Monday 26 April 2004

"Remember, Pearl Harbor..."

by Trowbridge H. Ford

In explaining anything, especially a country's entry into a war, the analyst must keep his eye on key events, especially what started it, and make sure that his account really explains what he claims. Only then can he venture with any confidence into the much more speculative areas like comparative history, a field lined with examples which ultimately proved most unfounded.

The kind of thing I am thinking about is when Robin Cook resigned as Leader of the House of Commons when Prime Minister Blair girded up his minions for the war in Iraq, the press clamoring that this might well be the 'Howe moment' for the Labor government. The allusion was to the resignation by the former Tory Leader of the House Sir Geoffrey Howe, also a former Foreign Secretary, in anticipation of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher seeking re-election as Party Leader in November 1990. In this campaign, Viscount Younger, the former Defence Secretary who resigned in protest over Howe's sacking, was nowhere to be seen in organizing the Prime Minister's support - what he had done in the previous leadership challenge.

In explaining Howe's decision, he engaged in much veiled allusion to the failings of the government, especially its slap-dash decision-making by a trusted few at the expense of Cabinet government - what the press interpreted to mean bitter differences over No. 10's policies towards Europe. Actually, his complaints were about secret, covert actions which the Prime Minister undertook with little consultation with her ministerial colleagues.

Many papers, in making the comparison, even claimed that Howe was still Foreign Secretary - a confusion that Thatcher had assisted by conflating this Cabinet shakeup with the one a few months later when then Foreign Secretary John Major replaced Nigel Lawson as Chancellor of the Exchequer.

While the Tories were deeply divided over Europe, their division over dealing with the Provisional IRA was more divisive. Howe had been sacked as Foreign Secretary back in July 1989 when it was learned that Captain Simon Hayward, former Operations Officer of the 14 Intelligence Company's South Detachment in Northern Ireland, was to time his bitter account of his imprisonment in Sweden, Under Fire: My Own Story, with his release from its maximum security prison in Malmö in September 1989.

Downing Street had learned through MP John Gorst that Hayward was most bitter over the government's, especially the Foreign Office's, failure to prevent him from being imprisoned on a drug-smuggling charge that 'Steak Knife', the leading PIRA mole of the British Army's Force Research Unit, had arranged with the help of MI5 and MI6 while they were attempting to catch shipments of Libyan arms to the PIRA for a 'tet offensive' - attacks which ultimately forced the United States out of Vietnam. Thatcher compounded what she could do to stop dissemination of his message by doing a U-turn over Britiain's struggle with the Provisionals - having Northern Ireland's new Secretary of State, Peter Brooke, declare that London was willing to reach a settlement, once they stopped their terrorism.

When this most ambiguous course led to the assassination of Thatcher's one-time Parliamentary Private Secretary, Ian Gow, Howe decide to pull the plug on the Prime Minister, and his effort succeeded because no one was willing any longer to support her continuance in office. (For more on this, see my article about Thatcher's downfall.)

To compare this moment with Cook's gesture was the height of folly. While the former Tory Foreign Secretary finished off Thatcher, Cook merely gave up being a political irrelevancy for becoming a celebrity while Blair's government marched boldly off to war, and none of his followers have been able to rein him in in the slightest since. If anything, Cook's "moment" helped keep the Labor Prime Minister on track for war, all the Labor Party sceptics thinking that he had done their work for them.

A similar but more serious confusion of what happened occurred when Dr. Stephen J. Sniegoski used Thomas E. Mahl's Desperate Deception: British Covert Operations in the United States, 1939-44, to claim that London secretly maneuvered Washington into an unwanted war with Hitler's Germany - what Israel was now done with the United States in its war on terrorism. Actually, all Sniegoski had done is to create a most false analogy, based upon a complete misreading of why Washington went to war back in 1941.

Sniegorski claimed that British intelligence services, through their covert, illegal operations in America right after the opening of WWII, forced America unnecessarily into the war with the Axis powers - what, as Tory historians like John Charmley have been contending, should have been settled by London with a negotiated settlement with Berlin. According to Sniegorski, London's overturning the democratic will of Americans was organized by William S. Stepenson's covert group, British Security Coordination (BSC), which promoted all kinds of disinformation about German intentions in the Western Hemisphere to inflame public opinion for war while carrying out all kinds of black bag operations against sympathizers like Charles Lindbergh and Texas oilman William Rhodes Davis, and German agents.

By doing so, London was doing all it could to assist the aims of America's White, Anglo-Saxon Protestant (WASP) establishment, and of FDR's White House. Leading writers like Walter Lippmann provided a chorus of articles in favor of intervention. They even promoted the presidential candidacy of Wendell Wilkie for the Republican Party in order to assist intervention in Europe's war. "Wilkie himself consciously participated in this deception," Sniegoski claimed, "maintaining close ties with British agents and the White House."

The President, for participating in such conduct, deserved not only to be removed from office, but sent to prison. Nixon's Watergate caper was tame by comparison, Sniegoski concluded. For Mahl then to have seen the intervention, arranged by British covert operations, as saving the world just added to Sniegoski's sense of outrage.

Actually, without going into the litany of outrages coming out of Nixon's White House during its last days, Mahl's analysis of America's entry into the war, and Sniegoski's moral strictures of it leave much to be desired. Mahl's work does not detail anything that any other nation under similar dangers Britain was facing would not have engaged in. Mahl, in doing so, leaves out what MI6, MI5, and BSC really did to force Washington's hand on the matter - what gives Sniegoski the liberty to make light of the deadly threats to everyone.

Mahl just developed loose ends that Christopher Andrew had indicated in For the President's Eyes Only: Secret Intelligence and the American Presidency from Washington to Bush about Stephenson and BSC before he discussed the failures of US Amry and Navy intelligence to prevent the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor - one quite similar to what happened on 9/11. Thanks to their breaking the Japanese diplomatic code, they increasingly knew that Japan was going to attack Anglo-American interests around the beginning of December 1941. It was just a question of where, and the President didn't seem too concerned, just so long as it resulted in a manageable war as Germany was now committed to joining any war in the Pacific.

The key operation that Britain mounted to achieve this objective was the German double-agent one it was running with Yugoslav Dusan 'Dusko' Popov - noticeably absent in all the previously discussed research. (For good accounts, see Anthony Summers, The Secret Life of J. Edgar Hoover, p. 122ff., and Curt Gentry, J. Edgar Hoover: The Man and the Secrets, pp. 269-73.)

By this time, London had learned that FBI Director Hoover was most opposed to sharing any intelligence with Stephenson's BSC or William Donovan's fledgling Coordinator of Intelligence (COI) in Washington. And MI6 learned from Popov that the Japanese were committed to a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor - like what the British had carried out with deadly results on the Italian fleet at Taranto. Popov was provided by Berlin with a questionaire about important details at Hawaii to answer, and microdots for their transmission to Tokyo so that attacks could go ahead.

No sooner had Popov arrived in New York than he was met by FBI agents, of all people, to give details to about what the Japanese were up to. Of course, the Bureau, under the strict leadership of the Director, treated the threat as essentially a law-enforcement one - ultimately even trying to prosecute the German agent under the Mann Act for transporting a woman across state borders for immoral purposes. In the process, the Director forgot all about the questionaire. Ultimately, he did tell FDR about discovering the microdots, acting as if it were another Bureau counterintelligence coup.

Why Popov didn't go to Donvovan's COI immediately no one has even tried to explain. It seems that it would have foiled what the Japanese were planning, and if Donovan had not satisfied Popov, he should have been instructed to seek out Stephenson to make sure that the President got the message. Instead Britain was apparently planning to seeing that FDR got his nice little war, and London would have a great alibi when it happened. It tried to tell Washington what was in the works, but the imperious Hoover foiled their well-intentioned effort.

In sum, this was a pro-active, counterintelligence effort which deserves the highest marks, no matter what one's political aims. London used a German agent to get Washington on board for what it so desperately needed. It is another example of the difficulties of describing and evaluating spies and spying - what most historians are not unprepared to attempt, much less succeed in. To compare this, as Sniegoski has done, with what Israel has been achieving now with Washington is turning morality on its head. There is a vast difference between preventing the Triple Alliance from taking over the world, and allowing Tel Aviv to take over the Middle East.

If readers still need more proof, I suggest they get out the score of the song indicated by the title of this article, and sing its marital music.