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The Magic Leak of 1941 and Japanese-American Relations

The Magic Leak of 1941 and Japanese-American Relations

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Published by Lorenzo Fabrizi

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Published by: Lorenzo Fabrizi on Mar 19, 2011
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01/27/2015

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The "Magic" Leak of 1941 and Japanese-American RelationsAuthor(s): Ruth R. HarrisSource:
Pacific Historical Review,
Vol. 50, No. 1 (Feb., 1981), pp. 77-96Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 17/01/2011 12:37
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The
"Magic"
Leak
of
1941
and
Japanese-American
Relations
RuthR.Harris
Theauthor,aconsultantforHistoryAssociates,Inc.,iscurrentlydoingresearch ontheU.S.EconomicStabilizationProgram,1971-1974.
EIGHT
MONTHSBEFORETHEATTACK
on PearlHarbor,
Japanlearned thatits codeddiplomatic messageswerebeingreadbytheUnited States. Foryears politiciansandhistorians havebelievedthatJapan'sknowledgeofthiscryptoanalyticbreak-throughprovedinconsequential,butrecentlydeclassifieddocu-mentssuggestotherwise.Japan'sknowledgeof"Magic,"theAmericancodebreakingoperation,seemstohavecontributedtoaworseningofrelationswithJapanand toWashington's unpre-parednessfor warin Asiain
1941.1
OneyearafterWorld War II hadbeguninEurope,PresidentFranklinD.Roosevelt wasalready conductingwhat historianshavetermedan "undeclared war"againstthe Axis. Thatunde-
The authorwishesto thankPeterP.Hill ofGeorgeWashingtonUniversity,HarryYoungand David Patterson of theU.S.DepartmentofState,and WilliamCunliffee ofthe National Archives forreadingthispaperin its initialstages.'Collection ofJapanese Diplomatic Messages,July12,1938,toJan.21, 1942,U.S.Dept.of theArmy IntelligenceFiles,SRH-018,National Archives. InformationaboutJapanesediplomaticmessagesand additionalU.S.-intercepted Japanese telegramsarealsoin the U.S.Dept.of theArmy IntelligenceFiles,RecordGroup165,NationalArchives(hereaftercited asDAIF,RG165,NA);U.S.NavalCourt ofInquiry,NavyReports,RecordGroup107(hereaftercited asNCI,RG107,NA);Recordsofthe PearlHarborLiaisonOffice,Japanese DiplomaticFiles,General Records of the U.S.Dept.oftheNavy,1798-1947,RecordGroup80,NationalArchives(hereaftercitedasRPHLO,RG80,NA).Amicrofilm collectionofAmerican-interceptedJapanesediplomaticmessagesfrom theJudgeAdvocateGeneral's filesisavailablein theOperationalArchivesofthe NavalHistoryDivision,Washington,D.C.(hereaftercited asJAG,NHD).PublishedAmerican-intercepted JapanesemessagesappearinU.S.Dept.ofDefense,The"Magic"BackgroundofPearlHarbor(8vols.,Washington,D.C.,1977-1978).77
 
78
PACIFICHISTORICALREVIEW
dared war included bothopenandsecreteffortsagainstJapa-nese territorialexpansion.TheJapaneseattackon Chinain1937eventuallyled Roosevelttoinvoke economic sanctionsagainstJapan.InJanuary1939 the Presidentimposeda moralembargoonJapan,andinJulythe United States notifiedJapanthatitwouldnotrenewtheir annualcommercialagreement,due toexpireinJanuary1940.Followingthe Nazi defeat of FranceinJune1940,RooseveltapprovedtalksbySecretaryofState Cordell HullwiththeJapa-nese ambassador to resolvedisagreements.At the sametime,thearmyandnavyintelligenceservices werepenetratingtheJapa-nesediplomaticandmilitarycodes. Theexposureof the Ameri-cancryptoanalyticbreakthrough toJapaninMay1941 seemed toforecast theloss of thatimportant intelligencesource. But theJapanesedid notchangetheircipher system,thusallowingtheU.S. to continuereading Japan's diplomatic messages.Onthesurface atleast,theMagicdisclosure seemed to elicit no counter-measuresbytheJapanese government.Severalpreviousinvestigationsof theintelligence lapsewhichallowedJapanto learn of theAmericanbreakthroughturneduplittle information abouteither theoriginorconsequencesoftheleak.In1945 thejointcongressionalcommitteeinvestigatingthePearl Harborattack looked into thematter,and onNovember16Senator HomerFergusonasked thecommittee'sgeneralcoun-sel,WilliamD.Mitchell,to obtain allavailable American intelli-genceinformation aboutJapan'sawareness of the U.S.penetrationofthe codes. Thesubsequent proberevealed thatboththeArmy MilitaryIntelligenceDivisionand the Office ofNavalIntelligence(ONI)haddiscoveredbyMay1941that aGerman official hadnotified theJapaneseabout theAmericanbreakthrough.Thecongressionalresearchersfailed, however,todetermine theoriginoftheintelligenceleak,andthey producednoevidence that theJapaneseForeignOffice had takenseriouscountermeasures.2Historians of theincidenthave beenhamperedbecause thedocumentsthatmighthaveclarifiedmatters remained classified.RobertaWohlstetter,inher classicanalysisof Pearl Harborintel-
2U.S.Congress,JointCommitteeon theInvestigationofthe Pearl HarborAttack,Hearings,79Cong.,1sess.(1946),IV,1859-1863(hereaftercited as PearlHarborAttack).

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