"It should have been a turkey shoot for the U.S. Navy."
Few words are more disheartening to Americans than FDR's "day of infamy," and few photos more provocative than the image of the burning USS Arizona. For the Greatest Generation, this was the burning Twin Towers. Twenty-four hundreds lives lost, another eleven hundred wounded. Eighteen ships sunk or damaged.
And it should have been a turkey shoot for the U.S. Navy.
On August 18, 1941, British double agent Dusko Popov—on loan from MI6 to the FBI—met with FBI Assistant Director Earl J. Connelley at the Commodore Hotel. Joining them were Dick Ellis, Popov's British Security Coordination supervisor, and Special Agent Charles Lanman, Popov's FBI case officer.
According to the memo that Connelley sent to FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover the following day, the meeting lasted three hours. After giving a brief explanation of how he became a German agent, and then a British double agent, Popov explained the two reasons the Abwehr had sent him to the U.S.: 1) to set up a German espionage network to be based in New York; and 2) to investigate the defenses at the Pearl Harbor naval base.
Dusko explained that Johann Jebsen, a recruiter for the Abwehr and Popov's best friend, had recently returned from Taranto, Italy with Baron Wolfgang von Gronau, Germany’s air attaché in Tokyo. Gronau and Jebsen, whose family owned a shipping empire, had been sent to investigate Taranto's naval base, Popov explained, which had been pummeled by a surprise British air raid on November 11-12, 1940. The base had been heavily defended—anti-aircraft guns, torpedo nets, barrage balloons—and the Japanese wanted details of how the British succeeded. Gonau told Jebsen, and Jebsen told Popov, that the Taranto raid would be a blueprint for a similar attack by the Japanese on a U.S. naval base.
During the meeting, Popov and Ellis gave the FBI officers Popov's two-page German questionnaire, as translated. Only one naval base was mentioned—Pearl Harbor—which comprised forty percent of the document's instructions. Eleven times Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, or base airports were mentioned. The document confirmed Jebsen's comment that Taranto would be a blueprint for a similar raid ... on Pearl Harbor.
Earl Connelley's twelve-page memo to Hoover on August 19, 1941 included the full two-page questionnaire. Inexplicably, Hoover told no one. Not President Roosevelt. Not Admiral Husband Kimmel, Pacific Fleet Commander. Not Naval Intelligence. Apparently intent on hiding the Pearl Harbor information from FDR, Hoover sent correspondence to the President about microdots—a new German technology for sending coded messages—"discovered" from a German spy [actually provided to the FBI by Popov], but said nothing of Popov's Pearl Harbor assignment. Not only that, the portion of the questionnaire that Hoover sent was clipped so that only the last section of the document, which said nothing of Hawaii or Pearl Harbor, was shown.
Hoover actively withheld the information from the President. Later, during the eight Pearl Harbor investigations, Hoover buried the information in classified FBI files, never to see the light of day. Popov, Ellis, and the countless MI5, MI6, and BSC officers who knew of the document were gagged by Britain's Official Secrets Act. They could say nothing.
Hoover's secret was safe for decades.
In my book, INTO THE LION'S MOUTH: The True Story of Dusko Popov—World War II Spy, Patriot, and the Real-Life Inspiration for James Bond (Berkley, June 14, 2016), I detail the entire saga, and include Popov's Pearl Harbor questionnaire, Connelley's memorandum to Hoover, and J. Edgar's correspondence to President Roosevelt. The conclusion, it appears, is simple.
Every textbook in America will have to change.
You can follow Larry Loftis on Twitter @LarryLoftis or at LarryLoftis.com.