Robert Stinnett | Independent Institute | December 7, 2003
Two questions about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor have ignited a controversy that has burned for 60 years: Did U.S. naval cryptographers crack the Japanese naval codes before the attack? Did Japanese warships and their commanding admirals break radio silence at sea before the attack?
If the answer to both is “no,” then Pearl Harbor was indeed a surprise attack described by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as a “Day of Infamy.” The integrity of the U.S. government regarding Pearl Harbor remains solid.
But if the answer is “yes,” then hundreds of books, articles, movies, and TV documentaries based on the “no” answer – and the integrity of the federal government – go down the drain. If the Japanese naval codes were intercepted, decoded, and translated into English by U.S. naval cryptographers prior to Pearl Harbor, then the Japanese naval attacks on American Pacific military bases were known in advance among the highest levels of the American government.
During the 60 years, the truthful answers were secreted in bomb-proof vaults, withheld from two congressional Pearl Harbor investigations and from the American people. As recently as 1995, the Joint Congressional Investigation conducted by Sen. Strom Thurmond and Rep. Floyd Spence, was denied access to a naval storage vault in Crane, Indiana, containing documents that could settle the questions.
Americans were told of U.S. cryptographers’ success in cracking pre–Pearl Harbor Japanese diplomatic codes, but not a word has been officially uttered about their success in cracking Japanese military codes.
In the mid-1980s I learned that none of the hundreds of thousands of Japanese military messages obtained by the U.S. monitor stations prior to Pearl Harbor were introduced or discussed during the congressional investigation of 1945-46. Determined to penetrate the secrets of Pearl Harbor, I filed Freedom of Information (FOIA) requests with the US Navy. Navy officials in Washington released a few pre-Pearl Harbor documents to me in 1985. Not satisfied by the minuscule release, I continued filing FOIAs.
Finally in 1993, the U.S. Naval Security Group Command, the custodian of the Crane Files, agreed to transfer the records to National Archives in Washington, D.C. In the winter of 1993-94 the files were transported by truck convoy to a new government facility built on the College Park campus of the University of Maryland inside the Washington Beltway, named Archives II. Mr. Clarence Lyons, then head of the Military Reference Branch, released the first batch of Crane Files to me in the Steny Hoyer Research Center at Archives II in January 1995.
Apparently, the pre-Pearl Harbor records had not been seen or reviewed since 1941. Though refiled in pH-safe archival boxes by Lyons’ staff, some of the Crane documents were covered with dust, tightly bunched together in the boxes and tied with unusual waxed twine. Lyons confirmed the records were received from the U.S. Navy in that condition.
It took me a year to evaluate the records. The information revealed in the files was astonishing. It disclosed a Pearl Harbor story hidden from the public. I believed the story should be told to the American people. The editors of Simon & Schuster/The Free Press published Day of Deceit: The Truth About FDR and Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1999.
Day of Deceit was well received by media book reviews and the on-line booksellers, Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com, earning a 70 percent public approval rating. Day of Deceit continues among the top ten bestsellers in the non-fiction Pearl Harbor book category, according to Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.com.
About 30 percent of the reviews have discounted the book’s revelations. The leaders of the dispute include Stephen Budiansky, Edward Drea, and David Kahn, all of whom have authored books or articles on code breaking. To bolster their pre-Pearl Harbor theories, the trio violated journalistic ethics and distorted the U.S. Navy’s pre-Pearl Harbor paper trail. Their efforts cannot be ignored. The trio has close ties to the National Security Agency, the overseer of U.S. naval communications files. Kahn has appeared before NSA seminars. The NSA has not honored my FOIA requests to disclose honorariums paid the seminar participants but has released records that confirm Kahn has been a participant.
Immediately after Day of Deceit appeared in bookstores in 1999, NSA began withdrawing pre-Pearl Harbor documents from the Crane Files housed in Archives II. This means the government decided to continue 60 years of Pearl Harbor censorship. As of January 2002, over two dozen NSA withdrawal notices have triggered the removal of Pearl Harbor documents from public inspection.
The number of pages in the withdrawn documents appears to be in the hundreds. Among the records withdrawn are those of Admiral Harold R. Stark, the 1941 Chief of Naval Operations, as well as crypto records authored by Commander Joseph J. Rochefort, the chief cryptographer for the Pacific Fleet at the time of Pearl Harbor. Under the Crane File transfer agreement with National Archives, NSA has the legal right to withdraw any document based on national defense concerns.
Concurrent with the NSA withdrawals, Budiansky, with the aid of Kahn and Drea, began a two-year media campaign to discredit the paper trail of the U.S. naval documents that form the backbone of Day of Deceit. One of the most egregious examples of ethical violations appeared in an article by Kahn published in the New York Review of Books on November 2, 2000. In that article, Kahn attempted to bolster his contention that Japanese admirals and warships observed radio silence while en route to attack American Pacific bases. Kahn broke basic journalism ethics and rewrote a U.S. Naval Communication Summary prepared by Commander Rochefort at his crypto center located in the Pearl Harbor Naval Yard.
About 1,000 intercepted Japanese naval radio messages formed the basis of each Daily Summary written by Rochefort and his staff. The Japanese communication intelligence data contained in the messages was summarized and delivered daily to Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander-in-Chief of the Pacific Fleet. Rochefort’s summary of November 25, 1941 (Hawaii time) was not to Kahn’s liking. It revealed the Commander Carriers of the Imperial Japanese Navy were not observing radio silence but were in “extensive communications” with other Japanese naval forces whose admirals directly commanded the forces involved in the Pearl Harbor attack. Because of the International Dateline, the “extensive communications” mentioned in the summary took place on November 26, 1941, Japan time, the exact day the Japanese carrier force began its journey to Hawaii.
In its entirety the Rochefort summary reads: “FOURTH FLEET – CinC. Fourth Fleet is still holding extensive communications with the commander Submarine Fleet, the forces at Jaluit and Commander Carriers. His other communications are with the Third, Fourth, and Fifth Base Forces.”
The meaning of the summary is unequivocal: The commanders of the powerful Japanese invasion, submarine, and carrier forces did not observe radio silence as they maneuvered toward U.S. bases in Hawaii, Wake, and Guam Islands in the Central Pacific. Instead they used radio transmitters aboard their flagships and coordinated strategy and tactics with each other.
The summary corroborates earlier findings by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian John Toland. In the late 1970s, Toland interviewed personnel and obtained U.S. naval documents from San Francisco’s Twelfth Naval District that disclosed that the “extensive communications” were intercepted by the radio direction finders of the U.S. Navy’s West Coast Communications Intelligence Network. Doubleday published Toland’s account in 1982 as Infamy: Pearl Harbor and its Aftermath.
Yet in his NYRoB article Kahn deleted portions of the Rochefort summary in the middle of the first sentence, profoundly diminishing its significance. Kahn’s version: “Fourth Fleet is still holding extensive communications with the Commander Submarine Fleet.”
Kahn violated basic journalism rules by deleting crucial words and not using ellipsis to indicate a deletion. When I cited these ethical violations to the editors of the NYRoB, Kahn offered an excuse and implied that Rochefort’s summary was too long. “I had to condense my review,” he wrote.
Kahn probably believes his deletion was insignificant because he denies that the Commander Carriers were involved in the Pearl Harbor attack. “The force that attacked Hawaii was not that of the Commander Carriers but the First Air Fleet,” he wrote in his reply to my Letter to the Editor of the NYRoB (February 8, 2001). Kahn revealed his ignorance of the Japanese naval organization. The First Air Fleet operated under Commander Carriers, that is, Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, who was in charge of the entire Hawaii Operation.
Captain A. James McCollum, USNR (Ret), who served in San Francisco’s Twelfth Naval District intelligence office (and later on the intelligence staff of Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz) accused Kahn of committing “journalistic crimes.” “That critic, David Kahn, seems to have deliberately distorted some facts and even altered quotations…,” McCollum wrote in his letter to the editors of the NYRoB on February 14, 2001. The letter was never published.
Stephen Budiansky continued his media blitz in the Wall Street Journal. In a December 27, 2001 Letter to the Editor of the Journal, Budiansky praised Kahn as “…widely regarded as the world’s leading authority on the history of code breaking…” Then in following paragraphs, Budiansky mimicked Kahn and misreported the facts concerning the U.S. naval monitor station on Corregidor, known as CAST. He challenged the Day of Deceit account and wrote that CAST was located in Cavite, Philippines.
Budiansky’s errors involving CAST reveal a poor understanding of U.S. naval communications intelligence operations. CAST was temporarily located at the Cavite Naval Base in 1936, then moved to Mariveles on the Bataan Peninsula. In October 1940, the station was relocated to Corregidor. The new quarters were located in an underground crypto center carved from the rock of Corregidor. CAST remained on the rock until the spring of 1942 when advancing Japanese troops forced its removal to Australia. Budiansky did not differentiate between the 1940-41 U.S. naval broadcast radio center at Cavite and the U.S. navy cryptographic monitor station on Corregidor.
The mistakes of the Budiansky-Drea-Kahn team concerning Station CAST worsen.
In the same Wall Street Journal edition, Edward J. Drea, a retired U.S. Army historian, also wrote a misleading account of the crypto operations at CAST in November 1941. Mr. Drea challenged a CAST report dated November 16, 1941, by its commanding officer Lieutenant John M. Lietwiler who reported to Washington that his staff was “current” in intercepting, decoding, and translating the Japanese navy’s Operation Code.
Lietwiler was a highly trained crypto expert in deciphering the Japanese navy’s main operation code known to Japan in the fall of 1941 as the Kaigun Ango-sho D, Ransuhyo nana (Navy Code Book D, random numbers table seven). He spent 1940 and most of 1941 learning the principles of decoding Code Book D from Agnes Meyer Driscoll, the brilliant Chief Civilian Cryptanalyst for the U.S. Navy. Ms. Driscoll was the first American to discover the solution of Code Book D, soon after Japan introduced it in June 1939.
Upon completing the Code Book D crypto course, Lietwiler was dispatched to CAST with the latest decoding details of Table Seven. He arrived and took command of CAST in September 1941. Lietwiler’s expertise and devotion to his crypto duty meant nothing to Drea. In his letter, Drea demoted Lieutenant Lietwiler and described him as a “1941 writer.”
Challenging my interpretation of Lietwiler’s letter, Drea states: “Nowhere in the cited communications is the Japanese naval code mentioned.” Drea is correct in the narrowest sense. To understand that Lietwiler was discussing the Japanese naval operations code requires a broader context.
Mr. Drea failed to comprehend Lietwiler’s technical crypto language used in the letter. It was addressed to Lietwiler’s counterpart in Washington, D.C., Lieutenant Lee W. Parke, another of the U.S. Navy’s brilliant cryptographers. Parke had devised a crypto machine that automatically decoded the additive/subtractive columnar tables of Table Seven. Parke called his invention the JEEP IV and sent it to CAST by officer courier. It arrived on Corregidor on October 6, 1941, via the armed U.S. naval transport U.S.S. Henderson.
The construction of JEEP IV was specifically authorized by Rear Admiral Royal Ingersoll, Acting Chief of Naval Operations. In a memo dated October 4, 1940, Ingersoll wrote, referring to Code Book D: “an additive key cipher is employed in this code, and, although the method of recovery is well defined, the process is a laborious one, requiring from an hour to several days for each message. A machine is under construction which will aide in the mechanical part of the solution, but it must be accepted that current information will seldom be available immediately…” The Ingersoll memo directly connects the Lietwiler memo to the Japanese naval operations code.
Lietwiler refers explicitly to JEEP IV in the letter and adds that his Crypto Yeoman Albert Myers Jr., bypassed JEEP IV and was able to “walk across” the many columnar tables of Code Book D. Readers of the Wall Street Journal should know that Code Book D used columnar random number Table Seven in the fall of 1941. If Mr. Drea had done more crypto homework, he would have known the purpose of JEEP IV. It is fully spelled out in U.S. Navy files. JEEP IV is derived from Parke’s unit whose secret navy crypto designator was GYP (phonetic = jeep). But he failed to understand the esoteric language used by the two code breakers.
I could point out more errors by the trio, but I will limit myself to one more. They refer to errors in dates in Day of Deceit. The so-called date “errors” they cite are not “errors” but are related to the geography of the International Date Line. Like many easterners who have never been west of the Hudson River, the trio does not realize that November 25 in Hawaii is November 26 in Japan. The mid-ocean date change between America and Japan is known throughout the world. It is the result of geographers establishing the Date Line in the Mid-Pacific. America’s day begins in Guam, not New York.
Robert B. Stinnett is a Media Fellow at The Independent Institute in Oakland, California, and author of Day of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor (Touchstone, 2001).