Internment Archives

MAGIC: The Untold Story

In late 1940 members of the U.S. Army Signal Intelligence Service broke Japan's highest level diplomatic code and then constructed a machine that was an analog of the one used by the Japanese. This allowed the U.S. to read Japan's diplomatic traffic from then until after the end of the war. Intelligence thus gained was cover named MAGIC because it seemed that only magicians could have produced it.

The documents in this section are chapters from the book, MAGIC: The Untold Story of U.S. Intelligence and the Evacuation of Japanese from the West Coast during WW II, by David D. Lowman, a former high ranking officer at the National Security Administration. In them you will find scores of intercepted messages and numerous reports from various intelligence agencies that include "sanitized" information from the intercepted messages.

The production of intelligence can be a difficult and tedious business, piecing together bits of information gathered from disparate sources, analyzing and synthesizing them, producing the product and then distributing it to those who will use it. Nevertheless, even the uninitiated can appreciate the windfall derived from code breaking and having a window into the operations of a potential enemy. In the case of MAGIC the U.S. received information from the highest levels of the Japanese government.

Two important objectives of any intelligence effort are the determination of your enemy's capabilities and intentions. For example, if you are facing an enemy across a river and aerial photography shows large vehicle parks containing bridging equipment in his rear area, you can pretty well be sure he has the capability to make a river crossing. If you then receive reports from agents in the enemy area that columns of bridging vehicles are moving toward the river, you may well deduce his intention to attempt a river crossing.

Early MAGIC intercepts revealed Japan's intention to switch its efforts in the U.S. from propaganda to intelligence gathering. These messages gave Japan's agents in America specific instructions on what to collect and how to collect it. Four months later intercepts from Los Angeles and Seattle revealed the development of capabilities and the use of Japanese Americans. Since Pearl Harbor was six months away when these reports were intercepted it was logical to project an even greater capability by the time of the attack.

Much of what was learned from the MAGIC intercepts eventually made its way into other intelligence reports in a "sanitized" version. In other words, it was necessary to protect the method and source of the sensitive information. (Later in the war MAGIC often revealed critical information concerning the European Theater.)

To gain an appreciation of the overall Japanese operation just before Pearl Harbor see the Office of Naval Intelligence report dated December 4, 1941 in Chapter 17.

The material in this section has been provided by Athena Press, the publisher of MAGIC.