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Too Great A Challenge: The Mismatch Of U.S. Intelligence Capabilities And Mission Prior To Pearl Harbor

2191 words - 9 pages

The U.S. was under-prepared for the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor due to the nascent intelligence community's inability to determine the time and place of the attack. The question of preventing the attack is beyond the scope of an intelligence agency, such an action is the product of policy. That being said, the intelligence community provided the President with insufficient information to mitigate U.S. losses on the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II. This result was not wholly the responsibility of the underfunded and under-supported intelligence and military assets working in the field. The treatment of U.S. intelligence assets during the interwar period set them up for failure when the test came, and the inability for Washington to recognize these deficiencies, even as the threat of attack become increasingly clear, is ultimately at fault for Admiral Husband Kimmel and General Walter Short's insufficient defense posture. It is unrealistic and dangerous to assume the possibility of omniscience on the part of any intelligence service and doubly foolish to rely on an intelligence apparatus that is clearly under-resourced for the challenges it is expected to confront. The narrative of an intelligence failure at cause for Pearl Harbor is tempting, as it conveniently scapegoats little known groups to the benefit of the nation's myopic defense policy makers. It is also understandable, the attack was unexpected by the American public and gave the Japanese the initiative. The attack was a massive blow to America's pride, especially when it came from an “inferior race,” like the Japanese, who were regarded as “cultivated and mannerly” to the point of being essentially harmless before the war.1 While this assumption did not inhibit any of the major players from recognizing the hazard presented by the Japanese, it did magnify the force of the opening attack on the American psyche.
The American intelligence community (such as it was) of 1941 was underdeveloped and too divided to function effectively in the interwar era. This lamentable state was the product of a decade of neglect. Modern U.S. intelligence capability was born during the First World War, when the Army set up MI-8, a military intelligence section focused on cryptology. Herbert Yardley was put in command of the section. He was an interesting man, known for his self-promotion, poker playing, and womanizing. By war's end the cryptologic services had become the equal of any in the world.2 Despite the groups efficacy, the Army demobilized it after the war. This was merely the first in a series of set-backs for U.S. cryptography and intelligence in general in the interwar period. Prior to MI-8, U.S. intelligence capabilities consisted of diplomatic reports, which were highly limited and unequal to the task of apprising leaders of threats during the era of electronic communication.
Even as the military abandoned its organic COMINT capability, the State Department laid the groundwork...

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