Intelligence Gathering and September 11 - What the Lessons of History Show

By Henderson, Phillip G. | The World and I, December 2002 | Go to article overview

Intelligence Gathering and September 11 - What the Lessons of History Show


Henderson, Phillip G., The World and I


Phillip G. Henderson is associate professor of politics at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. He is the author of Managing the Presidency: The Eisenhower Legacy and editor of The Presidency Then and Now. He has written extensively on national security organization and decision making.

The continuing frenzy over intelligence lapses regarding the devastating September 11 attacks reminds us that hindsight is always twenty-twenty. Events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis provide relevant parallels with recent revelations concerning pre--September 11 intelligence reporting and analysis. Taken together, these three cases offer compelling insights into how easily intelligence signals can be ignored or misinterpreted to reinforce the predispositions of policymakers. Moreover, Pearl Harbor and the Cuban crisis suggest that September 11 does not stand alone in showing us how enormously difficult it can be to synthesize intelligence findings and to overcome vagueness, ambiguity, misperception, and bureaucratic infighting in the decision- making process.

PEARL HARBOR: AN IMPORTANT REMINDER

The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, offers a cogent reminder of the types of problems that can arise in the gathering and assessment of national security intelligence. In 1940, American cryptographers had broken most of Japan's codes and were intercepting an enormous amount of information. This information, psychologist Irving Janis has observed, sent clear warning signals that Japan was getting ready for massive military operations. Only the target of these operations remained unclear.

On November 24, 1941, just two weeks before the attack, Adm. Harold Stark, chief of Navy operations, sent Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander in chief of the Pacific Fleet, an unambiguous warning that war with Japan was imminent: "Statements of the Japanese government and movements of their naval and military forces indicate in our opinion that a surprise aggressive movement in any direction including attack on Philippines or Guam is a possibility."

The fact that Pearl Harbor was not specifically mentioned in Stark's warning reinforced the thinking of Kimmel and most of the Navy's top officers in Hawaii that there was no chance of a surprise attack at that particular time. This conclusion was adhered to, despite the fact that Admiral Stark and his staff issued a second, more alarming warning on November 27, 1941, stating: "This dispatch is to be considered a war warning. Negotiations with Japan looking toward stabilization of conditions in the Pacific have ceased and an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days.... Execute appropriate defense deployment."

Just two days before the attack, Admiral Kimmel and his staff were informed that the Japanese consulate in Hawaii was burning its papers. Although Kimmel expressed some concern about the safety of the fleet at this point, he was reassured by his fellow officers that the Japanese could not possibly proceed in force against Pearl Harbor when they had so much strength concentrated in their Asian operations. The Navy also believed that an air-launched torpedo attack was impossible to orchestrate because of the shallow water in Pearl Harbor. Since the United States had not developed torpedoes capable of this type of mission, it was erroneously assumed that the Japanese could not have developed such weapons. In fact, the Japanese had already overcome this obstacle by using wooden fins. On December 7, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, sinking or damaging all eight battleships in the harbor and killing more than two thousand American servicemen.

Why were these ominous signals ignored? According to Janis, a mind-set had formed so strongly among the ranking Navy officers in Hawaii that Pearl Harbor was invulnerable to attack that intelligence reports were being filtered as much for what they did not say as for what they did. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Intelligence Gathering and September 11 - What the Lessons of History Show
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.