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Thread: "Processing Intelligence Collection: Learning or Not?"

  1. #1
    Council Member Tracker275's Avatar
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    Default "Processing Intelligence Collection: Learning or Not?"

    The following is an extract from discussion board posting in one of the courses I am currently taking. I think this paragraph brings up some very good points, which I would like to reinforce with additional information. One could hope that these types of repeated historical events do not rear their ugly head again.

    Quote Originally Posted by AMU Student
    “A loss of human life is the ultimate consequence from improper target selection. The devastating attack on Pearl Harbor is a prime example of the results that can occur from focusing on the wrong target. On September 20, 1940, the Navy Code and Signal Section cracked the Japanese diplomatic cipher codenamed Purple. [1] While this was a great success for the signals intelligence (SIGINT) departments at the time, a failure to break the Japanese naval code known as JN25b would subsequently result in the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 07, 1941. [2] The competitive SIGINT departments during the 1940s failed to cooperate in collection operations which neglected the JN25b code. Had JN25b been given more attention, it is possible that the United States (U.S.) could have been prepared for the attack or could have possibly prevented the attack all together. The lives lost that day are the unfortunate result of efforts focused on the wrong target.”

    1. Christopher Andrew, “For the Presidents Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush,” (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 1996), 104-5.

    2. Ibid., 121.
    Yeah, the whole Pearl Harbor deal with Code Purple was definitely a slap in the face. As unfortunate it was, it did force a reevaluation of the current COMINT at the time. Within a few weeks, they determined that the problems with COMINT needed to be identified, and corrected. That was when they offered the task of evaluation of COMINT to Alfred McCormack, which he started on January 19, 1942. In a short time, McCormack identified the following most immediate problems:

    1) Intercept facilities were extremely limited
    2) Arrangements for transmitting material from the point of intercept to cryptanalytic center were hit-or-miss
    3) There was a critical shortage of translators
    4) There were neither sufficient personnel nor adequate procedures for studying and checking the translated product to derive the maximum degree of intelligence
    5) The method of presenting the intelligence to the responsible authorities in Washington was ineffective
    6) There was no arrangement for getting such intelligence to commanders in the field promptly and in a manner that would ensure security.


    Through this, the War Department's Military Intelligence Service redesigned the way that the intelligence was going to be processed. By taking raw intercepts, sythesizing them with information from all other sources, and putting it together in a clear, concise, and timely report through the key processes of "evaluation" and "analysis."

    The Code Purple message, consisting of 14 total sections, did not have the key piece of information until the last section was translated. Which, stated that the Japanese were breaking off all negotiations with the United States, which also translated into the realization that they were setting the stage to go to war. That message was to be delivered at 1:00 PM on Sunday, December 7th, 1941. This wasn't realized until COL Rufus Bratton, Chief of the Far Eastern Section of Military Intelligence, read the last section at 9:00 AM (EST) on Sunday, December 7th, 1941. It was 3:30 AM in Hawaii at that time, which was only hours before the attack would drop the first bomb at 7:55 AM into a seaplane ramp on Ford Island in Pearl Harbor. The actual message indicating the messages intent didn't arrive on the RCA's Honalulu office printer until 7:33 AM. It was unfortnate that the message was not read by the Major General Walter Short at his desk until after the attack was finally over. [1]

    Although the Code Purple message indicated the intentions of the Japanese, it still didn't indicate what the actual action was going to be. So, it was rather unfortnate that it had to happen that way.

    The good thing was that COMINT got a new "facelift", which aided in the success of cracking the encrypted code regarding the attack on target "AF". The code "AF" was later identified as the target code for Midway, which was a disasterous defeat for the Japanese.

    As you indicated, it was a loss that could have been prevented. The relations between Japan and the United States had been at odds for years, and were not showing signs of improvement. If the correct questions would have been asked as far as intelligence collection requirements, the disaster might have been stopped. There might have also been more of a push to learn how to crack the encryption sooner by identifying the problems McCormack identified only after the attack had happened.

    Of course, we learn from mistakes. Unfortunately, we also tend to repeat history.

    It is ironic that we tend to forget rather early. In December of 1941, the first of two commisions were formed by President Roosevelt, and headed by US Supreme Court Associate Justic Owen Roberts. These would be referred to as the "Roberts Commission," to investigate and report facts relating to the attack on Pearl Harber. The irony is that a similiar commision, the 9-11 Commision, was created in late 2002 do do the same thing for the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Some of the initial findings, and issues that I stated at the beginning of this post were identified within the various 16 intelligence collecting agencies.

    Quote Originally Posted by The 9/11 Commission Report
    The Need for a Change
    During the Cold War, intelligence agencies did not depend on seamless integration to track and count the thousands of military targets-such as tanks and missiles-fielded by the Soviet Union and other adversary states. Each agency concentrated on its specialized mission, acquiring its own information and then sharing it via formal, finished reports. The Department of Defense had given birth to and dominated the main agencies for technical collection of intelligence. Resources were shifted at an incremental pace, coping with challenges that arose over years, even decades.[2]
    [1] Bamford, James, "The Puzzle Palace: Inside the National Security Agency, America's Most Secret Intelligence Organization", Page 57-63, [1983].

    [2] National Commision on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, "The 9/11 Commision Report," Chapter 13, Section 1, [July 22, 2004]. http://www.9-11commission.gov/ [accessed February 20, 2011].
    Last edited by Tracker275; 02-21-2011 at 12:20 AM.
    "There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter. - Ernest Hemingway

  2. #2
    Council Member IntelTrooper's Avatar
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    It's easy to identify shortcomings after the fact. Whether collection assets were focused on the "wrong" target or simply "the not as good" target should be considered. Using their limited judgment, someone must have thought they were looking in the right direction and doing the right thing. We're all susceptible to similar cognitive biases.

    Nothing is a 100% solution. The most effective intelligence measures, in my opinion, are a 70% solution. We are beholden to our policy making masters and they may not share our concerns. We're worse at organizing our bureaucracies around potential future threats. Even the perfect organization has to contend with individual personalities that want to prevent information sharing.
    Last edited by IntelTrooper; 02-21-2011 at 12:47 AM. Reason: Department of Redundancy Department
    "The status quo is not sustainable. All of DoD needs to be placed in a large bag and thoroughly shaken. Bureaucracy and micromanagement kill."
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    "With a plan this complex, nothing can go wrong." -- Schmedlap

    "We are unlikely to usefully replicate the insights those unencumbered by a military staff college education might actually have." -- William F. Owen

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    I think the straw you are looking through may be too narrow...had the US detected the Pearl Harbor, or any of the other Japanese fleets positioning themselves for the opening of hostilities, it probably would have activated Plan Orange with a fairly good chance that the Pacific Surface Fleet would still have been dealt to (taking as guidelines the fate of other surface fleet elements that engaged the IJN in open waters in late '41 and early '42) but with less (zero) chance for refloat and recovery as at Pearl Harbor.

    It's unlikely that a surface confrontation , regardless of result would have resulted in a desperate option like the Doolittle Raid being adopted, which then would have meant no Midway as that was the Japanese response to Doolittle...thus better intelligence processing may have resulted in a worse result for the USN...careful what you wish for...

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