Research Report prepared for Presidential Select Committee on JACL Resolution #7
(aka “The Lim Report”)
submitted in 1990 by Deborah K. Lim
© 2002 by Deborah K. Lim
Part I: Pre-Evacuation
IA. The Activities and Relationships with Governmental Agencies Prior to December 7, 1941.
One of the key questions which arises when discussing JACL’s relationships with government agencies prior to Pearl Harbor is whether the JACL as an organization was involved with intelligence activities which caused the arrests of Issei and Kibei community leaders immediately following December 7, 1941.
This is a key question of considerable long-standing. In fact, Mike Masaoka, National Secretary and Field Executive from September 1, 1941 to June 22, 1943 for the JACL, addressed this issue in great length in his “Final Report,” written in 1944. What follows is an excerpt on the issue of JACL cooperation versus collaboration with U.S. Intelligence Agencies:
In connection with JACL’s policy of cooperation with the federal agencies, two divergent rumors have materialized and grown into titanic proportions. One is that JACL did not cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Naval Intelligence, and other authorities charged with the internal safety of our country. The other is that JACL, in order to enhance its own position as leaders of the Japanese communities, turned in the names of all first generation leaders and asked for their internment. Some have even slyly suggested that JACL officials received a bounty for every name they turned in for investigation. Neither is true; both are lies! JACL did cooperate with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Naval Intelligence, and other agencies by furnishing them with all the information which we might have had at our disposal regarding the suspects the agencies questioned us about. This is the duty of every American. But, since we of the JACL are not, and were not then, trained investigators in counter-espionage, we were not able to furnish them with more than what was general community knowledge, that is to say facts or rumors relating to their ostensible business and sympathies, family relationships, and organizational ties. Most of us can’t read, write, or speak Japanese well enough to understand much of what happened in the “inner sanctums” of the Japanese community; certainly our Americanism was too well known to encourage those interested in destroying our country from placing us in their confidence. In summary, JACL did not institute a witch-hunt; neither did we evade our duty as patriotic Americans interested, as are other Americans, in protecting our nation from espionage and sabotage. The charge that the FBI, for example, paid us twenty-five dollars each for the names and information leading to the internment of a Japanese alien is too ridiculous to warrant even a reply. The answer to the question as to why government investigators seemed to converge on our office is obvious: it was easier for them to obtain the general consensus on a person from us who were pledged to cooperate th[a]n to try to “dig” it out of some frightened bystander.1The previous excerpt has become the official party line of the JACL on the issue of cooperation versus collaboration with U.S. Intelligence agencies. Let us compare this understanding with what was occurring within the government at this time.
GOVERNMENT INTELLIGENCE ACTIONS
Historians have documented the fact that the Japanese community was under surveillance by various federal agencies as early as the 1930s. In June 1939, then President Roosevelt issued a memorandum for the purpose of having this surveillance conducted in a more coordinated manner. The agencies involved were the FBI, Military Intelligence Division of the War Department, and the Office of Naval Intelligence.2 In fact, FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover informed all local law enforcement that the President had directed all domestic investigation on espionage and sabotage to be headed by the FBI.
Along with coordination of surveillance on the Japanese Community, J. Edgar Hoover, in October of 1941, issued orders to his field agents to obtain informants. “You are instructed to take immediate steps to secure and develop confidential informants of the Japanese race.” To be exact:
Hoover was asking for the recruitment of Nisei informants. The FBI believed that Japanese intelligence was avoiding the use of second generation Japanese Americans only[;] this made the Nisei unlikely saboteurs, and the FBI convinced a few to become voluntary informants, reporting on suspicious Issei activities. Among the informants were members of the Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), by definition a predominantly Nisei and Sansei organization. Although it is improbable that more than a handful of JACL members became informants, Naval Intelligence records on the surveillance admit that “with the help of the JACL, which got to be very much on our side, these were Nisei people, we were able to pinpoint practically every agent that had any potential for mischief.“3Concurrent with the Federal government’s increased coordination of Japanese surveillance and development of an informant network was a commensurate increase in attention by some within the JACL to the issue of loyalty to America. [Togo Tanaka, the JACL’s unofficial historian of the time, writes in his “History of JACL,”] “Out of the habit of defining loyalty, talking about loyalty, interpreting it for both the Japanese and Caucasian communities, a segment of JACL leadership in 1939 and 1940 began to arrogate to itself the authority to judge and evaluate the loyalty of members of the Japanese community.“4 Tanaka does not specify all who made up this segment within the JACL, except to name National Vice-President Ken Matsumoto as one. Tanaka is also quick to distinguish Saburo Kido, National President during 1941[,] as not within this particular segment. In fact, Tanaka goes so far as to make a distinction in the activities of JACL on a geographic basis: “One detects a greater willingness on the part of top JACL leaders in Los Angeles to pass judgment upon Issei activities in Southern California.”5 He goes on to say that “[a]n examination of correspondence between national officers for this period leads to the conclusion that hyper-sensitivity to possible subversive influences within the Japanese community centered more in Southern California leadership than in the north.“6
This would be borne out by the existence of the Coordinating Committee for Southern California Defense, headed by Joe Masaoka and begun for the purpose of encouraging defense activities by the JACL in anticipation of war with Japan. “Among other duties, this body was charged with gathering information on subversive activities; this information was to be turned over directly to Naval Intelligence.“7 The September 14, 1941 Minutes for a Special Session of the Southern California District Council confirm the Coordinating Committee’s existence but little else in the way of a statement of purpose, function, and duties. It will be later that we will see more about the nature of the CCSD.
Consistent with our understanding of what began to occur in the intelligence community after 1939, we are further informed by Tanaka, JACL’s unofficial historian, that:
[a]ll the National Officers of the JACL in 1940-41 had come into personal contact with federal investigative agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Military Intelligence, and Naval Intelligence. Close personal relationships characterized most of these top contacts. Similarly, district and local chapter leaders of the JACL found themselves increasingly approached by representatives of not only federal, but state and local law enforcement and security officers.8This is corroborated by a letter dated December 4, 1940, on JACL National Headquarters letterhead from Hito Okada, Treasurer, to Saburo Kido, which indicates that the FBI had “visited” Howard Nomura, a chapter president in the Portland, Oregon region[:]
Regarding the excitement that I mentioned above, Howard Nomura, chapter president here has been visited by the FBI, and has been answering many questions in regards to Niseis and Isseis, especially about the different organizations. I understand they cannot understand the existence of the Junior Kenjin Kai. Neither can I. I hope this investigation here will clarify matters.9In fact, when contacts were made by Intelligence agencies, “JACL representatives for the most part had responded with a patriotic zeal exceeded only by their public expressions of American Loyalty.”10
How close were the “personal relationships” between top contacts in the JACL and Federal Intelligence agencies? More importantly, what kind of impact did those “close personal relationships[“] have on the Japanese American Community at large?
KENNETH D. RINGLE, ONI
Tanaka informs us that one of the “close-working relationships between a JACL leader and federal agency well-known in Citizens’ League circles was that existing between the National Vice-President Ken Matsumoto of Los Angeles and Lieutenant Commander Kenneth Ringle of the Naval Intelligence Office in Los Angeles.”11
In the Minutes of the Special National Board Meeting held in San Francisco between March 8 and 10, 1942, a report was made by National Vice President Ken Matsumoto on his activities between 1941 and 1942, in which he refers to his relationship with Ringle:
specifically though, an intimate friendship was made with the Assistant Naval Intelligence Officer of the 11th Naval District. This contact which was realized in January, 1941 has proven to be one of our most valuable assets and it can be stated, without fear of contradiction, that through this gentleman, the good name of the JACL has reached out far and wide.12Matsumoto continues his report with a chronology of his activities for 1941. He met Lt. Commander K. D. Ringle, Assistant Naval Intelligence Officer, 11th Naval District, in January of 1941. In March, Matsumoto worked with Ringle on a special invitational dinner given by the Intelligence Dept. of the 11th Naval District for all JACL Chapters in the Southern District. In addition to the 12 Southern District Chapters, three prospective chapters also attended. Attendance, in fact, was “100%.”
Purpose of this dinner meeting was many fold. For one, this was an opportunity for the Nisei Leadership to clarify his position and remove any doubts of his status. This was an opportunity to establish contact with the vital branches of the United States Army and Navy, as well as the local Law Enforcement body. It was a chance to ascertain the attitudes and thoughts of the Nisei leadership during these strained days. Finally, it served to inspire young Nisei to take a more positive stand regarding his loyalty and allegiance. Needless to say, the meeting was most significant and momentous.13Matsumoto’s comments ring with more truth than he may have known. We now know that K. D. Ringle, fluent in Japanese, was conducting a two-year study on the Japanese community. This study, under the auspices of Naval Intelligence, would be submitted to the military at the same time as the Munson Report, with a similar conclusion that the Japanese American “problem” was overblown and that this community was for the most part loyal to the U.S. Ringle’s report was one of the three intelligence reports “suppressed” by Justice Dept. Attorneys when the test cases were argued before the Supreme Court. The “rediscovery” of the Ringle Naval Intelligence Report by Peter Irons contributed to the Coram Nobis actions for Min Yasui, Gordon Hirabayashi, and Fred Korematsu.
Can we conclude then that Matsumoto’s work with Ringle was beneficial to the community at large? Referring again to Togo Tanaka’s “History of JACL,”
The Matsumoto correspondence for this period assumed that war with Japan was probable, even inevitable. As a result there was a far greater willingness on his part than on Kido’s to point an accusing finger at individuals suspected of adhering to Japan as against the United States. Without doubt, Matsumoto, under the tutelage of federal investigative officials, played a prominent role in the conversion of JACL local leadership to the acceptance of the “security role” it assumed in 1940-41. This role is described variously, depending upon individual points of view. From the standpoint which ultimately came to prevail within the Japanese community, it was the role of “spies and stooges for the FBI.” From the standpoint of JACL leadership, it was the role of “constructive cooperators for national defense.” From the standpoint of men like Matsumoto, it was a brave service and contribution to the war effort to report to federal agents what they judged to be subversive and disloyal acts and utterances. To the majority of fear-ridden Issei and resentful Nisei, the activity assumed the aspects of a hateful witchhunt.14We can also conclude that Matsumoto was an informant for the Office of Naval Intelligence. This is according to from an April 21, 1943 Memo from the District Intelligence Officer to the Director of Naval Intelligence. The memo deals with a previous request that “the names of Eleventh Naval District informants in Japanese Relocation Centers who have volunteered for military service be furnished [to] the Director of Naval Intelligence.”15 The memo goes on to discuss Matsumoto in particular.
3. It is believed that three other individuals, two of whom in the past months have left the relocation centers for outside employment, have volunteered or may do so in the near future. They are Iwao ISHINO, presently at Poston; Edward YONEMURA, employed in Utah; and Ken MATSUMOTO, presently employed at Cincinnati, Ohio. . .5. As additional names of informants entering the armed services become available, they will be forwarded to the Director of Naval Intelligence.16
While the document deals with informants in camp, it does confirm that Matsumoto was a Naval Intelligence informant prior to evacuation because he had relocated prior to the camps to Cincinnati, Ohio. This is documented in an April 13, 1942 letter from Lieutenant Commander Ringle to Milton S. Eisenhower.
I am enclosing extracts from a letter which I have just received from my friend, Ken Matsumoto, whom you will remember as national vice president of the JACL. He left here ahead of the evacuation order to accept a very good job with the Mayor Jewelry Company, 5th and Vine Streets, Cincinnati, Ohio.17Ringle himself wrote about Matsumoto in a letter to Professor E. N. Barnhart, dated April 23, 1951. The letter was written in response to Barnhardt’s questions about the role “American-Japanese” played in disclosing information to intelligence agencies at the outbreak of World War II:
I also refer you to the Japanese-American Citizens League, which was and is a standby pro-American Nisei organization, and to Ken Matsumoto, who was its National Vice President at that time and my very good friend and chief source of information.”18
JACL AND RINGLE
How closely and officially did JACL as an organization work with Ringle? No indication from JACL archives, beyond the fact that Ringle’s name and comments appear from time to time in Minutes of the Southern District Council Meetings. Minutes for a Special Session of the Southern District Council Meeting, dated September 14, 1941, mention Chairman Fred Tayama introducing Lt. Commander Ringle of Naval Intelligence as the guest of the day. JACL archives did not have a continuous record of S.D. Council Meeting Minutes. Minutes dated January 11, 1942 record comments from Ringle regarding the issues of membership for persons of dual citizenship. He assisted in drawing up a resolution requesting disenfranchisement of American citizens connected with any Axis nations, and made comments on “behavior and precautions to be taken during this state of war.” He was not introduced as a guest. In fact from the context of the Minutes, it appeared that by this time, Ringle was a familiar figure at these meetings.
In a letter from JACL National President Saburo Kido to former President James Sakamoto:
When I visited Los Angeles during the latter part of March, Ken Matsumoto took me down to San Pedro to see Lieutenant Commander Ringle, who was instrumental in inviting the Southern California District Council members to a discussion group. During the course of our conversation the matter of holding similar meetings in various districts came up. Commander Ringle has written to Seattle and San Francisco and ascertained the officers in charge of the Intelligence Bureau. Lieutenant Commander Liebenow of Seattle replied favorably, stating that he would be delighted to cooperate with the JACL in the Northwest if he receives an invitation. I would suggest that either you or Tom Iseri . . . of the Northwest District Council contact him and arrange for a meeting.19Matsumoto’s report to the JACL Board at their special meeting, during March 8-10, 1942, confirms that Ringle had opened up channels for meetings in San Francisco and Seattle at the request of the JACL during 1941, but that there was no follow through.20
Matsumoto informed Sakamoto that he had communicated with Kido “about the arrangements with the Head of Naval Intelligence of your district, the 13th.” Matsumoto assured Sakamoto that “their office is ready to meet the JACL leaders at any time they wish, and I believe that it ought to be done at once.”21Apparently there is no indication or evidence that any meetings between a JACL leader, such as James Sakamoto, and Naval Intelligence ever occurred in the Seattle region.22
What is the significance of JACL as an organization working with Ringle? Ringle’s time spent in Southern California was for intelligence work. Additionally, he had “developed an effective system of Nisei informants (which he shared with the FBI).”23 One must conclude that Ringle’s Southern California contacts and informants included members of the JACL from Southern District Chapters or even members of the Southern District Council itself, wittingly or unwittingly. Moreover, since Ringle shared his informants with the FBI, one must further conclude that the same JACL members of Southern District Chapters or Council again were FBI informants as well.
Was there then a difference in attitude among JACL leaders in Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, or were there similar contacts and occurrences?
According to Ichioka’s article, James Sakamoto, former JACL National President and editor of the Japanese American Courier in Seattle, “unquestionably believed that the Nisei should cooperate with federal agencies. In 1940 he said so in so many words: ‘Every loyal American citizen . . . will lend all possible support to the constituted authorities to see that subversive activities are promptly put down.’” When a Japanese spy was arrested sometime in June of 1941, Sakamoto uttered the warning that “every officer and every member of the [JACL] must be on the alert.” 24
JACL archives reveal a Resolution discussed by the Northern California District Council meeting in San Mateo, CA, dated November 16, 1941. The Resolution, composed by Mike Masaoka and adopted unanimously by the Nor. Cal. District Council, was to have been sent to each chapter for consideration and approval, then sent to President Roosevelt. It is unknown if the Resolution was approved by anyone other than the Nor. Cal. Chapters. It does serve as an indication of the mindset of JACL as war with Japan loomed more imminent. It pledged all 55 chapters to:
exercise extraordinary vigilance and to report any and all cases of espionage and sabotage which may come to our attention to the proper government authorities, offer individual and organizational facilities and cooperation to intelligence agencies and to create in every chapter special committees to serve our governmental agencies in any capacity to which we may be called . . . in the civilian as well as military defense of our country.25A more curious indication of contact with intelligence agencies is found in two letters written by Kazuo Oka, President of the Monterey JACL chapter. JACL archives reveal a copy of his letter to President Roosevelt and one similarly worded to the Industrial Security Division of the U.S. Army. Oka reveals his assistance to FBI agents both before and after Pearl Harbor:
Then, too, prior to my own evaluation and some two weeks before the Pearl Harbor incident, I endeavored to assist the Monterey, California agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Among those with whom I was in constant contact were Mr. Chas. “Chuck” Drussel and Mr. Tom Estop. If I remember correctly, they were affiliated with the San Francisco, Calif. offices of the FBI, the offices of, I think, Mr. N. Pieper. 26The letter to Roosevelt also states, “I have cooperated both before and after Pearl Harbor with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”27
These letters were written to the President and Army because Oka had just been discharged from a factory on the basis that defense work was being done and his presence constituted a threat to security. Both letters were lengthy defenses of Oka’s own “security risk worthiness.” That being the case, it is entirely possible that he overstates his case or that any assistance to the FBI was as an individual rather than as President of JACL, Monterey Chapter. However, Oka does mention specific FBI agents by name, making is unlikely that he overly overstates his case, and his position as JACL Chapter President no doubt made him a person the FBI would more likely prefer over ordinary individuals. At the very least, the position provided the individual with contacts and information not normally found.
Michi Weglyn, author of Years of Infamy, forwarded a copy of a letter written by the late Kay Sugahara, which was addressed to Congressman Robert Matsui. This copy was submitted in response to the JACL’s Research Project pursuant to Resolution #7. In this letter, Sugahara claims that, “In the five years before Pearl Harbor, practically every leader of the JACL was working closely with the FBI, the ONI and Army Intelligence.”28 While Kay Sugahara had been involved in the Anti-Axis Committee’s intelligence activities, no government documents have been found to corroborate this claim that as early as 1936, JACL leaders worked with these intelligence agencies, to date.
AAC Anti-Axis Committee
CWRIC Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians
DIO District Intelligence Officer
DNI Director, Naval Intelligence
JACL Japanese American Citizens League
JACL Archives Japanese American Citizens League Archives, San Francisco
JARP Japanese American Research Project, Special Collection, University Research
Library, University of California, Los Angeles
JERS Japanese Evacuation and Resettlement Study, Bancroft Library, University of
Merritt Collection Merritt Collection, #122, Special Collection, University Research
Library, University of California, Los Angeles
NA National Archives, Washington, D.C.
ND Naval District
NDC Northern District Council
ONI Office of Naval Intelligence
RG Record Group
SDC Southern District Council
WRA War Relocation Authority
PART I: PRE-EVACUATION
IA. The Activities and Relationships with Governmental Agencies Prior to December 7, 1941
(1)Mike Masaoka, “Final Report,” 4/22/44, pp. 48-9, File T 6.15, JERS (hereafter cited as “Report”).
(2) Kumamoto, “The Search for Spies: American Counterintelligence and the Japanese American Community, 1931-1942,” Amerasia Journal 6:2, 1979, p. 52.
(3) Ibid. p. 57.
(4) Togo Tanaka, “History of JACL,” Ch. III p. 12, File T 6.25, JERS (hereafter cited as “History”).
(5) Ibid., p. 22.
(6) Ibid., p. 23.
(7) Togo Tanaka, “Report of Manzanar Riot,” p. 7, File O 10.12, JERS.
(8) Tanaka, “History,” p. 14.
(9) Letter, Hito Okada to Saburo Kido, 12/4/40, JACL Archives.
(10) Tanaka, “History,” p. 21.
(11) Tanaka, “History,” p. 14.
(12) JACL Minutes, Special National Board Meeting, 3/8-10/42, JACL Archives (hereafter cited as Minutes, Special Board, 1942).
(13) Ibid., p. 5.
(14) Tanaka, “History,” Ch. III, p. 15.
(15) File “Office of Naval Intelligence Report,” Box 2, Entry 17, RG 210, NA.
(17) Letter from K. D. Ringle to Milton Eisenhower, April 13, 1942, File “Navy Department,” Box 2, Entry 17, Record Group 210, National Archives.
(18) Letter, K. D. Ringle to E. N. Barnhart, 4/23/51, JACL Archives.
(19) Yuji Ichioka, “A Study in Dualism: James Yoshinori Sakamoto and the Japanese American Courier, 1928-1942,” Amerasia Journal, 13:2, 1986-87, p. 73 (hereafter cited as “Study”).
(20) JACL Minutes, Special Board, 1942, p. 5.
(21) Ichioka, “Study,” p. 73.
(23) Personal Justice Denied, p. 54.
(24) Ichioka, “Study,” p. 73.
(25) JACL Resolution, Northern California District Council, 11/16/41, JACL Archives.
(26) Letter, Kazuo Oka to President Franklin Roosevelt, undated, JACL Archives.
(28) Letter, Kay Sugahara to Robert Matsui, JACL Archives.