.

tule lake guard
Armed guard at the Tule Lake Concentration Camp. My father, uncle, aunt and cousins were there so he was guarding them. US Army Signal Corps, May 23, 1943.

Ironic, isn’t it?


But what did FDR know about “suspect” activities by people of Japanese descent living in the US on the West Coast before Pearl Harbor?  Most importantly, of the extent and magnitude of their “suspect” activities?  We’re talking espionage.  What could have prompted his ordering the “evacuation” of such people from the west coast of America?

But don’t get me wrong; it was not just the Japanese.  People of German descent loyal to Nazi Germany also did spy…as did people of Italian descent.  Some were loyal to their homeland, not the US.  But certainly it was not ALL of them.  Let’s not forget the famous East Coast docks were run by the Italians, too.  Certainly, if one wished to “spy” and report on ship movements, there could not have been a better way.  Being dock workers, they know what supply ship left when…and with what.  After all, they loaded them.  A number were sent to the bottom of the Atlantic by the waiting U-boats.

Let’s explore this a bit further.


Since we are addressing “suspect” activities, here’s an interesting sidebar to this story.

Did you know that eight German saboteurs were caught on American soil whose combined cases were brought before a special session of the Supreme Court on July 29, 1942?  Did you know they came ashore from submarines in mid-June with greenbacks worth over $2 million today, explosives and even James Bond-like devices?  The case was referred to as the Ex parte Quirin.  It was named as such because of the lead saboteur, Richard Quirin. Quirin had lived in the US for a dozen years and became the first spy “trainee” of this group once he returned to Germany.

nazi electric chair

In short, six of the eight got to sit in the electric chair just about ten days later…  On top of that, a one saboteur (Herbert Haupt) actually went to live with his father in Chicago.  The father also helped him apply for a job and get a car.  Another saboteur, Werner Thiel, actually handed some of the money over to his once room mate and business partner, Anthony Cramer; they owned a deli but it had failed.  But it is interesting to note that in spite of this event, there was not a mass imprisonment of German nationals or their American-born offspring from this incident which made the US Supreme Court.


The MAGIC Intercepts Distribution Process

Because the US had broken the ultra-complex “Purple” code in 1939 used by the Japanese diplomats, FDR was able to at least see exactly what the Japanese diplomatic corps was doing before Pearl Harbor.

McCollum Arthur
Lt. Cmdr. Arthur McCollum. US Navy Photo

ONI (Office of Naval Intelligence) had established a secret delivery system for the intercepted Japanese military and diplomatic intelligence (MAGIC) for FDR in the winter of 1940. Lt. Com. Arthur H. McCollum of ONI, and the author of the “McCollum Memo”, was the distribution officer; his name was on 151 USN routing slips in the National Archives.(¹) These routing slips provided a trail to a large collection of Army and Navy MAGIC ultra secret deciphers from monitoring Japanese communications; these were presented to FDR, the top military chiefs and several key members of the Administration between February 1940 and December 7, 1941. Sometimes, when McCollum deemed he had a “hot” item, he would personally deliver the message to FDR; otherwise the President’s naval aide made the delivery as per below.

According to Stinnett (1):

The Japanese intercepts destined for FDR were placed in special folders.  Captain Callaghan (Naval Aide to FDR) was responsible for the safety of the documents. Roosevelt read the original copy but did not retain any of the intercepts. Each original was eventually returned to the folder and stored in McCollum’s safe at Station US in Washington. There they remained, available for White House review. Shortly after December 7, when Congressional critics began to question the administration’s failure to prevent the Hawaii attack, all records involving the Japanese radio intercept program—including the White House route logs and their secret content—were locked away in vaults controlled by Navy communications officials.

These intercepts would include those related to Japanese espionage efforts.  This twenty-two month monitoring program prior to Pearl Harbor also allowed FDR and key staff to anticipate and analyze Japan’s reaction to the provocations advocated in the McCollum Memo.(²)


So what did some of the MAGIC intercepts and other investigative reports include before Pearl Harbor and up to the imprisonment of about 117,000 people of Japanese descent against their will?  We already know per “What Did FDR Know – Part 3” that Tokyo instructed its American-based diplomats to covertly begin putting together an espionage network.  In fact, because we had broken the Japanese codes, the US “listened in” on Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in February 1941; he clued in Captain Kanji Ogawa, Japan’s top intelligence officer, of the intentions of attacking Pearl Harbor.  Yamamoto wanted to give Ogawa enough time to put together his own military-based network in the event of war.

ONI memo generated for FDR, dated February 12, 1941. This was based upon the Purple deciphers, with Tokyo instructing American-based diplomats to set up their espionage nets. Source: “Magic” by David D. Lowman.

Prior to the message instructing diplomats to energetically strengthen their espionage efforts, there were already Japanese spies living on the west coast.  Under the disguise of language students, Japanese military agents (primarily IJN) had already established their network including a small number of Issei and Nisei, militaristic Japanese organizations, Japanese clubs and business fronts.  This facet was led by Lt. Cmdr. Itaru Tachibana of the IJN.  In June 1941, however, this ring was smashed.  Tachibana, and unbelievably a former chauffeur and business secretary to Charlie Chaplin named Toraichi Kono, had tried to recruit a former US Navy seaman (Al Blake) but Blake turned him in.  While Tachibana and his lieutenants were deported, detailed searches of their living quarters provided detailed records of their espionage network.  This detail included names of residents of Japanese descent as well as a number of organizations.

While not a historian, the following is a summary of what I deem to be key MAGIC intercepts in addition to other information gathered by other entities such as the FBI.  In addition to information contained in the previous four parts, the thirst for intelligence by the Japanese was high:

  1. February 5, 1941 – Tokyo instructed the diplomats to come up with a contingency plan in the event something were to happen (i.e., war).  To always exercise due care and to look at Central/South America for continuing intelligence efforts.
  2. February 15, 1941 – Tokyo directly asked for intelligence on materiel movement (especially planes and ships), non-military cargo vessels, troop movements, production of planes and arms, military training activities, etc.
  3. April 24, 1941 – This intercept disclosed that Tokyo wanted a status update of its previous orders in regards to: (1) keying in on intelligence instead of propaganda, (2) recruiting of agents for the ring, and (3) established standards for reporting such information.
  4. May 9, 1941 – The Los Angeles office reported that they “…have already established contacts with absolutely reliable Japanese in the San Pedro and San Diego area, who will keep a close watch on all shipments of airplanes and other war materials…”  Further, they shall “…maintain close connections with the Japanese Association, the Chamber of Commerce and the newspapers.”
  5. May 19, 1941 – the Japanese Embassy in Washington requested $500,000 more cash to further their recruiting for intelligence gathering purposes, i.e., entertainment, bribery, etc.
  6. June 10, 1941 – To prevent an international scandal, this intercept recommended that it be made to look as if Kono’s friends were supporting him financially for his defense and to keep the IJN out of further suspicion on the arrest of Tachibana.  It was recommended $25,000 be offered as a bribe to Kono; the memo stated  in part “…in view of the danger that he might give evidence unsatisfactory  to TACHIBANA.”
  7. October 4, 1941 – specifically asked for intelligence on any change in sea or air patrols or warship movements and the immediate reporting thereof.
  8. October 28, 1941 – in one of many transmissions reporting naval ship movements, the Seattle diplomats reported in detail the sailing of fifteen Coast Guard vessels.  They also reported their four-inch guns were upgraded to five-inch guns.
  9. November 29, 1941 – Tokyo ordered the San Francisco diplomats to report in detail all arrivals, departure dates and destinations of ALL commercial and war ships in the Pacific, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. (Note: this was not transcribed until December 4, 1941.)
  10. December 6, 1941 – Seattle diplomats reported the departure of the carrier USS Saratoga from Bremerton, WA.

japanese espionage

Please note there were hundreds of these types of transmissions, both from and to Tokyo.  In addition, there were quite a few official FBI reports detailing espionage activities.  These reports also included names and businesses that were involved.  The FBI was not privy to MAGIC intercepts.


FDR signed Executive Order 9066 on February 19, 1942 which had the effect of forcibly relocating all persons of Japanese ancestry – both citizens and aliens – out of the west coast’s Pacific military zone and into War Relocation Centers. The much later publicized objectives of the order were to prevent espionage and to protect persons of Japanese descent from harm at the hands of Americans who had bitter anti-Japanese attitudes.


Dad in his US Army duds, Tokyo 1947. The Emperor’s Palace is behind him to his left. MacArthur’s GHQ is off to the right (Dai-Ichi Sei Mei Building).

So what is the point of this story, the last installment of “What Did FDR Know?”

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of their race.  In other words, they were discriminated against, pure and simple.³

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because “FDR wanted to protect the Japanese from hate crimes”.  After all, my grandmother was egged while she lived in Seattle.  Some Japanese girls were taunted or worse, molested, assaulted or raped.  Indeed, there was hysteria.

Some say people like my dad were imprisoned because of the espionage activities.  And from the above, we do see some were taking part in espionage activities.  In other words, the US wanted to ensure we won the war in the Pacific with the fewest amount of lost lives as possible and espionage was certainly a risk.  But if that were the case, how would the US go about removing Japanese suspected of espionage?  Just knock on specific homes and businesses and arrest specific men…but leave the others to go about their daily lives?

If they did that, wouldn’t Tokyo suspect their “secret” transmissions were being intercepted?  How else would the US have known who to arrest?  And if Tokyo did suspect that, what if they changed their codes?  We’d be in the dark again intel-wise.  More of our military would therefore possibly lose their lives.  (NOTE: It is true not one person of Japanese descent was tried and convicted of espionage.  However, it is my amateur opinion that they were NOT tried to maintain secrecy about the broken codes.  Case in point: the Supreme Court above.  Certainly, the fact we listened in on their espionage activities would have become public knowledge from testimony.)

So what do you think?  How does this compare to what you were taught?

(ADDENDUM – July 23, 2014

As a good fellow mentioned, the third paragraph immediately above can be read to imply my dad was suspected of espionage activities.  He was not.)


In my opinion, our breaking of the Japanese codes was America’s greatest secret weapon.

It was not the atomic bomb.



(1) Per “Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor” by Robert Stinnett.

(2) There was a brief period in 1941 when FDR himself was removed from the MAGIC distribution list.

(3) In 1988, President Reagan signed the Civil Liberties Act.  The Act approved paying each surviving Japanese or Japanese-American $20,000 each for being unlawfully stripped of their rights for no reason other than race.  (My dad, four uncles, four aunts and seven cousins each did receive payment as did other more distant relatives.)

28 thoughts on “What Did FDR Know? – Part 5”

      1. I think racism played a big part in all this.
        I am not an expert, but that’s the way I see it.

  1. Interesting link here…



    Why Teach About the Internment of Japanese Canadians?

    The internment of Japanese Canadians is a black mark on the history of a nation that prides itself on its ethnic diversity, its tolerance and its multicultural policies. A study of the internment of Japanese Canadians raises many questions about human nature, racism, discrimination, social responsibility and government accountability. Our democratic institutions are not infallible, nor are they easily sustained. Silence and indifference are the enemies of a healthy working democracy. Through the study of the internment, students will come to understand that civil liberties can only be protected in a society that is open, and in a democracy where participation is expected.

    The internment of Japanese Canadians was not an accident or a mere coincidence of wartime decisions made under duress or necessity. Life-altering decisions were made with little regard to the guilt or innocence of the victims. The individuals who made these decisions were unable or unwilling to assess the issue without bias or prejudice. Many Canadians reacted with indifference and did little to oppose the government.

  2. I don’t remember being taught near this much Koji. It’s mind boggling. I’m surprised and disheartened by much of it. Though being as naive as I am about world politics, I know I would likely crumble having to deal with this kind of activity and decision making.

    1. Those that were there as young teenagers or older try to paint a peaceful, law-abiding picture of life in camp. But there was tremendous strife and tensions within the camps…and within each family. For sure, you will not read about that in school.

      1. I know, I have only read it here on your posts Koji. You write so clearly about it. I’m stunned at what you write, and amazed at how people survived that.

  3. Excellent research and layout of the data, Koji. But, Order 9066 was not just for the “protection of the US’. FDR and most of his friends were raised and educated in an Aryan/Anglo ideology; FDR’s friends in Calif wanted the real estate, farm workers wanted the Japanese out because they worked below the Amer. wages, etc.
    People tend to forget what doesn’t affect them – this was the ultimate discrimination.

    1. Thank you again for further insight. Yes, that would make sense that folks stood to gain financially. I never really thought of it in that manner although I know people bought their belongings for pennies on the dollar. Thanks!

  4. Intense, comprehensive report. I was a teenager during that time, living in both NY and CA at various times. All I read was the white-washed versions. Breaking their code was vital, but equally so was the fact that they couldn’t break ours because it was borrowed from the Navajo language.

    1. Yes, the Marine Corps used the Navajo language for code for certain Marine Corps battles. The last surviving Code Talker passed away last month. Thank you for the additional info!

  5. Amazing, I read your post this morning and found this article in The Week magazine a few hours later – hopefully I will remember to scan it in to my site when I reach this awful order 9066 ______

    “Don Miyada was just a month shy of graduating in 1942 when he was pulled from school and sent to an internment camp in Arizona along with 17,000 other Japanese-Americans. Miyada received his diploma in the mail, but he always regretted missing the ceremony. Last week (end of June), the 89-year-old Californian donned a cap and gown and joined Newport Harbor High School’s graduating class, where he received a standing ovation. ‘It’s their time to graduate and their time of honor,’ he said. ‘I’m happy they invited me to be one of them.'”

  6. I did not know the Japanese code had been broken before Pearl Harbor, and did not know of Japanese-American (or German) known spies here. Interesting to see Hidenori Terasaki of the Japanese Embassy in DC was to organize intelligence gathering, although not so surprising. I have the book “Bridge to the Sun” written by Terasaki’s American wife which describes his and Kurusu’s frantic last-minute efforts to keep peace between Japan and the US, including Terasaki’s and Kurusu’s participation in the sending of that long cable (mentioned in Part 4) by FDR to go directly to the Emperor, bypassing Tojo who had forbidden them to try this tactic. The two had begged FDR to consider psychological techniques to allow Japan to keep face while backing out of China. FDR agreed and had a message appealing for peace written by Terasaki under Kurusu’s suggestion and with FDR’s signature, cabled to US Ambassador Grew in Tokyo to immediately bring to the Emperor. It was sent Dec 5 (US time). No one knows what happened to it. Terasaki, with an American wife and half-Japanese child, liked Americans and had a vested interested in peace between the countries. I do believe FDR knew something was going to happen and probably at Pearl Harbor. Not sure he knew exactly when. If you are interested, “Bridge to the Sun” is back in print as of 2012. I have an original 1957 version, signed by Mrs. Terasaki (whom I have never met).

    1. Well, it is true one learns something everyday. I never dreamed Terasaki would have a Caucasian wife. And you have a piece of historic treasure, Linda, in having that signed book. A definite window to the past.

      Because the US broke Japan’s codes, they knew EXACTLY what was going on. Not just militarily, either. The intercepts were so vast and detailed, they knew how much hurt they put on the Japanese. In one example, the US sunk four barges carrying coal to Japan (because we knew their routes and sailing times). The intercepted transmissions disclosed Japan’s furnaces for smelting steel and aluminum were nearly out of coal. The US also knew for a fact that the Japanese diplomats WANTED to surrender but FDR and his successor Truman took a blind eye…as you allude in your good comment.

  7. It is all wonderfully complicated, so much I didn’t know here. In the UK all Italian and German men (including escaped Jews) were rounded up (I think in 1942) and treated as enemy aliens, though they had been living in Britain for a generation or more. Some were deported to the Canada or Australia. Many perished.

    1. I didn’t know that, Hilary! Perished as well? OMG. I believe only three or so Japanese-Americans were killed by the guards here so they suffered much more elsewhere (and I’m not talking about the Holocaust – that’s a totally different story).

  8. First: this is not what I was taught, but it is, largely, what I am teaching. The current trends in education force me to do this – not that I wouldn’t anyway. If you pick up a modern history text, you may find that E.O. 9066 and Japanese relocation camps are of greater importance to the curriculum than the “Rape of Nanking,” the “Bataan Death March,” the “Massacre at Palawan,” or the torture and murder of thousands of civilians at Fort Santiago in Manila.

    Second: I have read Stinnett’s book, and it is ripe with problems and inconsistencies that he fails to address. Indeed, historians argue against his points, and he has only managed to say that they are part of the same conspiracies. For me, the hardest part of swallowing Stinnett’s argument was that he continually ignored the war being waged by Japan in China (since 1937) and Manchuria (since 1931). Further, to believe Stinnett is to believe that the Japanese Navy was so stupid that they did NOT practice radio silence while on their way to Pearl Harbor. I agree that Japanese leaders were poor strategists, but I doubt they would make such a sophomoric mistake.
    “About Pearl Harbor one must ask could Roosevelt, by himself, have kept information about an imminent attack from the commanders in Hawaii? Of course not. Teams of men were involved in breaking the Japanese diplomatic code in 1941; admirals and generals in Washington got the intelligence and took it to the President. Can anyone believe the admirals would have allowed their men and battleships to go down without a protest?…Most of all, the thesis that Roosevelt knew beforehand that there would be an attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 breaks down when Roosevelt’s actual policy is understood. That policy, in December 1941, was to avoid war with Japan until Nazi Germany had been defeated.”
    – Stephen Ambrose. New York Times, 1992.

    Third: I have also researched the codes and codebreakers themselves. In interviews with the codebreakers, they completely deny the fact that the codes were broken….in entirety. They suggest that it is not as simple as breaking a code. Their work involved a lot of guessing and speculation based upon knowledge of the culture and the people involved. The Purple Code was broken, but JN-25 was only about 15% deciphered by mid-1942.

    Fourth: I have heard about the German spies and Italian spies and Soviet spies and even British spies in the U.S. In the small west-Texas town of McCamey, there was a German spy who sold hot tamales to kids…and reported on truck and train movements. So I am sure there were thousands of others all over the country.

    Fifth: I agree with your final conclusions. Rights and personal freedoms were denied, and it was mostly to protect the American people AND the intelligence network we had in place. But I also believe that the Japanese had little chance of winning the war with the United States regardless of whether we had broken a code or not. The industrial capacity of the U.S. was simply too much for Japan to contend with.

    1. Good ol’ Patrick! Love reading about your thoughts and beliefs! If I spurred you and others onto commenting, then I’ve achieved my goals of this five part series… That things are NOT as what we were taught… and that our own government – who we elect to do good for us as we hope and believe – does NOT have us in their best interest. In fact, we who voted them in to represent us have the least amount of access to them. They only “access” themselves to the detriment of their constituents.

      Facts are twisted, misstated, changed or buried. That is one fact that one should derive from this series, I feel.

      And thank you for teaching our youngsters on what happened since our current history textbooks are focused on sending messages instead of stating relevant facts about the war – which is now but several paragraphs… They don’t even mention Iwo Jima, the Battle of Britain, the great sea battles and loss of life. These new textbooks bring down the war to several topics: the incarceration of the Japanese-Americans, the segregation of Black soldiers and the (horrible) atomic bombs. They make America to be ugly.

      Thanks for commenting! (and ps… I did my best not to state my own conclusions; I wanted readers – as few as they are – to come to their own.).

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