Time for government to reveal truth about Pearl Harbor

Source: The Baltimore Sun
Published: December 7, 2001 Author: Lee Gaillard

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PHILADELPHIA -- Early that Tuesday morning, terrorist suicide crews piloting hijacked jetliners killed an estimated 4,000 people from 86 countries.
Quickly labeled the Pearl Harbor of 2001, Sept. 11 has been acknowledged as a massive intelligence-gathering failure at the highest levels.

On that infamous Sunday morning 60 years ago today, against the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, Japanese Adm. Chuichi Nagumo's Operation Z carrier task force launched its attack that destroyed nearly 200 American aircraft, sank five battleships, severely damaged three cruisers, three destroyers and three auxiliaries, and killed 2,476 U.S. servicemen and civilians.

Flagrant absence of advance intelligence? On the contrary. Numerous reports and warning signs all pointed toward the coming debacle, and the sheer mass of transcribed radio intercepts bordered on overwhelming. The problem? Tactical surprise exacerbated by incredible incompetence and miscommunication. The cover-up continues to this day.

For six decades, questions have festered: How could U.S. military intelligence have overlooked immediate Japanese translation of Hector Bywater's 1925 novel The Great Pacific War (featuring a surprise Japanese assault on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor) for inclusion in the curriculum of their Naval War College?

Why were our Navy and the War Department blind to results of the 1932 Army-Navy war game attack on Pearl -- and to the success of a similar Sunday morning exercise in 1927? Why did they overlook 1940's victorious British carrier raid against the Italian fleet in Taranto? Cmdr. Minoru Genda didn't: He used it in planning Nagumo's attack.

What about dire warnings in the March 1941 Martin-Bellinger report? With U.S.-Japanese relations so tense by Dec. 7 that our carriers were reinforcing Midway Island with fighters, why were radar reports of huge numbers of incoming aircraft not taken seriously?

Why no immediate war emergency alert when the destroyer Ward sank a Japanese minisub within the harbor?

Further, experts still argue about U.S. decryption of Japanese naval codes. Stephen Budiansky, author of Battle of Wits, writes that newly discovered "documentary evidence ... decisively refutes the claim that JN-25 or any other high-level Japanese codes were being read in the months leading up to the Japanese attack." David Kahn, author of The Codebreakers, supports Navy cryptanalyst assertions that "no five-numeral messages were read before Pearl Harbor."

But in his meticulously researched Day of Deceit, Robert B. Stinnett states, "Seven Japanese naval broadcasts intercepted between Nov. 28 and Dec. 6 confirmed that Japan intended to start the war and that it would begin at Pearl Harbor."

Countering other assertions, two specialists identified for him 129 radio intercepts proving that the Japanese First Air Fleet did not maintain radio silence on the way to its launch point. But when did such messages actually get translated from the Japanese after initial decoding? Confusion reigns.

When, for verification, Mr. Stinnett recently requested original documents from U.S. government files, the Navy refused to declassify some. Attorney General Janet Reno denied access to others (still labeled "National Defense Secrets" in 1999) and many released under the Freedom of Information Act had portions removed or entire passages blacked out.

Several historians emphatically maintain that we had broken relevant Japanese codes and that key U.S. officials possessed vital advance information about the imminent attack. Others object with equal vehemence. But after 60 years, what information is still so threatening that the government refuses to release files proving what, in fact, was known?

Rapidly diminishing ranks of American veterans who fought in the Pacific during World War II deserve the truth.

So does the rest of the country.

Lee Gaillard writes about defense and military technology.