It is now clear that there were clear warnings about this month’s murderous attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya — warnings that weren’t heeded.
White House press secretary Jay Carney was recently confronted with a pointed observation: “There are reports that Libyan officials warned the U.S. of the growing extremist threat prior to the attacks, that they admitted they could not control some of these militias. That seems to run counter to what administration officials have been saying, that this was just a spontaneous reaction to this anti-Islam film.”
“We have no information to suggest that it was a pre-planned attack,” Carney replied.
This isn’t the first time America has tragically ignored clear warnings about our enemies’ plans. The most famous sneak attack in U.S. history — the Japanese air raid on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941 — was preceded by warnings that were equally clear and equally ignored.
Kilsoo Haan, a Korean nationalist and a trusted informant, warned the U.S. government several times in the weeks leading up to the attack.
Haan’s intelligence came from Korean informants in the Japanese consulate in Honolulu. They reported suspicious documents and peculiar activities in the weeks and months before December 7. The consulate staff were compiling detailed depth charts of Pearl Harbor for airborne torpedo drops and submarine attacks. Korean shipyard workers observed several new Japanese miniature attack submarines. And the Japanese were tracking the locations of all American battleships.
As the evidence of an imminent attack mounted, Haan contacted Maxwell Hamilton of the State Department, sending him each new piece of information. Hamilton ignored Haan’s warnings.
On the evening of December 3, Haan visited the Chinese Lantern, a restaurant in downtown Washington, D.C. Haan witnessed a Japanese man trying to bargain with a man at the next table. When the man left, Haan learned that he was trying to sell at fire-sale prices four cars owned by the Japanese embassy staff, who planned to return to Japan in a few days. The attempted car sale was the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle that Haan had been putting together with the help of Korean agents and loyal Japanese-Americans. Pearl Harbor, he realized, would be attacked that weekend.
After a sleepless night, Haan redoubled his efforts to alert American officials. On December 5, he wrote again to Hamilton. “It is our considered observation and sincere belief, December is the month of the Japanese attack and the surprise fleet is aimed at Hawaii, perhaps the first Sunday of December. No matter how you feel toward our work [i.e., of the Korean nationalist movement], will you please convey our apprehension and this information to the President and the military and naval commanders in Hawaii?”
Again Haan was ignored, and the following Sunday became known forever as “a day that will live in infamy.” Years later, the journalist Eric Sevareid recalled, “A young Korean would often drop into my office. He was in touch with the anti-Japanese underground in Korea. Pearl Harbor, he would tell me, before Christmas. He could get no audience at the State Department.”
Much like Haan’s frantic appeals, the warnings of an attack on Americans in Libya went unnoticed. Four Americans, including our ambassador, Christopher Stevens, are dead. Perhaps some decades down the road, declassified files may reveal that U.S. officials shrugged off — or pointedly ignored — the warnings they received from well-meaning Libyans and from a worried Ambassador Stevens himself. Those officials — and we can only speculate about their motivation — will share in the infamy of that day.
John Koster is the author of “Operation Snow: How a Soviet Mole in FDR’s White House Triggered Pearl Harbor.”