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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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.”
- October 4, 1941 – specifically asked for intelligence on any change in sea or air patrols or warship movements and the immediate reporting thereof.
- 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.
- 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.)
- December 6, 1941 – Seattle diplomats reported the departure of the carrier USS Saratoga from Bremerton, WA.
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.
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.)