Information Warfare: Spinning Yamamoto


April 23, 2006: Here is how the press of today might have reported on the World War II American mission to kill Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the master mind of the attack on Pearl Harbor. This operation made use of an American secret weapon, a team of code breakers that had deciphered the secret codes Japan used to send military messages via the radio. Admiral Yamamoto was known to be a brilliant commander, and it was felt that killing him would make it easier to defeat the Japanese, and save American lives. At the time, taking down Yamamoto was considered a major victory. But attitudes towards such operations, government secrets and killing people, have changed.

Today, the media would have reacted differently:

San Francisco Chronicle, April 19, 1943: "SECRET MISSION SUCCESS CLAIMED. Sources at Pearl Harbor report that an 'extremely successful' secret mission against what was vaguely described as a 'very high-value target' was carried out yesterday. American losses were said to be 'extremely light' in this operation, which reportedly involved Army P-38 fighters…"

Washington Post, April 20, 1943: "YAMAMOTO DEAD? War Department sources claim that Army P-38s belonging to the 347th Fighter Group shot down Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in a mission that was described as 'very difficult' and which 'banked on luck'. They cite intelligence information as confirming the success of the mission and the identity of the target. Spokesmen at Pearl Harbor and in the White House refused to comment, but stated they would discuss matters at a 'later date' due to concerns about 'operational security'…"

New York Times, April 22, 1943: "ASSASSINATION OF YAMAMOTO CONFIRMED. Navy Department sources have confirmed that Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox granted Admiral Chester W. Nimitz permission to order Admiral William F. Halsey, Commander of the allied in the South Pacific, to launch an attack with the express intention of killing Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the alleged mastermind of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor… The authorization was prompted by what Navy Department sources said was 'extremely reliable intelligence' about Yamamoto's plans for an inspection tour…"

New York Times, May 3, 1943: "READING JAPAN'S MAIL: JAPANESE CODES BROKEN. The United States has broken several major Japanese codes, and in doing so, has done what sources describe as 'severe damage' to the Japanese war effort. Among the successes apparently attributable to this effort are the repelled invasion of Port Moresby, the destruction of four Japanese aircraft carriers at Midway, the recent series of battles around Guadalcanal, and the recent assassination of Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto by U.S. Army pilots. The Navy Department declined comment on these revelations, but off the record, sources indicated that various codebreaking efforts have gone on since the 1930s… One of those said to be responsible for the early successes is Commander Joe Rochefort, who was recently reassigned from his post at Pearl Harbor. When contacted at his current assignment, Commander Rochefort declined comment. Reportedly overseeing the effort at Hawaii is Captain Edwin T. Layton, the officer in charge of intelligence at the time of the Pearl Harbor attack who was retained by Admiral Nimitz…"

New York Times, May 4, 1943: "NIMITZ AIDE KNEW YAMAMOTO, RECOMMENDED ATTACK. A Navy Department source claimed that Captain Edwin T. Layton, intelligence officer to the Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Fleet, was once on 'very good terms' with Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto during his time as a naval attaché in Tokyo in the late 1930s, was the deciding factor in the request by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz's decision to recommend the mission that killed the Japanese admiral. Layton, who also served under Nimitz's predecessor, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, has reportedly been testifying at various inquiries involving the attack that destroyed or severely damaged seven of the Pacific Fleet's battleships…"

Editorial, New York Times, May 5, 1943: "It seems apparent that the Department of the Navy has established a program to not only break enemy codes, but to also listen in on their radio conversations. This development, while understandable, poses a serious threat to the civil liberties of Americans. Radio waves cross borders, and if the federal government is capable of listening to radios, then are telephones that far behind? Furthermore, what limits should be placed on the actions of the government in time of war? Is assassination of enemy leadership to be permitted? And what of the motivations of Captain Layton? Was his reported recommendation for the attack to go forward really the best advice given, or was it payback for the humiliation suffered by his former commander? Congress needs to hold hearings on this program as soon as possible…"

Editorial, New York Times, May 19, 1943: "In the wake of the controversy over the U.S. Navy's eavesdropping and codebreaking program, one disturbing tendency has been the recent attacks on the press, claiming that the revelations of this program have caused severe damage to the war effort… calls for the FBI to begin an investigation into the revelation of this program are nothing more than an attack on freedom of the press, and should not be heeded."

- Harold C. Hutchison (


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