Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Pearl Harbor: Real Conspiracies and crank theories

There were real conspiracies surrounding the attack on Pearl harbor. Not the crank theories that blame those old devils FDR and Churchill with enabling the attack. Those are palpably ridiculous. What we have instead are the usual political and bureaucratic behavior after a disaster: shifting blame, finding scapegoats, covering up embarrassing information.

In 1941 that meant making it appear that everything would have been fine if Gen. Short and Adm. Kimmel had not dropped the ball.

J. Edgar Hoover, for instance, wanted the FBI to be an international spy agency as well as a national detective bureau and an internal security organ. It would look, bad, therefore, if it turned out that the FBI bore any responsibility or even appeared to be less than perfect.

As a master spy and defender of the Republic, Hoover was pretty close to an abject failure. He was without peer as a bureaucratic infighter and empire-builder.

So, with the feral cunning common to rats and ambitious bureaucrats, Hoover did his utmost to make certain Short and Kimmel took the hit. The White House was told (falsely) that Hawaii had received all the intelligence on Japan that was available in Washington. Congressmen and Senators were informed -- confidentially of course -- about the lack of cooperation between the Army and Navy in Hawaii (another fib). Leaks to compliant reporters made sure the public knew who was to blame (not the FBI or its director). Trusted FBI agents were placed at the center of the official investigations. (Hoover edited the drafts of their reports and findings).

Honesty took a back seat to appearances. Long before Fernando, John E. Hoover knew it was better to look good than be good.

If successful empires had a handbook Rule #1 would be “Focus on one threat at a time” and Rule #2 would be “Never fight a big war without allies.” Hoover understood this instinctively. In focusing on Short and Kimmel the FBI was working with some very powerful allies.

It suited the political leadership in Washington, particularly the President, to place all blame for the disaster on the heads of the commanders in Hawaii. That offered the public a pat explanation -- essentially that the officers on the spot had been caught unaware. Once they were replaced, the nation could get on with the war effort.
Paul Stillwell “Plenty of Blame to Go Around
Roosevelt ordered the fleet to Pearl Harbor over the objections of his senior Naval officers. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. James O. Richardson protested too vigorously; FDR relieved him of command and replaced him with Kimmell.

In pursuit of short-term deterrence, the fleet was placed in a vulnerable base that lacked sufficient infrastructure for training and maintenance.

In the summer of 1941 FDR adopted a hard-line against Japan. In doing so, he sided with old New Dealers like Harold Ickes and Henry Morgenthau and overruled his senior military leaders. This confrontational stance was at odds with the “Germany First” strategy FDR had previously adopted. The administration now risked an early war before the buildup of forces in the Pacific could be completed. Despite the increasing tensions in the Pacific, Pearl Harbor was denied vital armaments which went to higher priority recipients. Gen. Short asked for long-range patrol bombers; they were designated for the Philippines and China instead. He requested funds to build additional airfields so he could disperse his aircraft and make them less vulnerable to surprise attack. The War Department refused on the grounds that the risk of surprise air attacks was low. The same reason was given when anti-aircraft defenses in Hawaii were not allocated modern 20mm and 40mm guns. Fighter planes were transferred from Hawaii to Wake Island and Midway.

Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox went to Pearl Harbor immediately after the attack. He was initially sympathetic to the commanders in Hawaii. He was inclined to ascribe a large portion of the blame to the lack of resources rather than dereliction of duty. His final report written after he returned to Washington focused on the failings of Kimmel and Short. They had enough resources and information; they simply failed to use them intelligently and energetically.

That was the narrative that took hold in December 1941. It did not emerge by accident.

In Washington, immediately after the attack, President Roosevelt and the secretaries of War and the Navy were putting together an investigating team. Known as the Roberts Commission, it comprised two retired Navy admirals, two Army generals, and Supreme Court Justice Owen Roberts. It was, in essence, a kangaroo court, placing blame for the Pearl Harbor surprise squarely on the two major commanders, Admiral Kimmel and Army Lieutenant General Walter Short. In fact, the powers that be in Washington had been no more prescient than Kimmel in foreseeing an attack, and they had the advantage of the code intercepts that indicated war would begin soon.
Stillwell, “Plenty of Blame”
As usually happens, the narrative contained few out and out lies. It misinformed by omission. Critical facts were buried. For instance, decades would pass before the public learned that the FBI had a double-agent who had been tasked with obtaining detailed intelligence on Pearl Harbor and the methods the Royal navy employed in its raid on the Italian Fleet at Taranto. None of the eight official investigations even mention Dusko Popov.


Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Merry Christmas!

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Luke 2:8-14

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Pearl Harbor: Failed deterrence

Throughout 1941 Britain and the United States attempted to deter further aggression by Japan. They failed. The reasons for this deserve careful study.

FDR explained his policy toward Japan as “speak softly and build three ships to their one.” He wanted to play for time while his military buildup swung the strategic balance decisively in America’s favor.

Tokyo could read trend lines too. If the choice was between a risky war in 1941 and a hopeless war in 1943, then Japan would move in 1941. Soft words could not obscure the rising threat to Japan’s position in Asia.

Although I feel sure we have a chance to win a war right now, I am afraid that the chance will vanish with the passage of time.
-Adm. Osami Nagano Chief of the Naval General Staff September 1941
FDR’s deterrence policy was also based, in part, on an illusion. Much of official Washing was in the thrall of bomber madness. They believed that if war did come a few dozen B-17 bombers in Luzon could tip the strategic balance in the western Pacific.

Japan knew better. They had high quality intelligence about Britain’s strategic bombing campaign against Germany. They knew that in 1941 the B-17 was not a war-winning weapon.

Britain’s policy was not so much deterrence as a desperate bluff. Pressed to the wall in Europe, the North Atlantic, and North Africa, she had few resources to spare for Malaya. Churchill confronted Japan because he felt compelled to support FDR’s hard-line.

Churchill’s policy was doomed from the start. British forces in the Far East were handicapped by uninspired leadership, doctrinal backwardness, poor training, and low morale.

The PM was largely unaware of this; the Japanese were much better informed. In addition to their own spies they benefitted from the USSR’s penetration of the British government. Before June 1941 Stalin shared intelligence with Hitler who shared it with Tokyo. After Germany invaded, the Soviet Union had every incentive to provide Japan with the intelligence that would convince them to strike south rather north into Siberia.

When the time came, Japan would not hesitate to call Churchill’s bluff.

Significantly, Japan also engaged in a policy of bluff and deterrence in 1940 and 1941. The advocates of an alliance with Hitler were convinced that it would force the US to rethink its support for China and the European colonial powers.

The historically isolationist United States would not try to counter the powerful German-Italian-Japanese alliance by siding with Britain, whose moon is already waning.
RAdm Oka Takazumi
The Japanese leaders, rather like modern American Neocons, believed that deterrence was best served by frequent bellicose pronouncements.

[Foreign Minister] Matsuoka's misunderstanding of America's national character seriously clouded his vision, wedded as he was to the notion that only defiance would garner U. S. respect.
Eri Hotta, Japan 1941
The net result of this deterrent strategy was to squander Japan’s one slim hope of avoiding war and economic strangulation. If the US and Britain saw Japan as an “appeasable nation” they might accommodate her while they focused on defeating Hitler. The Tripartite Pact and Tokyo’s hostile, unyielding public posture destroyed this possibility.

Three nations sought to avoid war in 1941. All three pursued a policy of deterrence. All three failed. These failures deserve careful examination just as we have spent decades studying appeasement and learning the “lessons of Munich.”

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Was Yamamoto a military genius? Or just a reckless gambler who got lucky?

His claim to genius rests on one masterpiece: Pearl Harbor.

On the "just lucky" side of the ledger, we have some serious failures.

1. He completely misread his opponent. He dismissed the US Navy as “a social organization of golfers and bridge players.” He expected the shock of Pearl Harbor to bring the US to the negotiating table. Failing that, he counted on his initial onslaught to buy Japan 12-18 months of US inaction that would let her solidify her gains.

The much-maligned Adm. Nagumo was much more astute. He argued against the Pearl Harbor raid precisely because it would preclude the negotiated settlement that was Japan’s best hope. No matter how brilliant it was operationally, it represented a grave strategic error.

The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish … the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.
Clausewitz, On War
The operational success also produced smaller short-term gains than Yamamoto promised. Defeat at Pearl Harbor did not paralyze the US Navy for 18 or even 12 months. Nimitz’s forces were conducting carrier raids against Japanese bases by February 1942.

2. Like many Japanese officers he was quick to believe that his enemies would act as he needed them to act for his plans to work. Hence, Midway.

Too much of the Japanese plan hinged on its flawless execution and too little margin for error was left to absorb the unexpected friction. While it is possible though inadvisable to to make such assumptions in the opening phase of a war against an unsuspecting victim (as in the case of Pearl Harbor), it is practically suicidal to assume that any complex plan can be executed perfectly in an ongoing war.
Michael Handel, Intelligence and Military Operations
3. He showed no real skill in the improvised war of 1942-1943.

"One cannot ignore the simple fact that not a single [Japanese] operation planned after the start of the war met with success
H. P. Willmott, Empires in the Balance
4. He had no sense of what Clausewitz called “the culminating point of victory.” Japan’s grand strategy called for victory through determined, protracted defensive warfare to force the US to accept a compromise peace. Yamamoto never really turned his mind to preparations for this phase of the war. He looked always for fresh opportunities for conquest: Midway, the Solomons, New Caledonia, Ceylon…

Japan reached its level of incompetence, where it fought with all its power and to the death. The battlefields of New Guinea and the Solomon Islands were simply too large and too far forward to suit its tiny logistical and transport capabilities....Japan was fighting precisely the war which least suited its material resources, a prolonged and costly battle of attrition beyond easy reach of its supply system.
Michael Handel and John Ferris, "Clausewitz, Intelligence Uncertainty and the Art of Command”
These hopeless adventures and impossible fantasies squandered irreplaceable forces and delayed preparations for the defensive struggle that would decide Japan’s fate and even her survival.

5. Japan launched the war to acquire vital raw materials. Yamamoto, who served as Deputy Navy Minister before he took command of the Combined Fleet, never developed a doctrine, a strategy, nor the forces necessary to protect the sea-lanes that carried those resources to the Home Islands. This failure left Japan practically helpless against US submarines. From 1943 onward, the Japanese war machine was slowly strangled even as her admirals dreamed of the “decisive battle” that would win the war in a day.

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Pearl Harbor: Clausewitz and the path to imperial suicide

In the summer of 1941 the US Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Harold Stark met secretly with Japanese ambassador KichisaburĂ´ Nomura. The envoy was a former admiral and the two naval men were trying to prevent a wider war in Asia. The discussions led nowhere. Nomura had nothing to offer because his government was adamant that the “China Incident” could only end with a Tokyo victory.

Adm. Stark ended the conversation with a warning about the danger Japan faced if she persisted in her aggressive course. A war with America could only end as a disaster for Japan. Even if Tokyo won some initial victories, her destruction was inevitable:

You will be unable to make up your losses, while we, on the other hand, will not only make up our losses, but will grow stronger as time goes by. It is inevitable that we will crush you and break you empire before we are through with you.
Ambassador Nomura did not reply. How could he disagree? He understood the correlation of forces as well as Adm. Stark. War with America meant almost certain doom.

Yet, in December 1941 that was the course the leaders of Japan chose.

In On War Clausewitz writes that any war is shaped by the interplay of three forces: passion, reason, and chance. In his era the major challenge for a government was a deficit of passion; the populace often remained detached from the war and uncommitted to the cause. Government policy and military capabilities were constrained as a result. When a government could harness patriotic passion as Napoleon did in France the war-making power of the state made a giant leap forward.

Always, though, passion was harnessed by the state (reason) and military professionalism.

In the decade before Pearl Harbor, passion broke free from nearly all constraints in Japan. Military officers took it upon themselves to murder politicians and senior officers who were insufficiently supportive of military adventures. The Navy was forced to deploy tanks and machine guns to protect its headquarters against radical officers. Yamamoto was himself a target because he opposed the Tripartite Pact with Hitler and Japans invasion of China.

Army officers actually initiated hostilities in China and Manchuria with no notice to, let alone approval by, the government in Tokyo.

A pattern had been set: a hopelessly passive government accepting military aggression that it had neither initiated nor endorsed.
Eri Hotta, Japan, 1941: Countdown to Infamy
It is not strictly accurate to say that Japan’s leaders chose war. They chose to drift along and avoiud hard choices.

Eri Hotta:

There had been no clear-cut, overwhelming consensus among the Japanese leaders to take preemptive actions in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Many remained hopelessly uncertain and ambivalent about their decision.

Having talked themselves into believing that they were victims of circumstances rather than aggressors, they discarded less heroic but more rational options and hesitantly yet defiantly propelled the country on a war course.

No one starts a war-- or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so-- without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.
Admiral Stark’s warning to Nomura was prophetic. Before the war the war ended Japan weas crushed and her navy was destroyed. The Pearl Harbor strike force was not spared. None of the twenty surface ships survived the war. By July 1944 the Kodo Butai ceased to exist as a meaningful force. Japan, which once led the world in naval aviation, no longer possessed a modern navy.

The US Navy did grow stronger by leaps and bounds. At Pearl Harbor Yamamoto massed all of Japan’s naval airpower: six carriers and less than 400 aircraft. By February 1944 the US Pacific Fleet could send nine carriers and nearly six hundred aircraft to strike Truk.

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Should we be surprised that we were surprised at Pearl Harbor?

The “intelligence failure” that wasn’t

Maybe the real failure is in our understanding of how intelligence works and what it can do

Puzzles and mysteries

Risks and Riddles

There’s a reason millions of people try to solve crossword puzzles each day. Amid the well-ordered combat between a puzzler’s mind and the blank boxes waiting to be filled, there is satisfaction along with frustration. Even when you can’t find the right answer, you know it exists. Puzzles can be solved; they have answers.

But a mystery offers no such comfort. It poses a question that has no definitive answer because the answer is contingent; it depends on a future interaction of many factors, known and unknown. A mystery cannot be answered; it can only be framed, by identifying the critical factors and applying some sense of how they have interacted in the past and might interact in the future. A mystery is an attempt to define ambiguities.

Puzzles may be more satisfying, but the world increasingly offers us mysteries. Treating them as puzzles is like trying to solve the unsolvable--an impossible challenge. But approaching them as mysteries may make us more comfortable with the uncertainties of our age.

It is tempting to reduce all intelligence questions to puzzles. It is appealing to think that Benedict Cumberbatch can single-handedly defeat the Nazis by breaking their unbreakable Enigma ciphers.

Unfortunately, life rarely imitates art when the stakes are highest.

If our intelligence systems and all our other channels of information failed to produce an accurate image of Japanese intentions and capabilities, it was not for want of the relevant materials. Never before have we had so complete an intelligence picture of the enemy.
Roberta Wohlstetter, Pearl Harbor: Warning and Decision
In 1941, the commanders at Pearl Harbor thought they were solving a complicated puzzle. In reality, they faced an insoluble mystery. Tragically, as the US got better at solving the known puzzle, we became more vulnerable to strategic surprise at Pearl Harbor.

Without a theory, the facts are silent.
Friedrich Hayek
Every puzzle is grounded in a theoretical framework; that is what makes it challenging yet solvable. Intelligence work looks like a puzzle when analysts and officers can uncover new pieces of information which when fitted into an existing and valid theory provide timely warnings and actionable estimates.

With an invalid theory, facts are not always silent sometimes they become positively misleading. That is why we were surprised on 7 December 1941. Contra Wohlstetter, in the last half of 1941 we no longer had a “complete intelligence picture of the enemy.” We were blind and deaf.

This was not a failure of US intelligence. The Japanese Navy had invalidated our theories with series of sweeping, even revolutionary advances in their capabilities. Yamamoto then harnessed these new capabilities to overturn twenty years of Japanese strategic planning. And it all happened with almost perfect secrecy.

In 1941 our “Theory of Japan” was anchored on a few key premises:

1. In the event of war with Britain or the US, Japan would have to quickly secure access to the resources of the Dutch East Indies. Without these, her war economy would be strangled in a matter of months.

2. Given the distances between Japan’s bases and her targets, Japan would have to depend on her aircraft carriers to provide fighter cover and close air support for the invasions and land campaigns.

When Japan moved to occupy southern Indochina in July 1941 the carriers went south to support the invasion thus confirming this premise.

3. Strategic logic compelled Japan to engage the US Navy in the western Pacific. The long voyage of the Battle Fleet to the Philippine Sea would afford the Japanese submarines and land-based bombers plenty of opportunities to reduce the US strength prior to the decisive battle. Perhaps most importantly, this “home waters strategy” would conserve precious fuel (see point #1).

US analysts knew that Japanese war plans had been based on this logic for two decades.

4. We expected Japan to seize the strategic initiative with surprise attacks. In the Philippines and Malaya, surprise might be decisive. Such an attack on Pearl Harbor would amount to little more than an annoyance: Japan lacked the forces to mount a strategically meaningful attack that far from her bases. One cannot fault the US high command for focusing on the more dangerous and more probable threat.

All of these points were true and valid in January 1941. All of them had been falsified by 1 December 1941.

The puzzle had become a mystery. Worse, this transformation left few traces for the intelligence services to investigate.

The only way that the US could have known this is to have placed a spy on Yamamoto’s staff. That was their only hope of unraveling the mystery.

Paradigm Shift

Pearl Harbor's Overlooked Answer

Japan’s carrier force--known as Kido Butai--was evolving so quickly on the eve of the Pacific war that almost no naval intelligence organ would have been able to track, internalize, and gauge those capabilities.

Kido Butai was a truly revolutionary weapon system for its time because it embodied the conceptual leap from single-carrier to coordinated multicarrier operations. Kido Butai ’s ascendancy would last only about six months before it was permanently mauled at the Battle of Midway, but during that time there was nothing else like it. The U.S. Navy would not acquire a similar sophistication until roughly late 1943--more than two years later.
No matter how many Japanese messages our code breakers read, we were never going to discover the secret. None of the important and useful information was included in diplomatic cables; Yamamoto’s new strategy was not broadcast to the nation nor was it shared with Japan’s allies.

There was no signal -- only noise.

Actually it was worse than that. Under the old, now outdated theory, the Japanese movement toward Malaya meant that the risk to Pearl Harbor had actually decreased.

All prewar assumptions about Japanese aggression had been based on the belief that Japan lacked the strength to mount more than one invasion attempt at a time.
H. P. Willmott, Empires in the Balance
Finally, underpinning all the risk assessments and intelligence estimates was one bedrock assumption: Japan was a nation-state and nation-states behave rationally. Launching an unprovoked surprise attack on US soil would drag Japan into an unlimited war with a country that had twice her population and 10 times her industrial capacity. In short, a war she was sure to lose.

No rational actor would do such a thing.

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Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Mueller and Comey failed egregiously

Sir Vernon Kell, the first head of Britain Security Service (MI5) believed that counter-espionage officers needed the following characteristics:

Freedom from strong personal or political prejudices or interest; an accurate and sympathetic judgment of human character, motives and psychology, and of the relative significance, importance and urgency of current events and duties in their bearing on major British interests.
In no way shape or form does this describe the men and women who launched Crossfire Hurricane, the Midyear Review, and persecution of Maria Butina.

Instead we see an intense partisan commitment and a completely unbalanced rage at Trump.

Monday, December 02, 2019

Advice for the wise news consumer during the impeachment debate

1. Beware "news stories" based on anonymous sources. They hide and obscure the truth as often as they reveal it.

The whole purpose of the ‘anonymous source has been precisely reversed. The reason there exists a First Amendment protection for journalists’ confidential sources has always been to permit citizens -- the weak, the vulnerable, the isolated -- to be heard publicly, without fear of retaliation by the strong -- by their employer, for example, or by the forces of government … Instead, almost every ‘anonymous source’ in the press, in recent years, has been an official of some kind, or a person in the course of a vendetta speaking from a position of power.

[Using anonymous sources] makes stories almost impossible to verify. It suppresses a major element of almost every investigative story: who wanted it known.

Renata Adler, After the Tall Timber

The problem of journalism in America proceeds from a simple but inescapable bind: journalists are rarely, if ever, in a position to establish the truth about an issue for themselves, and they are, therefore, almost entirely dependent on self-interested 'sources' for versions of reality that they report.

Indeed, given the voluntary nature of the relationship between a reporter and his source, a continued flow of information can only be assured if the journalist's stories promise to serve the interests of the witness.

Despite the heroic public claims of the news media, daily journalism is largely concerned with finding and retaining profitable sources of pre-packaged stories.

Edward Jay Epstein, Between Fact and Fiction
In a very real sense this sort of journalism represents a conspiracy between the source, the reporters, and the editors. In return for a story that grabs headlines and/or advances the narrative, the journalists agree to propagate and amplify the source's message while also shielding that source from all scrutiny as to motive, expertise, and credibility.

Only two forms of knowledge cross this principle: gossip and journalism. The gossip purposely obscures his sources, saying in effect, 'Don't ask who I heard it from,' to make the story more titillating. The journalist obscures his sources out of self-interest, claiming that unless he hides their identities, they will not provide him with further information. This claim assumes the sources are acting out of altruistic motives. If, however, they are providing the information out of self-interest-- and much information comes from publicists and other paid agents-- then their motive is part of the story.

I've never understood the journalistic argument for concealing sources except that it is self-serving. While a source might talk more freely if he need take no responsibility for what he says, he also has far less incentive to be completely truthful. The only check on the source's license to commit hyperbole, if not slander, under these rules is the journalist himself. But the very premise of concealing sources is that the journalist needs the cooperation of the source in the future. This makes the journalist himself an interested party.

Edward Jay Epstein, Deception
2. Be especially suspicious of stories that rely on anonymous intelligence insiders.

As defence correspondent, then defence editor of The Daily Telegraph, i decided that entanglement with intelligence organisations was unwise, having concluded, by that stage of my life, through reading, conversation and a little personal observation, that anyone who mingled in the intelligence world, in the belief that he could make use of contacts thus made, would more probably be made use of, to his disadvantage. I continue to believe that to be the case.

Sir John Keegan, Intelligence in War
3. Make sure a story really is debunked when journalists say it is “debunked.” Again, doubly true when they rely on intelligence sources for their verdict.

If intelligence officers dislike a book, for its tone, revelations, or simply because, they find that one or two facts in it may prove compromising (for which, also read embarrassing), they may let it be known that the book is ‘riddled with errors,’ customarily pointing out a few. Any book on intelligence will contain errors, given the nature and origin of the documentation, and these errors may then be used to discredit quite valid judgments and conclusions which do not turn on the facts in question.

Robin W. Winks, Cloak & Gown: Scholars in the Secret War, 1939-1961
Just because Brian Stelter or Brooke Gladstone claims a story is discredited, it never hurts to verify. They have, after all, been known to be wrong.

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