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Topic: Did Japan break the US Diplomatic Code prior to Pearl Harbor, Discussion re: recent LA Times Article< Next Oldest | Next Newest >
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Rich Marsh Search for posts by this member.

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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 09 2001,9:41  Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Japan Broke U.S. Code Before Pearl Harbor, Researcher Finds
LA TIMES
By VALERIE REITMAN
Times Staff Writer

December 7 2001

Asia: Discovery is based on papers unearthed in Tokyo. They show attack may have been prompted by belief that Washington had decided on war.

TOKYO -- Toshihiro Minohara made a startling discovery while digging through the U.S. National Archives in College Park, Md., last summer. While researching secret codes used prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor 60 years ago, the young Japanese American professor stumbled upon a document, declassified by the CIA about five years ago, that proved that Tokyo had succeeded in breaking the U.S. and British diplomatic codes. A few microfilmed documents, showing the Japanese translations of the telegrams, were attached.

Minohara knew he was on to something important: For decades it was widely believed that Japan, then a developing country with a fierce rivalry between its army and navy, hadn't been up to measure when it came to code-breaking, particularly the documents of the Americans.

"We are so . . . arrogant," said Donald Goldstein, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh and co-author of "At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor." "It's very possible they could have broken our code, so why shouldn't they have?"

Research in Tokyo Confirms Findings

Further research by a colleague in Japan confirmed the findings--and may shed light on the mind-set that caused Japan's last holdouts for peace to opt for war just weeks before the attack, Minohara said this week.

When Minohara sent fellow Kobe University teacher Satoshi Hattori to check Japan's diplomatic archives in Tokyo, he wasn't optimistic: Most top-secret documents were burned after being read in wartime Japan. Those that remained were confiscated by the U.S. during the occupation that followed Japan's 1945 defeat; they are now housed in U.S. archives.

But Hattori unearthed a folder marked "Special Documents," containing 34 communiques that would have been easy to overlook--and apparently have been by other Japanese researchers numerous times. They are simple typed pages, written primarily in English, of U.S. and British diplomatic discussions and telegrams, many from U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull to various U.S. ambassadors.

The contents of the documents have long been known to historians the world over, and some even pop up on the Internet. But their appearance in the Japanese archives reveals that Tokyo knew what was going on in Washington in the weeks before Dec. 7, 1941, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, killing more than 2,000 people.

Minohara says his findings may shed light on why the few doves in the Japanese Cabinet--in particular, Foreign Minister Shigenori Togo--dropped their opposition to war.

Japan Stunned by Hard-Line U.S. Edict

The U.S., alarmed by the march of Japan's Imperial Army through Asia, had imposed an oil embargo on the nation and told it to get out of China, among other things. Togo had sent a conciliatory rebuttal, known as the "Five Points Plan," offering some concessions and seeking to continue discussions.

Japan knew from the decoded cables that the U.S. had been seriously considering some of the compromises. But on Nov. 26, 1941, the Americans stunned Japan with a hard-line edict essentially ordering Tokyo's troops to get out of China and Indochina or face the consequences. This apparently convinced even Togo that the U.S. had decided on war.

Many historians have speculated that President Franklin D. Roosevelt was looking for an excuse to get into the war in Europe; they posit that he knew Japan would attack but thought the target might be American forces in the Philippines or instead perhaps Malaya, then a British colony, which would prompt the U.S. to come to the aid of its ally.

The newly revealed documents raise an interesting question, Minohara says. Had the American side accepted the compromises it was considering--lifting the oil embargo for three months, permitting Japanese troops to remain in Indochina and continuing discussions on Japan's occupation of Manchuria--would Tokyo have still gone through with the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor?

Japan's war vessels had long before set sail for the Pacific, and the command "Climb Mt. Itaka" meant for Japanese troops to go forward with the attack on Pearl Harbor; but there was also a lesser-known command, "Climb Mt. Tsukuba," which meant return.

"The big question is why the U.S. dropped the offer," says Minohara, 30, who did undergraduate work at UC Davis before moving to Japan for graduate school at Kobe University, where he now teaches.

Togo wrote in his memoirs that, when he read the edict from the U.S., "I was shocked to the point of dizziness. At this point, we had no choice but to take action."

Historians often wondered why he was so shocked. Minohara says Togo's raised expectations that a deal was in the offing led to his anger.

Thomas G. Mahnken, a strategy professor at the U.S. Naval War College in Rhode Island who recently completed a book on U.S. intelligence on Japan in the years before World War II, says the knowledge that Japan was breaking the codes is "significant."

Then again, Mahnken notes, the U.S. diplomatic telegrams "were not tremendously sophisticated," and a number of countries had even broken those used by military attaches.

Neither Japan nor the U.S. had broken the other's military codes prior to Pearl Harbor, Minohara says.

Japanese historians often claim that the U.S. misinterpreted some of the country's telegrams--for instance, that Togo's "Five Points Plan" was translated as a "final offer" when Togo never said that.

Minohara says the Japanese "were doing the same thing. Even though there was no error in the translations, they were still misinterpreting the U.S.' intentions."

http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-120701codes.story

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Larry Jewell Search for posts by this member.
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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 09 2001,11:32 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

"They are simple typed pages, written primarily in English, of U.S. and British diplomatic discussions and telegrams, many from U.S. Secretary of State Cordell Hull to various U.S. ambassadors. "

Anybody know why they're assuming these messages were intercepted and decrypted?  I haven't seen anything that says conclusively that these documents were obtained through SigInt and decoded by the Japanese.

I can name four ways to get the documents after they had been decoded:

1. Buy them.
2. Steal them.
3. Copy in place.
4. (Not suitable for general audiences.)

"Japan Stunned by Hard-Line U.S. Edict "

Lordy, not this old nag again.  Hull's memorandum of Nov. 26th was not an "ultimatum", but it was used as an excuse for later actions.  See it here in the "Washington v. Tokyo" section.

Finally, if Tokyo was reading our mail, so what?

Larry J

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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 09 2001,6:26 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

Aloha All,
The article does not state WHICH code(s) were broken.

FDR knew that the "Gray" code was broken prior to the attack [due to a Japanese break-in to a consul office] and said that his message going to the Emperor on 6 Dec 1941 could go in that code as he did not care that it was picked up.

Several years back we determined that the "Brown" code was broken by Japan. However, that is old news today.

So what code was compromised by Japan in this revelation?

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Larry Jewell Search for posts by this member.
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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 09 2001,7:28 Skip to the previous post in this topic. Skip to the next post in this topic. Ignore posts   QUOTE

I'd forgotten about that penciled notation on the "last ditch" message to Tokyo.  Must be getting seniler.  So, 55 years ago we have documentation that the US knew Japan was reading some of our codes.  Then, just recently, it's a "big surprise, startling revelation, and the Seventh Sign".  Sheesh.

"So what code was compromised by Japan in this revelation?"

Plaid?

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PostIcon Posted on: Dec. 11 2001,8:39 Skip to the previous post in this topic.  Ignore posts   QUOTE

Aloha All,
Went thru the file cabinets and locate a bit more about Japan's pre-war acquisition of codes were by burglary rather than "breaking" codes:

We already talked about that President FDR knew that the GRAY code was compromised [a break in of the US Consul Office at Kobe in 1934]. He said as much on 6 Dec 1941 when he suggested that his message to the Emperor be sent in that code as he did not mind it being picked up.

In 1938, the two part BROWN code had been compromised by Japan again by burglary. The US assistant naval attache' in Peking, China used a code called WIFE. Admiral Layton suggested that this code was obtained in 1937 in a poor break-in of the US Navak Attache' office in Tokyo.

The British INTERDEPARTMENTAL code was stolen, copied, and returned in Nov 1933 thru the efforts of a Japanese female typist at the British consul in Sapporo. The British Merchant code was stolen at the consul in Sapporo or Osaka in 1936.

A break-in of an unidentified American legation in the fall of 1939 netted Japan the initial key to the new M-138 strip cipher but the US discovered this after one month and tightened security.

As this December 2001 news release of Japanese "breaking" of US diplomatic codes is made, the question still is: what code is suggested as being broken? Perhaps the Japanese report is really meant to confirm for the Japanese reader of what America knew and had contained?
HTH,

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