Senator Homer Ferguson and the Pearl Harbor Congressional Investigation

Percy L. Greaves, Jr.

Prior to the Pearl Harbor Congressional investigation this writer had twice met Homer Ferguson. During the 78th Congress when Ferguson was a freshman Senator, I was Associate Research Director of the Republican National Committee. That sounds like a political position but essentially it was a fact-finding one -- finding facts the Democrats didn't want known.

Our first meeting was in the Spring of 1943. Senator Ferguson was then an up-and-coming Senator feeling his way around Washington. He was interested, among other things, in the Republican effort to curb the political propaganda then being issued by the Office of War Information at taxpayers' expense.

The second meeting was during the 1944 campaign when the Senator came to New York to prepare for a Town Hall debate with Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes. On both of these occasions the Senator impressed me as a sincere, hard-working legislator who was seriously interested in the nation's welfare, Constitutional principles and the cleaning up of political corruption.

Well-informed Americans had long known that many facts of the Pearl Harbor disaster had been concealed for reasons other than national defense. Many clippings, tips and authentic leads had found their way into Republican files. Scared service officers had given facts confidentially. Throughout the 1944 campaign, the Republican high command was consistently faced with the question: "Should we use the information in our possession?" Senator Ferguson, public servant that he was, thought that the public should know some of the facts before it voted. He was later to find out that General Marshall had personally acted to suppress the truth, including facts relating to his own responsibility.

Once the war was over, Senator Ferguson demanded "the whole truth about this unfortunate event." Public pressure mounted. Realizing that an investigation of the Pearl Harbor attack could not be averted, the Administration jumped the gun and set up a Committee which they thought they could completely control. Plans were made to rush this investigation to a hasty conclusion. An Administration-approved staff was carefully selected. The Republican minority was allowed no assistance. The schedule called for perusal of the evidence by the Committee staff, a month of hearings conducted by the Committee Counsel, and two weeks for writing the report. The Committee members would be kept busy listening to selected testimony. The staff, friendly to the Administration, would handle all details and prepare the report for the Committee members to sign. This was pretty much standard New Deal procedure.

However, there was one flaw in these plans. They reckoned without Senator Ferguson. Denied official assistance, he and Senator Owen Brewster, ranking Republican Senator on the Committee, sought research assistance. My background and experience fulfilled their needs. Senator Brewster retained me to assist all the minority members in their efforts to ferret out the essential facts which some people desired to be withheld. Since Senator Ferguson devoted more time and effort to this investigation than any other minority member, my work simmered down to working constantly with him while reporting to Senator Brewster and maintaining liaison with Republican Representatives Frank B. Keefe and Bertrand W. Gearhart.

Realizing the importance of this investigation of Pearl Harbor and the need to prevent a similar surprise attack as an advent to a possible World War III, Senator Ferguson immediately put aside his personal and social obligations and all but the most important of his other Congressional duties. His first move was to see the Committee Counsel, Mr. William D. Mitchell, a former associate of the Secretary of War-whose actions were being investigated. The Senator expressed his desire to cooperate with the Counsel and asked what he could do to assist in the preparation of evidence. The Counsel had not counted on such assistance. In fact, he seemed to consider it an indirect reflection on his own ability. Apparently he expected the Committee members to act as an audience while he did all the probing. He just didn't know Senator Ferguson. The Senator wasn't going to sit idle if there was any investigating to be done. From this early interview the Counsel developed an antagonism toward the Senator. Because the Senator was always bringing out important evidence the Counsel had missed, this antagonism grew until Mr. Mitchell finally resigned before the completion of the investigation. The Counsel's methodical plan had been rent asunder by the Senator's uncanny ability to unearth facts the counsel either couldn't or didn't want to find.

The Senator was hampered at every turn. Before the Committee had been appointed, President Truman issued an executive order that no one would be allowed to make public any information concerning the success of the American experts in deciphering foreign codes. If this order had been allowed to stand, the American public would never have learned that the Japanese code had been solved and that Washington officials had been reading Japan's diplomatic messages for a long time before the Pearl Harbor disaster occurred. Republican members of the Committee convinced the majority that this order must be countermanded. Accordingly, the President modified it to permit public testimony before the entire Committee.

This did not satisfy Senator Ferguson. It still prohibited him from talking to Army and Navy officers individually. If left in force, the investigation would have become merely a "fishing expedition," for no Army or Naval officer would have endangered his career by talking to Committee members in private and disclosing leads for intelligent questioning. Senator Ferguson persuaded the Committee to request the President to direct all persons to volunteer whatever information they had to any and all Committee members. The President refused but finally, under pressure , permitted prospective witnesses "to disclose, orally, to any of the members of the joint Congressional Committee" any information they had on the subject but qualified it by adding that this did "not include any files or written material." This effectively prohibited the placing of any files or written material in the hands of the Committee members unless it was previously approved by top authorities of the department involved. Cabinet members and the majority of the Committee were allowed to rule out evidence as "not material to the investigation," without members of the Committee ever seeing the material thus ruled out. Under a majority vote of the Committee the individual members were denied permission to search files, even when accompanied by Committee counsel, and not even the Committee counsel were permitted to look at the late President Roosevelt's files.

After much persistent effort, some of the testimony of the previous investigations was finally obtained. There were numerous volumes, and insufficient copies to go around. The Senator carried some home with him every night and eagerly read the digests of others as quickly as they were prepared for him.

The hearings were opened on November 15, 1945. No one was adequately prepared. That would have been humanly impossible. Senator Ferguson had requested that the Committee be furnished copies of all exhibits at least ten days before the hearings. He was ignored. In fact, more than 1,000 pages of un-indexed exhibits were furnished Committee members in the 48 hours preceding the opening of the hearings. This deluging tactic continued throughout the hearings. Exhibits were seldom available for study before they were presented and used by the Counsel. It seemed part of a plot to prevent intelligent questioning by Committee members. It might be inferred that this was a deliberate design to cover up. The exhibits alone, when printed up 11 months later, were to comprise 28 full volumes. This does not include quantities of other material which were placed in the Record without exhibit numbers. No newspaper man had time to go through the thousands of pages of the exhibits. To this day many important facts remain buried in the Record and have never been adequately brought to the public's attention.

The inundation of Committee members with so much material had the desired effect on most of the busy members. They threw up their hands and relied on the testimony and what little they could read in spare moments between other Congressional duties. This was not so with Senator Ferguson. His secretary and staff were instructed not to interrupt him except in cases of extreme emergency. He settled down to a routine, devoting almost all of his waking hours to the Pearl Harbor investigation.

He became so engrossed in the problem at hand that one morning he even came to his office without a necktie. When we were ready to start for the Committee room, I remarked that he was not wearing a tie. He looked surprised and much dismayed. He immediately borrowed one from his secretary. He had been "living" Pearl Harbor with such concentration that he had neglected to put his tie on at home, and had arrived early and worked on Pearl Harbor matters for at least an hour, without noticing that he was "tieless."

Under the normal routine, the Senator and I got together every morning for about an hour before hearings opened. I gave him research material from my files and reported on what I had digested the night before. There had been nine previous investigations -- four of them Secret and five Top Secret, involving code breaking. For each witness it was necessary to know the phases with which he was familiar, what he had previously testified and what others had previously testified about him or the facts with which he should have been familiar. In most cases there was conflicting testimony that had to be recognized and brought together. Many of the hundreds of exhibits had to be re-examined for their relationship to each witness. There was never sufficient time for the Senator to do as good a job as he would have liked. It was a case of doing the best he could; he spared no effort to accomplish this.

At ten o'clock each morning we proceeded to the hearings, with an assistant or two to help lug the many bulky documents needed for the session. We were usually greeted with a new stack of documents at the Committee table. When Senator Ferguson was doing the questioning I remained at his side to supply the needed documents and make suggestions, should the answers take an unexpected turn.

At noon we returned to his private office. One of his secretaries would bring us some soup, a sandwich and ice cream, which we ate together as we discussed questions and procedures for the afternoon session. Frequently there was a call to his wife, who was ill during the first part of the investigation. She followed the proceedings very closely, encouraging and aiding him in his efforts. Occasionally someone with a clue or suggestion would drop in for a few minutes. The luncheon period, always busy, passed very quickly and we then reassembled in the Senate Caucus Room for the afternoon session.

The Senator rarely missed any of the hearings. Once he was called to the White House and on one or two other occasions he had to absent himself for a short period in order to cast his vote at a Committee meeting or on the Senate floor. However, he read carefully all testimony taken during his short absences. He followed every detail.

After the afternoon session we retired to his office again, discussed the events of the day and mapped out the program for the morrow. I gathered for him the material he wanted to read that night and he suggested how I might best spend my time in culling information for his use. At six or seven o'clock each evening he would start for home carrying several grips of documents. One set of testimony was delivered to his home and another to his office. He kept duplicates of the most important exhibits in both places. However, he became so interested in his work that he frequently mislaid his papers. This presented quite a problem to the young lady who was charged with keeping them in order. She, of course, was unable to follow all the contents and sometimes could not locate papers from his description of their contents. In some cases he would leave at home papers he wanted the next day. Fortunately, Senator Brewster's copies were available and we were able to locate the needed documents without too much loss of time. This, however, necessitated a constant watch on all important papers to see that they did not go astray.

When the Senator was questioning witnesses he had a habit of tossing aside documents that had served their immediate purpose. They had to be gathered up and reassembled with care. There was a telephone booth behind the Committee table from where I could telephone for papers required in a hurry when the questions indicated a need for certain documents that were not in the Committee room.

The Senator once explained that when he was a Michigan Circuit Court judge he had a very capable secretary who read everything before it was filed and could locate anything he ever wanted on very short notice. Apparently he operated with little thought for this important detail. Unfortunately, the young lady who handled his papers on Pearl Harbor did not have the time to read the many lengthy documents involved and frequently was at a loss when asked to provide a paper in which "such and such a witness" had made "such and such a statement."

During the entire investigation the Senator's attitude was strictly judicial. There was no hint of the prejudiced prosecutor. He was after the facts-all the facts. Rarely ruffled, questions poured from him with a regularity and relentlessness that would have exhausted the average man. A sip of water and his voice was good for another half hour. It did not matter to him where the chips fell. He must have the facts. Throughout the hearings he refused to pass judgment. Time after time he told newspapermen that he would wait until all the evidence was in. At the end he would finally relent when it became evident that the majority had effectively blocked the presentation of some of the most important evidence.

The first Navy Department witness, Admiral R.B. Inglis, in charge of Naval Intelligence, told the Committee that he thought that Congress and the American people were largely to blame for the Pearl Harbor disaster. This was apparently the Administration line. It was one of many Administration acts intended to divert attention from its own responsibility. Senator Ferguson then started the following colloquy:

Senator FERGUSON: Do you think the people were to blame?

Admiral INGLIS: Are you asking for my opinion?

Senator FERGUSON: Well, you put it in the memo and they persuaded you to take it out. I am asking you whether that is your opinion?

Admiral INGLIS: My opinion is that they did contribute to some extent to the Pearl Harbor attack.

Senator FERGUSON: Well, now, you explain how that contributed to the Pearl Harbor attack.

Admiral INGLIS: Because the Armed Forces were not as strong as they might have been had the country been unified and had the appropriations been larger for the Army and Navy.

Senator FERGUSON: All right; now, do you know anything about the appropriations?

Admiral INGLIS: I only know that the Navy kept asking for more than they could get.

Senator FERGUSON: Did you know this, that when the Navy asked for an item that on many occasions the Budget Director and the Executive branch of the Government cut it down?

Admiral INGLIS: Yes, sir.

Senator FERGUSON: And Congress often put them up?

Admiral INGLIS: I did not know about the latter. I did know about the former.

Senator FERGUSON: Did you know that the people, the Congress for the people, did put those up?

Admiral INGLIS: Now that you mention it I believe very likely that there were certain specific instances where the Congress did increase appropriations.

Senator FERGUSON: Well, now, how could you blame the people for not getting armament?

Admiral INGLIS: I am not blaming them, Senator. I am just saying that that was my opinion, that that was the frame of mind that this country was in at the time.

This was but one of many opinions the Senator exploded with facts. Appropriation figures placed in the record showed clearly that the Executive branch did cut Army and Navy requests while Congress raised the amounts requested by the President in his budget.

The first witness provided another good example of how Senator Ferguson brought out essential information from leads which the Committee Counsel and Democratic members of the Committee missed entirely. In reading his statement the Admiral had said, "The Chief of Naval Operations, on November 25, 1941, directed that all trans-Pacific shipping be routed through Torres Straits between Australia and New Guinea." When it was the Senator's turn to interrogate the witness the following interchange occurred:

Senator FERGUSON: From whom did you get you information that it was diverted on the 25th?

Admiral INGLIS: I have got the source right here, sir.

Senator FERGUSON: Will you give us the source?

Admiral INGLIS: Yes, sir, there was a dispatch from the Chief of Naval Operations dated November 25, 1941.

Senator FERGUSON: That was Admiral Stark?

Admiral INGLIS: Admiral Stark was the Chief of Naval Operations at the that time; yes, sir.

Senator FERGUSON: That came out in Washington; is that true?

Admiral INGLIS: That is true.

Senator FERGUSON: Have you the order with you?

Admiral INGLIS: No, sir.

Senator FERGUSON: Will you get me the order?

Admiral INGLIS: I will sir.

Later the Admiral produced the message which read:

Route all trans-Pacific shipping through Torres Straits, The Commander in Chief, Pacific Fleet; Commander in Chief Asiatic Fleet, providing necessary escort. Refer your despatch 230258.

Senator FERGUSON: Now, I will ask you why you did not put in the part that was to provide for escorts.

Admiral INGLIS: I think that was perhaps omitted by my staff because it might have been somewhat controversial.

Senator FERGUSON: You think that this part of the message is controversial, "providing necessary escort"?

Admiral INGLIS: It might lead to controversy because of the word "necessary." There might be a difference of opinion as to ships for escorts as opposed to the need for keeping them concentrated for combat.

The reader should bear in mind that this message was sent two weeks before Pearl Harbor was attacked. There was a definite indication that officials in Washington were then worried about an attack on American ships in the Pacific Ocean. It was later to be revealed through the persistence of the Senator that President Roosevelt, on November 25th, according to Secretary Stimson, "brought up the event that we were likely to be attacked perhaps (as soon as) next Monday (December 1)." The Senator then tried, as follows, to find out why this information had been withheld from the Committee:

Senator FERGUSON: Why was this not turned over?

Admiral INGLIS: Perhaps it was.

Senator FERGUSON: I will ask Counsel now, when did Counsel get this Exhibit 37.

Mr. MITCHELL: I first saw it about 10 minutes ago.

And so through the efforts of the junior Senator from Michigan the American public was able to learn that our ships in the Pacific were being provided naval escorts two weeks before war was declared. This little instance was typical of the way the Senator brought out important information throughout the entire investigation. It was most annoying to the Committee Counsel and majority members.

The witness who received the most attention from the Senator was the Army's Chief of Staff, General George C. Marshall. Before this witness appeared, an article in Life magazine by John Chamberlain had revealed that during the 1944 Presidential campaign General Marshall had twice written the Republican candidate Governor Thomas E. Dewey personally, confidentially requesting him not to bring up the Pearl Harbor disaster during the campaign. The Committee was interested in these letters but the General did not wish to disclose them publicly. He asked for an executive meeting of the Committee to discuss the matter. He asked Committee members to pledge themselves not to reveal what went on during this executive session. Senator Ferguson stalwartly refused to attend any Executive Committee meeting on these terms. He felt that the public was entitled to the whole truth. Through his insistence the complete contents of these letters were made public over the objections of the Committee Counsel and General Marshall.

General Marshall's testimony was staged in a very dramatic manner. An urgency for speed was created. It was first announced that he had to leave immediately on a presidential mission to China. The order of the witnesses was quickly changed. General Leonard C. Gerow was brought in out of order. This General had proved himself a hero in the Normandy landing. He was much bemedalled. He was asked to accept the blame for the fact that a proper alert message had not been sent to General Walter C. Short in Hawaii before the attack. Being a good soldier he accepted the blame manfully. He was then brushed aside and General Marshall was placed on the witness stand so he could testify before leaving for China. There was much off-the-record talk that a plane was warming up to take him there.

He appeared first on Thursday morning, December 6, 1945. The Committee Counsel and Democrats questioned him through Thursday and Friday. On Saturday morning he was turned over to the Republican Committee members with a great deal of gossip holding that he would have to get away that afternoon. Senator Brewster's father had passed away the night before, and he was unable to be present. Representative Gearhart questioned him a short while and then the General was turned over to Senator Ferguson.

The Senator had devised what we called a "blue plan" for questioning the General. The General was involved in almost every phase of Pearl Harbor from the ordering of the fleet to Pearl Harbor up to the very moment the fleet was struck. He was responsible for the fleet's protection while in Pearl Harbor. He was involved in all military preparations and lack of preparations. It was in his power to decide whether defense material went to Hawaii or foreign nations. He was consulted on almost all of the diplomatic maneuvers which preceded the disaster. There was no witness before the Committee who was in a position to know as much about the events leading up to the disaster as the General. Accordingly, the Senator put his best efforts into preparing a thorough system for questioning him on every important phase. This "blue plan" was typed into a loose leaf binder with a full set of questions on each phase. He did not mean to let the General go until he had answered all his questions. The Committee Chairman, Senator Alben W. Barkley, stated on the record that he had hoped to conclude with the General on that day, and the Vice-chairman, Representative Jere Cooper, stated that he understood that the General's plane was waiting, ready to take him to China. (It later developed that the General had not even seen the President for a briefing, since accepting his appointment over the telephone.)

The Senator could not be side-tracked; he questioned the General all through Saturday and again on Monday and Tuesday of the following week-and still further during the second round of questioning on Thursday. There was an attempt to deride his questioning. Some majority members did not think his questions were pertinent. Senator Scott W. Lucas, a Democratic member of the Committee, spent the weekend with the President. Finally, the General was ordered to the White House. The fact was that Senator Ferguson was hitting home.

on the first day alone Senator Ferguson brought out, among other things, the following facts that the Committee Counsel had missed:

  1. That General Gerow was in charge of war plans and had no authority over General Short; in fact, he had nothing to do with operations until we were actually engaged in war.
  2. That under Army regulations General Gerow had no responsibility for sending or not sending a proper alert to General Short.
  3. That General Marshall himself as Chief of Staff was the person responsible for the fact that General Short was not properly alerted.
  4. That there was no responsible Army officer on duty Saturday evening, December 6th, or Sunday morning, December 7th, who could take action before General Marshall's belated arrival at 11:20 Sunday morning and, therefore, it could not be said that Washington was on a full alert, even though it was known that the situation was critical.
  5. That General Marshall had appointed as head of Army Intelligence a man he knew was short of the required qualifications.
  6. That although the head of Army Intelligence "should have had access to all intelligence" he did not have such access and, therefore, his confidential bulletins were not the best information available.
  7. That lack of manpower available for deciphering Japanese codes was not due to lack of Congressional appropriations.
  8. That General Marshall knew that Great Britain was informed of what we read in the Japanese codes before Pearl Harbor.
  9. That "we have been trying to keep that [the above] quiet as much as we could."
  10. That General Marshall knew no reason why Admiral Kimmel had been cut off from the group receiving the information obtained from reading Japanese codes.
  11. That General Marshall denied knowledge that the Japanese knew we were reading their codes. (The Senator brought out from a later witness, much to the embarrassment of the Committee Counsel and other witnesses, that Washington had such knowledge and copies of it were circulated to the General in the regular manner.)
  12. That before the Roberts Report "was made public there were certain things withdrawn and that the complete Roberts Report went to the President before portions were withdrawn."
  13. That the United States initiated the American-DutchBritish Agreement.
  14. That General Marshall had approved this agreement, as did the Secretaries of War and Navy, and that the agreement went into general effect before the attack.
  15. That officers of the United States were furnished to China for combat duty against Japan before December 7, 1941.

All this and more was brought out solely by the Senator's questioning. It should be borne in mind that this was after the Committee Counsel and the majority members of the Committee were fully satisfied that they had placed in the record all the significant information that General Marshall could furnish. If their record had been allowed to stand, General Gerow would have been left responsible for an important act of omission for which in fact only General Marshall or Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson were responsible.

There was only one witness, among the scores who testified, who distressed the Senator to the slightest degree. That witness was the former Supreme Court Justice, Owen J. Roberts. President Roosevelt had appointed him to make the first investigation of the attack. The Roberts Commission started its investigation right after the event. Witnesses were then well able to remember clearly what had transpired. Justice Roberts first interviewed all the top Washington officials off the record. He then proceeded with his Commission to Honolulu where all the local witnesses were interviewed on the record without benefit of the information Washington had, and had failed to use adequately. The Roberts Report later blamed Admiral Kimmel and General Short for the disaster, and caused their removal while Washington top officials were found to have "fulfilled their obligations." The Senator felt that this witness would be able to provide valuable information concerning what had transpired in Washington. Certainly when the justice made this inquiry no one could have forgotten where he was on the night of December 6th nor would any important documents have been lost. The Senator with his judicial background revered and respected any man who had been a Supreme Court Justice. He prepared a long list of questions to ask this Justice -questions which, if they had been answered unequivocally, would have been invaluable to the Committee in fixing responsibility for the disaster.

There had been a great deal of mystery concerning a "winds message." It seems that the Japanese had broadcast a code to appear in a weather broadcast when they decided to break relations or go to war. If they were to break with the United States the broadcast would include the three words "east wind rain." Some witnesses testified that such a message was broadcast and received in Washington before the attack. Some thought it had been received in Honolulu. One key witness changed his previous testimony. The message itself could not be found. One intercepted message was missing from the files. One Navy witness swore he last saw the message when it was assembled with others for the use of the Roberts Commission. Four years after the event memories were hazy and conflicting. There were some indications that changed testimony might have been prompted. What was the truth?

When Senator Brewster asked the Justice about this message, the Justice replied: "I don't know anything about this winds message....

Senator BREWSTER: So, so far as you now recall, there was no mention about either the original or implementing winds message, as it is called?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: I have no recollection of any such thing and I think you will search the testimony in vain for reference to it. (Emphasis supplied)

Senator BREWSTER: Well, we understood there were important gaps in that as the result of representations as to security.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Oh, No. The stenographic testimony is complete. There is nothing eliminated from the stenographic testimony. (Emphasis supplied)

A few moments later Senator Ferguson started his questioning. He read to the Justice the testimony of a Navy Captain that the last time he saw the Winds message was when it was assembled into a file to show as evidence to the Roberts Commission.* The justice testified that "The file originals of anything of this kind were not in our custody at any time." The Senator then quoted from a transcript of the testimony before the Commission of which Justice Roberts had been the Chairman:

Senator FERGUSON: You were the chairman and this is in your language:

The CHAIRMAN: It has been reported to me that about 10 days before the attack a code was intercepted which could not be broken, but it was forwarded to Washington to the War Department to be broken, and the War Department found out it could be broken and did break it, and found it contained three important signal words which would direct the attack on Pearl Harbor, and that the War Department subsequently intercepted over the radio those three signal words and forwarded them to the military authorities here as an indication that the code had been followed and that the attack was planned.

I wish you would look at that.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: You don't need to show it to me.

Senator FERGUSON: What were you talking about?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: I was talking about some information that had been given to me somewhere around Pearl Harbor. People were coming to me all the time telling me that there was such and such a rumor. You see I say "It has been reported to me."

Senator FERGUSON: Wouldn't this describe the winds code message?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Very likely it would; very likely soÖ.

* * * *

Senator FERGUSON: Mr. Justice, this last part -

Ö and that the War Department subsequently intercepted over the radio these three signal words and forwarded them to the military authorities here Ö

You were in Hawaii then?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Yes.

Senator FERGUSON: As an indication that the code had been followed and that the attack was planned.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Yes; that is what I say.

Senator FERGUSON: Wouldn't that indicate that the winds execute message had been received and that you had some information on that point?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Surely. Somebody had told me that or I wouldn't have asked the question.

* * * *

Senator FERGUSON: Colonel Fielder (G-2 Intelligence, Hawai said:

I have no knowledge of that whatever.

The CHAIRMAN: You know nothing about it?

Colonel FIELDER: No.

The CHAIRMAN: You had no communications from the War Department as of December 5th forwarding to you the meaning of the three code words which would be the signal for the attack?

I was coming back to that.

Now, that would indicate that there were three code words showing there was going to be an attack as far as the United States was concerned, at least someone told you about it?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: That is right.

* * * *

Senator FERGUSON: Now, I refer to exhibit 32 on December 5, 1941, there was a message sent by General Miles:

Assistant Chief of Staff, Headquarters, G-2.

Hawaiian Department, Honolulu Territory, Hawaii.

Contact Commander Rochefort (Communications Security Unit. 14th Naval District, Hawaii) immediately through Commandant Fourteenth Naval District regarding broadcast from Tokyo with reference weather.

Signed "Miles".

Did you have that message before you, do you recall? Mr. Justice ROBERTS: I think so.

Senator FERGUSON: Did you know that they were talking there about the original code message?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: No, sir.

Senator FERGUSON: I mean the original winds message. Mr. Justice ROBERTS: No, sir; I don't know it now.

Senator FERGUSON: Now, going on:

The CHAIRMAN: I refer to something else which you may or may not know anything about. I refer to the fact that some ten days before December it is supposed that a Japanese code message you intercepted and was broken down by the Department in Washington, one of the military departments, which gave certain key words which would be flashed over the radio directing the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Colonel BICKNELL: (Asst. G-2 Intelligence, Hawaii): Yes.

The CHAIRMAN: And that, having broken that down, one of the military establishment in Washington caught over the radio the three key words and relayed them here to you. When I say "you," to the Islands -

Colonel BICKNELL: Yes.

The CHAIRMAN: Do you know of any such story?

Colonel BICKNELL: I never heard of such a thing, no, sir.

The CHAIRMAN: Never heard of it?

Colonel BICKNELL: No, sir.

The CHAIRMAN: I have no other questions. Are there any other questions?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: I was talking about the same rumors that had come to me from somewhere.

Senator FERGUSON: As you were there with Bicknell?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Yes, sir.

Senator FERGUSON: Did you follow that up? I have looked over the testimony and I haven't been able to find it but I want to know now, from your recollection, do you know whether you ever tried to follow that up here in Washington after you failed on Bicknell and Fielder?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Yes, sir. We asked for all the messages there were about any broken codes and we were told we had had all they had except this magic thing. ("Magic" referred to intercepted Japanese messages in their most secret code.)

Such testimony from a former justice of the Supreme Court was sickening.** Testimony which he said would be sought in vain turned out to have been the subject of almost the only questions he asked Hawaiian Intelligence officers. When the Justice did not find the information he expected, he had dropped this line of questioning. Apparently, Washington officials in 1941 thought they could place the blame in Hawaii if they could show that this message had been received there, Washington officials had been vindicated on their own say-so, while the two Hawaiian Commanders were held up to national scorn on the basis of the Roberts inquiry. The Senator was visibly taken back by such testimony, but he kept on a rapid fire questioning. He hit home again.

Senator FERGUSON: Do I understand you did not get the magic? Mr. Justice ROBERTS: No; we were never shown one of the magic messages.

Senator FERGUSON: Not one?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Not one.

Senator FERGUSON: Were you ever shown the substance of the magic messages?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: No, sir.

Senator FERGUSON: Did you know there were such messages?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Well, I knew that the Army or Navy or State Department had been cracking a super code of the Japanese for weeks or months and that they had been taking off all kinds of information. We asked the War Department and the Navy Department to tell us what they got from that and they told us. They did not show us the messages, any of them, and I didn't ask them to.

Senator FERGUSON: That being true how was this finding possible, on page 19:

The Secretary of State-

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Now, Senator, is this an investigation of the Roberts Commission or an investigation of what happened at Pearl Harbor?

Senator FERGUSON: I am trying to get the facts.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: When you ask "How is this finding possible?" I don't find you criticizing me a bit.

Senator FERGUSON: I am not criticizing. I want to know on the facts you had before you-

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: How we could make a certain finding.

Senator FERGUSON: Yes.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: I think that is criticism.

Senator FERGUSON: You think that is criticism?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Go ahead. I will be glad to answer your question.

Senator FERGUSON: (reading)

The Secretary of State fulfilled his obligations by keeping the War and Navy Departments in close touch with the international situation and fully advising them respecting the course and probable termination of negotiations with Japan.

Now, I merely mean if you didn't have any of these messages, for instance, the message setting the deadline of the 29th, the pilot message, the 1 o'clock message, the 13-part message up until midnight or 9 o'clock, and the 14th part and 1 o'clock message on Sunday morning, how could the commission make a finding, if they didn't have the facts?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: I spent an entire day in Secretary Hull's office. Secretary Hull showed me, as a Commissioner sent over by the Commission, because we wanted to do him the courtesy of sending someone there to take his evidence instead of dragging him over to the Navy Department, Secretary Hull showed me his personal memorandum where he had noted that on a certain day he had told the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy this, that and the other thing, and where he got that information I did not ask him, but I was perfectly convinced, and our commission was convinced from my report to them of the testimony he brought to me, that Secretary Hull had been warning the War and Navy Departments day by day and day by day that something might happen this day or that day, that the situation was degenerating, and so on.

Senator FERGUSON: All right. Now, justice, that part of the testimony is not in the testimony furnished us, is it?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Certainly not. They had a stack of memorandum from State Department that high, or Secretary Hull's personal memorandum and in order to recap it I asked him to write the letter which is in our record.

Senator FERGUSON: All right. Then we come to the next finding in your conclusions:

The Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy fulfilled their obligations by conferring frequently with the Secretary of State and with each other and by keeping the Chief of Staff and the Chief of Naval Operations informed of the course of the negotiations with Japan and the significant implications thereof.

Now, without having the intercepted magic messages, did you make this finding? I will put it that way.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Why, certainly. The Chief of Staff and Admiral Stark told us and the Secretary of War and the Secretary of the Navy told us that everytime Hull gave them a warning they would go and repeat it to the Chief of Staff and to the Admiral. I did not need to look at any messages to find out whether Marshall and Stark had been sufficiently warned. That is all I was interested in.

Senator FERGUSON: Now, Justice, the Secretary of the Navy and the Secretary of War, the Chief of Staff, General Marshall, the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Stark, the President, and Secretary of State were each being furnished this magic. Did you not know that they were all being furnished the magic?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: I did not know it and I would not have been interested in it.

Senator FERGUSON: Well then, as to whether or not-

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Now, let's go ahead.

Senator FERGUSON: Do you have something to say?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Let's investigate the Roberts Commission. I would not have been interested in it, Senator. I wanted to know whether the military men were put on full warning and put on their toes by the men who did have the information. I got a unanimous statement that they were.

By this time the justice was becoming belligerent. He had indicated that he had been interested in what Hawaii had done, and not in questioning Washington policy or officials. The Senator, with at least two hours of further questioning before him, tried again.

Senator FERGUSON: On page 2 I see this:

The oral evidence received amounts to 1,877 typewritten pages and the records and documents examined exceed 3,000 printed pages in number.

Now the photostatic copy of the transcript has only 1862 pages, 25 less, and there is-would you look at the page?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: I do not need to, sir.

Senator FERGUSON: Can you answer it if you do not need to look at it?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Yes, I can answer it. I do not know why the discrepancy.

Senator FERGUSON: Do you know whether there is any evidence

that we do not have?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: I know there is none you do not have.

Senator Ferguson made one more attempt to get some facts:

Senator FERGUSON: On the day that you spent some 2 hours with the President the day you made your report did you have a discussion of the facts?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: No, sir.

Senator FERGUSON: There was no discussion of the facts?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Well, it depends on what you mean by a "discussion of the facts."

Senator FERGUSON: Well, will you try and give us what took place there and that will answer the question.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Well, I think it a highly improper thing but if you ask it I suppose I am bound to answer it.

* * * *

Senator FERGUSON: Well now, Justice, what was wrong with the question I asked you, to tell me what the President had said?

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Well, now Senator, I am not going to indicate whether Senator Ferguson is wrong. We have been inquiring about how wrong Roberts is. Don't let us get clear off that line.

Senator FERGUSON: I was wondering why we shouldn't have the facts as a Committee.

Mr. Justice ROBERTS: Well, I am not going to argue it with you, Senator. I said I was going to try to answer your question.

The Senator seemed disheartened. My personal reaction was that the Senator was deeply shocked by such conduct. The Senator's own judicial background had led him to revere all Supreme Court justices. He felt he was only doing his duty to get the facts for the American public. The justice adopted a bellicose attitude. He resented the disclosure of the one-sidedness of his prior investigation. He created an atmosphere that implied the Senator had no right to question him. In his well-considered report the Senator had this to say:

It is extremely unfortunate that the Roberts Commission Report was so hasty, inconclusive, and incomplete. Some witnesses were examined under oath; others were not. Much testimony was not even recorded. The Commission knew that Japanese messages had been intercepted and were available, prior to the attack, to the high command in Washington. The Commission did not inquire about what information these intercepts contained, who received them or what was done about them, although the failure of Washington to inform the commanders in Hawaii of this vital intelligence bears directly on the question of whether those commanders performed their full duties. Mr. Justice Roberts testified before this Committee:

I should not have bothered to read it (the intercepted Japanese traffic) if it had been shown to me.

If it were necessary to do so, detailed examples of the many shortcomings of the Roberts Commission could be set forth. The duty of our Committee to examine the entire subject afresh does not require an extended criticism of the Roberts Report.

It should be noted, however, that Justice Roberts had sufficient legal experience to know the proper method of collecting and preserving evidence which in this case involved the highest interests of the Nation. The facts were then fresh in the minds of key witnesses in Washington. They could not have then been ignorant of their whereabouts at important times or have forgotten the details of events and operations. No files would have been "lost" and no information would have been distorted by the passage of time. The failure to observe these obvious necessities is almost as tragic to the cause of truth as the attack on Pearl Harbor itself was a tragedy for the Nation.


*It was later found that they were assembled for the then Acting Secretary of the Navy, James Forrestal.

**Justice Roberts retired in 1945 and this testimony was taken on Jan. 28, 1946.


From The Journal of Historical Review, Winter 1983-84 (Vol. 4, No. 4), pages 405-424.