SMOKING OUT JAP SPIES (May, 1942)
I wonder how many Japanese spies the internments actually prevented from acts of espionage. My guess would be close to zero. Besides the blatant racism, xenophobia and violation of civil rights, it just seems like a ridiculously inefficient way to stop espionage.
SMOKING OUT JAP SPIES
by Don Eddy
If you are not yet awake to the peril of invasion on our west coast, this article will give you a jolt. For weeks Mr. Eddy has been hot on the trail of enemies in our midst. He has seen U.S. agents uncover nests of spies working with short-wave radio, blinkers, signal flags, and carrier pigeons. And we’ve been handling these deadly snakes with kid gloves! Eighty per cent of them slip from the Army’s grip through legal loopholes. With our shores in imminent danger, this article is a challenging call for action.
JUST before midnight on last December 22, a young California farmer and his girl were sitting in a parked automobile at the brink of a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean. It was a clear, crisp night.
It was the girl who first noticed a mysterious pin point of light on the sea. It went on and off, on and off, then vanished. The man got out of the car to watch. Several hundred yards away, on a sharp promontory, he thought he saw a small light blinking seaward.
Afterward he told investigators rue-fully, ” I knew I should have gone over there!” But the girl was frightened. So they went back to town for a soda. They told the soda jerker. He was apathetic. “Just some kind of Navy maneuvers,” he said.
A few hours later, and not many miles distant, a Japanese submarine fired two torpedoes at an American oil tanker which had crept out of a darkened port under secret orders. The tanker zigzagged and escaped. So did two others. These three were the Larry Doheny, the H. M. Storey, and the Idaho. A fourth, the tanker Montebello, was less fortunate.
Ninety minutes before dawn residents of a beach settlement were awakened by gunfire just offshore. They reached their front windows in time to see and hear a tremendous explosion. That was a Japanese torpedo smashing into the Montebello’s bottom. She sank quickly. Thirty-eight members of her crew were saved by villagers after their bullet-pocked lifeboat capsized in the surf.
Next day the farmer led investigators to the headland where he had seen the lights. There were prints of a small shoe (“Jap-size,” they decided) in the sand and a mark where a five-celled flashlight had been dropped.
Thus that wartime bugaboo, that butt of endless satire, the “flashing signal from the shore,” has entered the secret annals of the new war. This time it was no laughing matter. Authorities believe spies saw the tankers leave port and blinked word to the submarine.
Day and night, in every nook and cranny of America, the grim work of tracking enemy spies is going forward. I have talked with scores of our anti-espionage agents since Pearl Harbor. Not one doubts that powerful spy rings are operating inside our borders, at least three, loosely coordinated, on our Pacific coast. Irrefutable evidence has been unearthed that spies are using all the time-honored methods of communication—blinkers, invisible ink, signal flags, even carrier pigeons—plus one we didn’t have to worry about last time: ultra-short-wave radio.
Running down enemy spies is one of the most difficult and unsatisfactory of wartime jobs. Why? Because suspecting them and convicting them are two different things. True, several hundred have been interned for the duration. A few have committed suicide, but not one has been condemned to death.
Other warring nations treat spies as military offenders; judgment is swift and final. Until recently we have given them kid-glove treatment, handling them through civil agencies, notably the FBI, and bending over backward to give them all their legal rights.
Fortunately for the spies, and perhaps unwisely for national safety, our democratic laws provide loopholes that even dangerous enemy agents can slip through.
One of these is the fundamental that every individual is presumed to be innocent until he is proved guilty. That puts the burden of proof on the arresting officers, and circumstantial evidence is seldom sufficient. Even a rookie cop knows that conspiracy, of which espionage is a form, is one of the most difficult accusations to prove to legal satisfaction.
So here is one disturbing result: Of the thousands arrested on reasonable suspicion in the first roundups after the outbreak of the war, almost 80 per cent have been released with polite apologies for lack of conclusive evidence! In fact, they were not even taken to court.
This is the secret reason for the current evacuation of Japanese, German, and Italian aliens from our Pacific coast “theater of military operations” in the states of Washington, Oregon, and California. The first real clamp-down on the spy menace in this area came on February 20, when the President issued an executive order giving the Army authority to evacuate anyone, alien or citizen, from military areas. Such areas are to be defined by Army officers, and may include the entire west coast if that is considered advisable. Until this order was issued, the FBI controlled persons of Axis descent who were aliens, but was powerless to deal en masse with those who were citizens.
BEFORE it is over, the lives and fortunes of about 300,000 individuals will have been affected. About a third of these are alien enemies and the rest are their American-born progeny.
Anti-espionage is a jigsaw puzzle of tiny bits that must be patched together painstakingly to make a whole design. Young Eddie Good wasn’t thinking of that as he fiddled with the dials of his short-wave receiver on his father’s farm in the Pacific Northwest one February night. Eddie is one of the great “ham” fraternity of short-wave enthusiasts. His sender had been sealed by the government; all licensed amateurs were shut down. He was dialing through the band from force of habit when he intercepted a strong dot-and-dash signal. Listening, he decided it was gibberish. Nothing made sense, yet Eddie realized that the hand on the key was swift and sure.
He got a pencil and paper and copied the message: “KLGYD MCLSJBX JN KSMYCYH . . .” There was a lot more of it. Eddie thought it was funny, so he sent it to one of his friends in the Army. The friend passed it to his sergeant, and eventually it found its way to G-2, the Department of Military Intelligence, and things began to happen.
Onto the Good farm one twilight swarmed a squad of soldiers with elaborate wireless equipment. They concealed their truck in an outbuilding, ran up a system of antennas, and sat down to listen. The air was soundless all that night; it was, in fact, two nights later before the mysterious sending station came back into action.
A few minutes later one of the soldiers backed out the truck and roared away. One of his comrades told Eddie, “He’s gone to the next station.” Gradually Eddie learned that three listening stations were in action at widely separated points. Each had equipment to determine the direction from which the signal was coming. With this information, it was necessary only to draw lines on a map until they crossed. The sending station was located where the three lines met.
But it wasn’t as simple as that. The place where the lines intersected proved to be an open field on the slope of a hill, about two miles outside a fishing village. A dirt road passed along one side of the field, then meandered up the hill, connecting eventually with a main highway. The road was watched, and the listening posts continued their vigil.
Again, on the third night, the mysterious signals came through. This time a watcher on the road discovered that at the time the dots and dashes were heard, a wholesale fish truck from the village ground slowly up the hill. On the third night after that, when the truck returned, soldiers pounced out of hiding and stopped it.
There were four men in the truck, two on the seat and two apparently asleep on boxes of fish in the back. A search revealed nothing, until one of the soldiers crawled under the truck and discovered a secret compartment containing extra storage barreries. By following the wires they found the sending set—smashed to smithereens under a heavy box of fish.
Yet, under our tolerant laws, this was not sufficient evidence to convict the truckmen of espionage! Why? Because there was no satisfactory proof of conspiracy; in other words, no proof that the truckmen were actually sending messages to the enemy.
In almost any other country the four would have been summarily executed; they are living comfortably in a concentration camp for the duration. Yet investigators are convinced these men were units of a spy ring, picking up information on ship movements at the harbor cannery where they delivered their fish, and flashing it to enemy submarines on the return trip.
More recently, a fresh rash of mysterious wireless signals had broken out along the Pacific coast. Authorities believe that at least two other mobile sets are operating, quite likely encouraged by the gentle treatment we accord enemy spies. . . .
PACKS of Japanese submarines off our west coast just after Pearl Harbor were brain-teasers to anti-espionage agents: Where were the subs being refueled? Most likely area was Baja California’, Mexico, that 760-mile finger of wild, sparsely settled land jutting down from San Diego, Calif. About 1,000 Japanese aliens live in that desolate region. Many are fishermen.
In January, two husky young American sportsmen decided to explore the coast line, fishing as they went. One was an expert abalone diver, able to go down several fathoms and wrest shellfish from the rocks.
Far south of Ensenada, the last settlement, they came one afternoon to a fisher-man’s shack on a cliff above the sea. They noticed it particularly because of a galvanized tank resembling a water tower. The tank stood on the seaward side of the house. The place was deserted except for a snarling dog. The young men made a camp on the beach some distance away. That night they went back to investigate.
They found that the water tank was empty and smelled strongly of oil. From the bottom, a three-inch pipe passed into the ground. They went back to the water’s edge, and after some search found the pipe again. It came out of the sand and extended into the sea. One of the men, the diver, followed it until the depth became too great.
Back in the United States they reported their find. The information was flashed to the commander of Mexican troops in the area. After a time word came back that the shack had been occupied by a Japanese family, who had been evacuated to the interior a week earlier.
HERE is a typical piece of an anti-espionage jigsaw. Was this a makeshift fueling station for enemy submarines? Were sub commanders able to take bearings from shore, grapple and raise the end of the pipe, while agents ashore dumped drums of fuel oil into the tank? Nobody knows the answers.
Yet our agents know that at least two bands of carrier pigeons are being worked almost daily across the Mexican border. One was shot by a hunter, and many others have been seen. Apparently this is part of an international spy ring’s operations, possibly to convey information from the United States into Mexico, from where it can be disseminated with less interference. It takes little imagination to hypothecate a case: a submarine flashing instructions to an agent in California by wireless; the agent sending word across the border by carrier pigeon; agents in Mexico standing by to refuel the sub at the appointed time.
But imagination has little place in trapping enemy spies. . . .
Raids on alien nests along the west coast have revealed amusing and astonishing things.
In one house, officers found a complete set of U.S. Navy signal flags. The head of the family explained naively that they were used in “Boy Scout work.” Three people lived there—a man and wife and her brother. The youngest was 47; the oldest 52. The officers thought they were a little mature for Boy Scouting and took them along.
After neighbors became suspicious because a Japanese housewife hung out an enormous washing every day, anti-espionage agents raided the place. They found a closet stacked to the ceiling with baby’s diapers, some in regulation squares and others sewn together. The house stood on a cliff above the sea. On the brink of the cliff, running parallel to the sea, was a wire clothesline 300 feet long. They deduced, since there was no baby in the house, that the diapers must have been used for code signaling—the regulation size for dots and the double-width for dashes. But they can’t prove it.
One hundred miles inland, an indigent German farmer suddenly began to spend money lavishly. He paid off his mortgage, bought miles of barbed wire, hired workmen to make a tight fence. When a troop of United States cavalry on maneuvers blundered along by mistake, he came out brandishing a shotgun and ordered them away. They went, but a few days later a raiding party swooped down and found three other Germans hiding in a root cellar. Their conflicting stories indicated they were being smuggled into the country, and agents think they broke up a way station of an enemy “underground railway.”
On a bitter night, a raiding party moved into a middle-class Japanese home to talk with its occupants. The house was frigid. Noticing that a fire had been laid on the hearth, an agent asked permission to light it. The Japanese said nothing, so the agent started a blaze. But the chimney didn’t draw. Smoke backed up, filled the house, and forced them all outdoors. The Japanese thought it was a great joke until an agent climbed to the roof and found that an automobile spotlight had been fitted into the top of the chimney. When the smoke cleared they traced the wires and found a concealed push-button switch. The device was evidently intended to signal airplanes.
MUCH less conclusive is Los Angeles’s own mystery—the mystery of the green sedan. For three weeks after Pearl Harbor this wraithlike vehicle cruised the vicinity of military emplacements at night. On twelve occasions its occupants fired on military sentries. Their aim was usually indifferent. Eventually the sedan vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared.
In San Francisco snipers and sluggers created a mysterious reign of terror among guards around strategic areas. In one night they ambushed four state guardsmen on duty at bridges, beating one so severely he will be hospitalized for months. All these attacks seem to have been senseless, since sabotage was not attempted. Some investigators think they may be dress rehearsals for mass attacks at later dates.
Mexicans with whom I have talked in Baja California are convinced the Japanese will make their first assault on the Pacific coast in May. This seems to be generally believed among the peons, who say their Japanese neighbors tell them that one large California city will be a “mass of smoking ruins” that month. While military authorities take this skeptically, all armed forces are kept in a state of continuous alert, both for invaders and for enemies within.
Of the aliens evacuated from west coast areas, some have filtered into the Mississippi Valley. A few others have gone to the Great Plains. But most of them are clinging to the fringes of the prohibited zones and have settled in the interior valleys of our westernmost states.
One town in California has lost almost half of its 6,000 inhabitants in evacuated alien Germans, Italians, and Japanese. Many towns have lost one third or more of their people. Evacuees include persons of almost every occupation, from laborers to professional men and bankers. I talked with an evacuated Italian doctor who has been in the United States 52 years, owns property, pays taxes, has voted for every President since William Howard Taft—but had never bothered to become a citizen.
There remains, however, the indisputable fact that enemy spies are operating on our west coast and that some of them, at least, must be among the alien population. Military authorities feel safer with all of them out of the potential combat zone.
What an organized fifth column ashore can do to assist an invading force is becoming increasingly apparent as details of Pearl Harbor continue to be revealed. Best-known incident is that of Japanese farmers who cut enormous arrows in fields of cane, the arrows pointing to military bases. In our Northwest, Seattle had a similar scare a few nights after the outbreak of the war. Airmen reported a string of “signal fires” pointing straight to the blacked-out city. An investigation revealed them to be brush fires started by state workmen along a main highway.
Less well known is the fact that the old targetship Utah, of no military value, was sunk at Pearl Harbor because she was moored where an airplane carrier usually lay. The carrier, blacked out, slipped out of the harbor Saturday night and the Utah moved over to her place. It was no more than a routine fleet operation, and apparently went unnoticed by spies ashore. Next day dive bombers concentrated on the Utah, evidently believing they were hammering the carrier.
Comparable to many of the mysterious happenings on our own west coast is the advertisement which a Japanese silk-importing firm placed in Honolulu newspapers the first week in December. It was apparently an innocuous bid for trade. But our anti-espionage agents found a cut-out screen which, when fitted over the advertisement, revealed certain words that spelled out a warning of the time and place of the impending attack.
THESE are the things authorities on our west coast intend to circumvent, if they can, by removing all aliens from preparedness zones. They don’t expect they can eliminate all danger of fifth-column activity; too much of it, they are convinced, is centered in traitorous American citizens.
The argument they hear most often is that hardships are being imposed on loyal aliens by lumping them with a few who may be disloyal. Their answer to this is sound: “All who are loyal to America must make sacrifices for the war effort. This is your sacrifice, your opportunity. Surely you won’t mind a little inconvenience if you can assist in saving American lives and property.”
And there’s only one answer to that.