Too Great a Challenge: The Mismatch of U.S. Intelligence Capabilities and Mission Prior to Pearl Harbor

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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…show more content…
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 for its own ill-fated group. The product of an agreement between the Acting Secretary of State and the Secretary of War, the Cipher Bureau was created in May 1919. While the Cipher Bureau, which came to be known as the Black Chamber, did receive some military funding, it was primarily a State Department enterprise. Herbert Yardley was once again tapped to

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