FBI had information about Pearl Harbor attack four months before Japanese offensive

The attack on Pearl Harbor which took place on December 7, 1941 may not have been such a "surprise attack" after all.


                            FBI had information about Pearl Harbor attack four months before Japanese offensive

One of the major conspiracy theories that has stood the test of time is the "Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory," wherein the argument is that US Government officials had advance knowledge of Japan's December 7, 1941, attack on the island in Hawaii.

The attack will always be remembered as a dark day for the US, but for many the "surprise attack" on Pearl Harbor may not have been such a surprise after all. 

Episode 4 of Smithsonian Channel's 'America's Hidden Stories', "Pearl Harbor Spies" mines declassified documents to make a case that the FBI was well aware of Pearl Harbor being a probable target during World War 2, but the agency was unable to prevent it from happening.

The documentary reveals that the FBI was aware of the existence of an extensive network of Japanese and German spies who had allegedly been present in the United States for around 20 years prior to the attack.

According to information gathered, it is believed that agencies knew of the interest of these secret operatives in the US Pacific fleet.

An explosion at the Naval Air Station, Ford Island, Pearl Harbour (Pearl Harbor) during the Japanese attack (Source: Getty Images)
An explosion at the Naval Air Station, Ford Island, Pearl Harbour (Pearl Harbor) during the Japanese attack (Source: Getty Images)

The deadly attack which claimed the lives of 2403 Americans and left over a 1000 wounded could have been prevented given the discovery of the codes which helped unlock Japanese messages during the war. The blame conveniently fell on military leaders who were in charge that day and the attack was blamed on intelligence failure.

However, four months before the attack took place, the FBI was notified of a probable Japanese attack.

The Japanese spy network was well rooted in Los Angeles in the months before the attack, when the US Pacific Fleet's home port was shifted from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in 1940.

Historian Pedro Loureiro was one of the first people to unravel the hidden stories of Pearl Harbor. He had his major breakthrough when he discovered newly de-classified documents between US Naval intelligence and the FBI and found a file that read 'Japanese Intelligence Activities - Federal Bureau Investigation,' which contained tens of thousands of pages. 

The documents gave a detailed account of the Japanese spy network which dated back to the 1920s, and how the Navy kept an eye on the Japanese espionage circle long before the attack took place.

The documents revealed that espionage network was being led by a man called Itaru Tachibana, one of the many Japanese students coming to the United States routinely between the '20s and '30s to "study English". 

Japanese officer Itaru Tachibana ran large espionage network across the US before the attack on Pearl Harbor (Source: Wikipedia)
Japanese officer Itaru Tachibana ran large espionage network across the US before the attack on Pearl Harbor (Source: Wikipedia)

However, Tachibana was no student but actually a commander in the Japanese Navy whose only job was to find information on the US Navy.

Tachibana would record US Naval movements and make notes on US military assets. He also attempted to recruit more spies, including non-Japanese agents. However, he was double-crossed by a washed-up military officer named Al Blake, who handed him to the authorities. 

The FBI raided his room at the Olympic Hotel in LA, and discovered several boxes of documents. The papers revealed his extensive coast-to-coast spy network. Tachibana was sent back to Japan where he was welcomed back as a hero and then sat on the committee which was responsible for planning the Pearl Harbor attack.

According to historian Loureiro, one of the most shocking revelations in the documents was Tachibana's link to a British officer called Frederick Rutland. 

Rutland was a famous war hero but as it turned out was working with the Japanese. Several documents spoke of Rutland, who had settled in California in the year 1934 and posed as a rich English investor.

However, secretly, he was an undercover agent for Japan who went all across America filming transport hubs and heavy industry and handing it to Tachibana.

The Japanese government gave Rutland money as well as a purpose, and he is considered a visionary for modern naval warfare in Japan. In 1921, Japan was able to launch an aircraft carrier which shocked the world by producing a revolutionary weapon of war.

The Japanese offered Rutland a job and he was reportedly working for the Japanese navy where he trained pilots how to land on and take off from the aircraft carriers which were an integral part of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

The documents reveal another very high profile case involving Lt. Commander Colin Meyers who was caught passing underwater communication technology and also blueprints to Japanese handlers about the submarine X1. 

The aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Source: Getty Images)
The aftermath of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Source: Getty Images)

Given that Naval Intelligence and the FBI were aware of the existence of such documents for a significant amount of time before the attack on Pearl Harbor, the documentary quotes Loureiro and another historian Michael Carra as saying that they could have had an inkling of the attack and could have prevented it with timely action. 

The Pearl Harbor advance-knowledge conspiracy theory posits that knowing government officials allowed the attack to happen to make sure America eneterd the WWII, with the full force of its might. However, the truth may have been more prosaic and less "deep state" than that, and if the agencies had analysed the information they possessed after busting the espionage ring, the attacks could have ben prevented.