Sunday, September 13, 2009

Days of infamy part 4 - the end?

OK, after a long break and some unpleasantness it's time to finish what I started all those weeks ago!

So, we've looked in detail at the circumstances surrounding the actual attack on Pearl Harbor and the details of the global political situation before the attack - and we examined what these things meant for the conspiracy theory. Now we're going to return in detail to the list of factors I mentioned in the first post.

Here I am going to flesh out the details, repeat some stuff and wrap it all up!

As a reminder, here is the list of factors that are common to most military or intelligence disasters and screw ups and are certainly present at Pearl Harbor:
  1. Intelligence 'noise' and the fog of war.
  2. Competing/rival intelligence agencies and armed services.
  3. No centralised intelligence gathering structure.
  4. Lack of unified command structures.
  5. Personalities - including personal and professional arrogance.
  6. Underestimation of the enemy.
  7. Misinterpretation of available data.
  8. The mistrust inherent in handling secret information.
  9. Availability of information or access to it.
  10. Context of available information.
In the first post I explained what each of these meant, here we are going to look at how they relate to the attack on Pearl Harbor and how they demonstrate that what happened was not a conspiracy but a good old fashioned balls up. Of course, if it wasn't a conspiracy then our Paranoid Conspiracy Theorist (PCT) has some problems, especially if they are of the deranged type that links Pearl Harbor with the 9/11/01 attacks.

Intelligence 'noise' and the fog of war

To recap, noise in the intelligence world refers to the sheer volume of data that an analyst might be confronted with. In the months leading up to Pearl Harbor, noise was one of the factors that distracted from the signs that pointed to the coming attack.

The problem was that the majority of data the US intelligence analysts were seeing pointed primarily to attacks in Southeast Asia rather than an attack on Pearl Harbor. The relatively few things that did show that the Japanese were going to attack the US Navy in Hawaii or were at least thinking about it were buried amongst everything else, and there were no sophisticated computer systems to sift through everything looking for indicators of an attack, nor were there large and well staffed agencies that could have examined everything in detail. The noise of Southeast Asia drowned out Pearl Harbor.

Don't forget the fog of war as well - up until the attack on Pearl Harbor Japanese actions suggested an interest in Southeast Asia, they showed a definite trend. Without knowing exactly the Japanese intentions it was certainly safe to assume further actions in that area rather than a shift to a target thousands of miles away. Furthermore, even if the US were aware of the sailing of the Japanese fleet that eventually targeted Pearl Harbor, how were they to know what the purpose of its sailing was? There could be any number of reasons the fleet sailed, and there was no satellite reconnaissance to track the fleet across the Pacific.

Competing/rival intelligence agencies and armed services

We've seen in detail how the different agencies and services worked together (or, in actuality, didn't work together). The Navy would not share information with the Army and vice versa. They did not plan operations together. There was no unified command structure. The two services intelligence organisations were looking at different sources and did not share interpretation successes. The US Navy was reading Japanese naval radio traffic, the Army's SIS was reading Japanese diplomatic traffic. They didn't share the results. Then, in late 1940, the two agencies decided that on odd days the Navy would do the diplomatic signals and on even days the Army, and that this information would go to the White House on a monthly basis with the Navy taking it on the odd months and the Army on the even ones. Not only were they not sharing the information they had, they were competing to get their information to their political masters.

When the final fourteen part Japanese message declaring the severing of diplomatic ties was received in Washington both agencies (US Naval and Army intelligence) decoded it separately at different times and sent the results to different people without any co-operation in between.

The FBI was not blameless either. Head of the FBI J Edgar Hoover refused to share information he received with either of the armed services responsible for the defence of Hawaii, for reasons we will go into shortly.

All of this meant that not one of the intelligence gathering agencies responsible for detecting incoming attacks on US soil ever had the full and complete picture, and at times they didn't even share what they did have with the few people that may have had a complete picture.

No centralised intelligence gathering structure

This is one of the key areas of weakness. Because the main players in intelligence gathering and interpretation were competing agencies that did not work together it was vital that there was a single centralised organisation to co-ordinate intelligence gathering tasking priorities and to collate, evaluate and disseminate the information gathered by each agency. Only in 1941, the Americans didn't really have one.

If this had been in place then there could have been one organisation that did have the whole picture - all the strands could have been brought together. This would still not have guaranteed that someone would have seen the attack on Pearl Harbor coming, but the chances were far greater than one agency with only a small portion of the picture being able to describe the whole thing accurately. Essentially, without this centralised structure what was being asked was that one of US Navy intelligence, Army intelligence or the FBI were being given the top left quarter of the Mona Lisa and being asked to describe the rest of the picture with particular emphasis on the expression on her face.

There was no such organisation in place in Washington to co-ordinate at an agency level and there was no such organisation in place on Pearl Harbor to co-ordinate the two service commands on the Hawaiian islands.

In short each agency was working to its own priorities, with its own agenda and was being expected to do so for everyone. Which leads us nicely into:

Lack of unified command structures

There was no Joint Chiefs of Staff as it is today in the US military until 1942, after the attack on Pearl Harbor. Without this, the Army and Navy on Hawaii acted completely separately in what they considered their own spheres of influence - they did not meet to discuss the defence of Hawaii. They didn't share their plans for doing so. The US Navy commander in Hawaii, Admiral Kimmel, even admitted he did not tell Lieutenant-General Short, the Army's commanding officer in Hawaii, his plans for the defence of Hawaii. They acted separately and planned separately, without sharing any of their intelligence data in between.

Say it out loud and it sounds even dumber - the two services responsible for protecting Pearl Harbor never spoke to each other about how to do so or about what their inevitable enemy might be up to in regards to the base.

Personalities - personal and professional arrogance

This is one of the more intriguing areas in this whole saga. One of the biggest causes of the shock that came with the Japanese attacks beginning on the 7th December 1941 was that the British and Americans didn't think the Japanese were capable of such military feats. Professional arrogance got the better of them. Singapore fell largely because in a few weeks the British attitude swung from "Bring the tiny short sighted buggers on." to "Blimey, these guys are invincible." and this destroyed British confidence and morale.

The US Navy didn't think the Imperial Japanese Navy capable of attacking Pearl Harbor, so they weren't that worried about it. The US Navy also ignored the lessons of the Royal Navy's attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto - that Americans don't have anything to learn from the British was not exactly an uncommon feeling then (and still isn't now) in the US military. The harbor was too far away, too well defended and too shallow for the Japanese to attack. The US military just knew this to be the case.

The Japanese couldn't possibly attack Pearl Harbor because the Americans didn't think they could.

Individuals inevitably play a part in all this as well. People going asleep because they didn't feel any urgency even though the attack was just hours away is but one example. J Edgar Hoover's arrogance and personal dislikes also play a role in the dismissal of some key intelligence data that gave a strong indication that Pearl Harbor was a target.

Early in the war the British Security Service (MI5) had been successful in turning nearly all of the German Abwehr agents in the British Isles into double agents - agents working for the British but giving the impression they still worked for the Germans. One such agent was Dusko Popov, codename 'Tricycle'. Tricycle was dispatched to the USA in 1941 to train the Americans in the value of double agents, and he also had the latest German intelligence collection priorities with him to share with the Americans. This included a questionnaire that amounted to all of the Abwehr's collection priorities for the USA, which included an entire section on Pearl Harbor, its layout and defences. Tricycle met with the FBI Bureau Chief in Washington in August 1941, but the meeting did not go well. Tricycle's nickname is rumoured to have come from his preference for having two girls in his bed at a time and Hoover disliked him intensely because of his playboy tendencies and the fact that he wasn't American. Hoover even bragged in his diary that he had sent a 'dirty Nazi spy' packing (Hughes-Wilson , p.69). All this despite the fact that since January the Japanese, Italians and Germans had agreed to share intelligence and the questionnaire about Pearl Harbor was partly a Japanese one.

As Hughes-Wilson points out, comparing this questionnaire with other Japanese signals intelligence would have made the significance of Pearl Harbor clear, but Hoover's own arrogance and prudishness prevented this from happening. The Japanese Consul-General had been using a questionnaire just like the one Tricycle had. Someone was clearly very interested in Pearl Harbor. And Hoover dismissed any chance of finding out who because he didn't like the source personally.

There is no way the conspiracy can account for any of that.

Underestimation of the enemy

Linked to the previous point this is worth some more emphasis - European Imperial authorities and the American authorities simply did not think the Japanese would make good fighters. They didn't think they had the resources, training or capabilities to pull off a feat like the Pearl Harbor attack. There was an innate sense of superiority in the European and American militaries that led them to constantly underestimate the Japanese for the first few months of the Pacific War. This initial dismissal of Japanese abilities ironically turned into a belief in their invincibility with the early and rapid Japanese successes.

Japanese equipment was dismissed - the Zero was dismissed as too light and underpowered and armed to compete with American and European fighters. Veterans of the Battle of Britain sent in their Spitfires to fight in Asia against the Japanese were quickly set straight about the skill of the Japanese pilots and the capabilities of their aircraft.

The Americans didn't think the Japanese had torpedoes that would work in the shallow waters of Pearl Harbor, yet ever since Taranto the Japanese had been experimenting with different types until they got it right.

Because the Allies consistently underestimated the Japanese, the surprise and shock that came with Pearl Harbor and the attacks on other Allied territories was almost inevitable.

Nobody thought the Japanese could do it.

Misinterpretation of available data

This is one of the biggies in intelligence collection and analysis. You can have all the right data and still make the wrong conclusion. When it comes down to what your enemies intentions are, in the end you are still guessing unless you have a source on the ground and on the inside.

Once the oil embargo on Japan was in place the Allies had a timetable to when Japanese action might be necessary. There was a given amount of time before Japan used up its fuel reserves. The Americans looked at this data and concluded that this would bring the Japanese to the negotiating table and force them to withdraw from their conquests in Southeast Asia before then. The Japanese looked at this data and decided they would have to take their resources by force before then.

In the summer of 1941 American planners had correctly calculated that the Japanese had about 6 months of aviation spirits left. That meant that by about December 1941, or so the Americans thought, the Japanese would have to come back to the negotiating table. And when was the attack on Pearl Harbor? December 7th 1941. Japanese planners had concluded they needed to seize their raw materials before the end of December 1941.

Again, we are forced to bring up the Royal Navy attack on Taranto. The Japanese looked at this attack and saw that torpedo bombers could attack a fleet at anchor in a shallow and defended harbor with modified equipment and well drilled aircrews. The Americans still thought that the Japanese couldn't possibly do it. As Hughes-Wilson points out:
In the words of the Japanese Naval Staff, "Taranto made Pearl Harbor feasible."

The Japanese learned from the British by trial and error. All the US Navy needed to do was ask, but they didn't.

The mistrust inherent in handling secret information

This one is inherent in the intelligence gathering world - its the business they are in. As it applies to Pearl Harbor though it was taken to ridiculous levels. At times the Army and Navy were, according to Hughes-Wilson, even keeping information from the President!

Lieutenant-General Short was not cleared for the highest levels of Naval signals intelligence, so the Navy wouldn't show it to him. Need to know criteria was so stringently applied that important decision makers were excluded from access to intelligence information because the intelligence communities decided they didn't need to know. Short didn't know that the Navy was reading Japanese intentions. Because Short wasn't cleared, Kimmel wouldn't show him everything he could have. On top of this, Kimmel himself was not privy to all the intelligence gained from the Magic program. His own personal Magic code breaking machine had been removed and given to the British as part of an intelligence sharing exchange. So Kimmel was not sharing with Short, and he didn't know everything himself anyway!

Now, in defence of the intelligence operators there is good reason for this - the Japanese suspected at one point that their was a program to read their signals, Magic was almost compromised. With such potentially war winning weapons (as Magic, Orange and in Europe Enigma were) secrecy is vital - if the enemy knows you are reading his codes then he changes them and months of effort are lost, with the subsequent loss of life in wartime. The intelligence operators distrusted what could happen if information was passed to indiscreet politicians - but cutting out the decision makers on overly stringent need to know criteria is ridiculous. On what sane basis can you really argue that the field commanders don't need to know what their enemy are doing? The only real answer is an over obsession with secrecy and protecting the personal and professional influence that comes when you can drip feed the power holders the information they desire.

Availability of information or access to it

This is a problem that is not always appreciated by the public or your PCT - just because the information is out there doesn't mean the right people can get hold of it. There were no agents deep inside the Japanese government that could give details of Japanese intentions - just like there are no agents in Al'Qaeda and just like there were none in Saddam's inner circle. Human intelligence is vital for understanding intentions, signals can give you some of that but not every decision or plan is conveniently transmitted for interception. The Allies simply did not know that Pearl Harbor had been selected as a target, and that detailed planning was underway for most of 1941. They didn't know the fleet had set sail to attack Pearl Harbor. They didn't know the fleet was going to attack when it did and in the manner it did.

It's that simple. There were no satellites, no high and fast reconnaissance aircraft, no submarines patrolling the coast of Japan, no private phone taps. Even the high powered and specifc intelligence of Magic and Orange didn't tell the Americans Pearl Harbor was the target and on what day.

One thing that modern US intelligence agencies have had to relearn is that it doesn't matter how sophisticated and comprehensive your data collection and signals intelligence is, human intelligence is still better. Agents on the ground can gather the intentions of your enemy, not just their capabilities.

You can't analyse or interpret what you don't have.

Context of available information

This is linked to the previous entry - raw data on its own is not enough, it doesn't tell you the important stuff. Capabilities, as Hughes-Wilson explains in detail, is only half the picture, less than that really. The real jewel is intentions - what the enemy plans to do. If someone only has a little of the picture, they can't give it context - its meaningless on its own. They can't complete the story. If Army intelligence only had information that a fleet had set sail, they can't easily figure out why. But if Navy intelligence has word of an attack on Pearl Harbor, suddenly there is context. This wasn't available because no-one had the complete picture.

As I said in my first post, the best way to explain this is an analogy to a big story. You can read page 67 of The Two Towers and know what page 67 is about if you're lucky. But there is no way in hell from there you can describe what The Lord of The Rings is about and how page 67 fits into that and what the events of page 67 mean. At times, the people involved in the Pearl Harbor tragedy weren't even getting a page, more like the second word from the first line of the fourth paragraph of page 67.

So what does it all mean - was there a conspiracy?

No, and anyone who says there was is an idiot. They are ignoring the facts, plain and simple. All the conspiracy theory does is raise more questions than it answers. Pearl Harbor was the result of individual and systemic incompetence, of personal and professional arrogance and of the problems inherent in intelligence gathering and interpretation. Add to that mix some technical failures and human frailties then throw in a dose of bad luck and the scene is set.

If the attack on Pearl Harbor was not some Churchillian or New World Order conspiracy, then claiming it as the first act in events that led to 9/11 fails at the first hurdle. Hell, it doesn't even get up out of the blocks. If your PCT has linked the two and claimed they are both conspiracies perpetrated by the same organisation or people, then he also has a bigger problem. If the first one never was part of your grand conspiracy, then what of the second one?

Pearl Harbor also highlights the problem of examining any history - 20/20 hindsight. It all looks clear for us after the fact, when every indicator takes on new significance and meaning. "If we can see it, why couldn't they?" asks the PCT, thereby implying something more is going on. The answer is simple - it has happened now you dumbass. Of course it is obvious after the fact. Of course everything makes sense after it has happened.

We know why these guys were taking flying lessons and weren't too interested in landing now - did anyone ever guess that some group would organise the simultaneous hijacking of four airliners to use as missiles before they did though? It seems so obvious now that we can't believe someone didn't think of it before. It is only ever after the fact that people need to invent conspiracies to explain what to them seems obvious after the events, and usually their explanation just happens to involve groups or people they personally don't like. How convenient for them.

It's not a conspiracy, it's history. That's just the way it looks sometimes.

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