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Secret Missions: The Story of an Intelligence Officer

Secret Missions: The Story of an Intelligence Officer

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by Ellis M. Zacharias

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An instant bestseller when it was first published in 1946, this memoir recounts the author's nearly forty years of service in naval intelligence, beginning in 1908. One of the first to venture into the realm of psychological warfare, Ellis Zacharias was awarded the Legion of Merit with two gold stars for his contributions. Among the highlights of his impressive career


An instant bestseller when it was first published in 1946, this memoir recounts the author's nearly forty years of service in naval intelligence, beginning in 1908. One of the first to venture into the realm of psychological warfare, Ellis Zacharias was awarded the Legion of Merit with two gold stars for his contributions. Among the highlights of his impressive career was the role he played in convincing the Japanese to accept surrender in 1945, a subject he deals with in fascinating detail in this book.

Zacharias gives readers access to rare psychological profiles that he prepared for the Office of Naval Intelligence on leading political and military figures in Japan. His book also recounts his exploits as a young naval attaché with the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo in the early 1920s. In the early months of the war readers join him in the thick of combat in the Pacific, first aboard a cruiser under his command and later in a battleship. Of particular interest are descriptions of his one-man radio broadcasts beamed at Japan between V-E and V-J days that received kudos from Adm. Ernest J. King for helping bring about the surrender.

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Naval Institute Press
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Secret Missions


Naval Institute Press

Copyright © 1946 Ellis M. Zacharias
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1591149991

Chapter One

"When directed by the Director of Naval Intelligence you will regard yourself detached from present duty and will proceed to Tokyo, Japan, for the purpose of acquiring a knowledge of the Japanese language and the Japanese people.

"This employment on shore duty beyond the seas is required by the public interest."

These orders, issued by Josephus Daniels, Secretary of the Navy, were handed to me on October 4, 1920, by Captain Andrew T. Long, USN, Director of Naval Intelligence, in his office in the Navy Department. It was obvious to me even then that the order sending me to "shore duty beyond the seas" was in reality my passport to adventure. With one stroke of his pen Mr. Daniels had opened a new world before me, so different from the monotony of routine and regulations which marks the career of a naval officer. There may be occasional thrills and excitements to punctuate the repetitious life in the Navy: cruises to faraway lands, maneuvers, ceremonies on gala occasions, parties, receptions, and pretty girls. But broad as the oceans are, the life of a naval officer is narrowed to the bridge of his ship, to the room where the engines pant, to the gun rooms and turrets, to the wardroom with its stereotyped discussions of the drills of the day, and the cook's gastronomic imagination.

There in Captain Long's office the memories of a long-forgotten day returned to me, the day when I first decided to enter upon a naval career. I was then eight years old, a fascinated witness to great events, as from the coast line of my native Florida I watched American warships deploy for the Spanish-American War. Enraptured, I stood watching the steaming parade, the battle-clad men on the decks, the guns elevated for the range. Then and there, the lure of the Navy, rather than the sea, gripped me-and it has held me captivated ever since.

Since late August 1920 I had been attached to Naval Intelligence for temporary duty. I was quite hazy about the meaning of the word "intelligence"; and I shared the indifference and even suspicion with which some of my fellow Officers of the line habitually regarded intelligence work. With an attitude mixed of ignorance and mistrust, I had emphasized in my mind the temporary character of my intelligence duties rather than the duties themselves.

But standing in Captain Long's office, I suddenly realized the implications of the word. The Captain tried to discourage me from placing too much emphasis on my assignment to Naval Intelligence. "Although you are attached to Intelligence," he said, "you are going to Japan as a language student and not as an intelligence officer. In fact, I would advise you to keep away from intelligence work as far as possible. We expect you to bring back the most valuable information we now need: knowledge of the Japanese language and the Japanese people. We don't expect you to tie your hands with other activities. These are your orders."

But as he tried to minimize the importance of my connection with Intelligence, he merely opened my eyes wider to its manifold aspects and phases. I thought to myself: How can the knowledge of a foreign language and strange people be divorced from intelligence? How can I, even if I want to, refrain from learning Japan while studying its language and folkways? Indeed, my assignment is an intelligence mission in its most highly developed form, no matter how the Director of Naval Intelligence may regard it.

An incident which followed immediately my call on Captain Long served to reinforce this intuition. Quite abruptly and without warning I was introduced to the adversary: Japanese Intelligence, then trying its wings in Washington. It was suggested to me that while waiting for my travel orders I lease an apartment in the Benedict, a bachelor apartment house near the Army-Navy Club. I do not know whether it was only coincidence, but the apartment recommended to me was just above the quarters of Captain Uyeda, who was then Japan's naval attaché in Washington, and known to our own Naval Intelligence as a promising member of that country's budding espionage organization. Perfunctory and haphazard though our system of surveillance then was, we kept a watchful eye on Captain Uyeda, and I was to report any untoward incident observed during my stay over his head.

Impressed with my task, and following the urges of natural curiosity, I did a little investigating of my own and found that Captain Uyeda was a merry bachelor indeed, at least here in the United States, who made widespread use of the apartment's liberal rules regarding ladies. Night after night I could hear shrill Japanese laughter interspersed with feminine giggles. Patches of conversation floated through the open windows; and it did not take much effort to find out that these girls were secretaries in the Navy Department. This, of course, gave a new impetus to our interest in Captain Uyeda's parties, and soon we discovered that among his most frequent guests was a confidential stenographer in the office of the Secretary of the Navy. Soon after our discovery in the Benedict there were some sudden transfers in the secretarial staff of the Navy Department, which removed any danger of the "Arnold" having to be added to the name of the apartment house. However, we did not wish to be kill-joys and were happy to provide carefully briefed replacements. Captain Uyeda's social life then proceeded merrily both for him and for us.

The incident in the Benedict revealed to me the two fundamentally different aspects of intelligence. In Captain Long's office I was initiated into what the "lingo" of our profession calls positive intelligence. In the Benedict I was introduced to negative intelligence. Few people realize that in the broad field of activities which are usually classified as intelligence functions, a sharp distinction must be made between these two forms of operations. Positive intelligence may be defined as the collection of information regarding an enemy or a prospective enemy as to his intentions, strength, organizational structure, and deficiencies, to enable us to base our plans on the knowledge of these data. Intelligence material, then, is this information in its evaluated form.

Negative intelligence is the gathering of information regarding foreign agents to prevent them from obtaining the same type of information of our activities which we seek of theirs. Neither phase has much to do with the cloak-and-dagger work which receives widespread publicity in the wake of every war. The overwhelming majority of basic intelligence data is obtained by open observation, by studying reference books, consulting libraries, reading the newspapers of foreign countries, listening to their radios, interviewing bona fide travelers. The collection of information by surreptitious means is no longer intelligence. It is espionage. Both are closely related, but there are some crucial distinctions-as our Axis enemies discovered too late.

By the time my orders to proceed to Tokyo were handed to me in Washington, I knew as much about intelligence as it was possible to learn in two months of intensive study, seasoned with a dash of field experience as has just been related. Now everything was ready and waiting for me to turn my newly acquired knowledge to use.

"The War Department has been requested to furnish you transportation on the Army Transport `Sherman,' sailing from San Francisco on or about 11 October 1920 for Japan."

At the time of my arrival in Japan, the country was in a peculiar ferment. The tide of militarism was ebbing in the wake of the Siberian expedition, which was turning out disastrously for Japan. It may be remembered that the turmoil which followed in Siberia subsequent to the Bolshevik revolution, and the presence there of certain Czech prisoners of war, induced the Allies to send an expeditionary force to Siberia, ostensibly for the purpose of enabling the escape of the Czech troops. Japan was invited by Great Britain and the United States to participate in the expedition and was asked to send a contingent of 7,000 men. The invitation was avidly accepted in Tokyo, where the militarists, still glorying in the defeat of Germany, to which they had contributed precious little, now hoped for an easy conquest across the sea on the Asiatic mainland. Instead of dispatching the contingent of 7,000 men, they sent 70,000-but even this force could not ultimately secure the Russian Far East for Japan.

The failure of the militarists encouraged the people to raise their voice against the clique of armed adventurers. Protest meetings were held in Hibiya Park, petitions were presented to the government, and speakers representing political groups and trade unions vociferously demanded the recall of the expeditionary force of Japan. By the time of my arrival in Tokyo in November 1920 I could see the backwash of these protests. I was told in the United States that militarists dominated Japan's political life and that they rode arrogantly high on the shoulders of the people. But when I made my first contacts in military and naval circles, I could not help noticing a subdued atmosphere in their midst. Indeed, they were bemoaning a lost opportunity and discounting the Siberian escapade as a dismal failure.

The people vented their anger in various forms. Soon it became quite dangerous for an officer to show himself in public wearing his uniform or to display his military rank on the name plates on his doors. The Chief of the Imperial General Staff was forced to resign, and military appropriations were cut in the budget, an unprecedented effrontery, my military contacts told me.

During the early part of my stay I did not quite grasp the political significance of these events and failed to discern the forces which boiled deep in Japan's imperialistic volcano. As usual with newcomers on a quasi-diplomatic mission, I was thrown into the whirlpool of diplomacy. Reporting to the Naval Attaché, Captain Edward Howe Watson, and striking up friendships with the younger set in the Embassy, I had gained access to that part of life in Tokyo which I was least eager to study. As I now turn back to the pages of my engagement book recording my early days in Japan, I find entries like these:

"February 7, 1921 Reception in the French Embassy
"February 8, 1921 Dinner at the house of Van Horn, Secretary
"February 13, 1921 Luncheon with Captain Watson ..."

I found it somewhat difficult to fit myself into the rigid social procedure which seemed to delight some of our younger diplomats. A newcomer to diplomatic etiquette, I committed a few faux pas and was promptly denounced for them to the counselor of our embassy, "Ned" Bell, a brilliant and energetic diplomat, who did not seem to be greatly disturbed by my first stumbling steps in the drawing rooms. When on one occasion a second secretary, who later rose to the rank of ambassador and became a most valuable member of our foreign service, reported to the Counselor that, horribile dictu, I had dared to take a picture at the Emperor's garden party, he just laughed and told his eager subordinate: "Forget about it!"

In Captain Watson I found a most gracious chief and an understanding guide to the scenes "backstage" of Japanese naval politics, or what Admiral Sato himself called "Japanese Navalism." Captain Watson was one of the most likable and dynamic, intelligent and alert naval attaches we have had in any country. He was extremely popular with the Japanese naval officers, who were mystified by his technique of telling them too much so that they could learn too little. On one occasion the chief of Japan's Naval Intelligence visited him to inquire about certain matters which required elucidation. Captain Watson erupted in his usual manner and went on talking about the matter for almost an hour, but as the dazed Japanese captain left his room, he frankly told Watson:

"Eddie, I don't think I have a right to complain. You certainly were not a bit taciturn. But frankly, I haven't the slightest idea what you are talking about."


Excerpted from Secret Missions by ELLIS M. ZACHARIAS Copyright © 1946 by Ellis M. Zacharias
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Meet the Author

Ellis M. Zacharias was a rear admiral and naval attaché to Japan who served in World War I and World War II. After World War II, he was appointed as the deputy director of US Naval Intelligence, and post-retirement he narrated the NBC television docudrama series Behind Closed Doors. He died in 1961.

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