Your History Book Missed This: Was There a Pearl Harbor Cover Up?
July 1, 2020

Your History Book Missed This: Was There a Pearl Harbor Cover Up?

“Unlike their military counterparts, these diplomats successfully avoided any intense scrutiny and in so doing saved their careers.…”

Key Point: There is evidence that the State Department cooked its own books on what it knew about Pearl Harbor.

BACKSTORY: Although for the past 75 years history has had little to say about “Bally’s Project,” an effort to falsify State Department records to remove evidence of gross miscalculations prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor—the author recently discovered a small file of documents in the Frank A. Schuler, Jr. Papers, 1932-1991, at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum in Hyde Park, New York, that corroborates the existence of Bally’s Project and details the deception that went on behind locked doors.

“The alteration of the U.S.-Japan documents after Pearl Harbor became something of a legend among the old Far Eastern hands. Diplomats who had knowledge of the scheme to varying degrees are no longer alive. I was told about the ‘project,’ as it was referred to, by an old friend and senior colleague from my Japan days, William Turner. Bill, both taciturn and cautious, would never have disclosed unsubstantial information.”

So wrote Frank A. Schuler, Jr., a former U.S. foreign service officer in pre-World War II Japan, in his unpublished 1980 memoir, Pearl Harbor Myths and Realities.

This bombshell statement was a long time in coming. It was 1946 when Schuler first learned of the sleight-of-hand activities going on behind closed doors. “After Pearl Harbor,” he wrote, “the officials in the Division had secretly removed from official documents any and all incriminating evidence which would place blame on those responsible for the misguided advice given to the Secretary of State Cordell Hull and President Roosevelt which led to the disaster at Pearl Harbor.”

Insinuations arose immediately that Roosevelt knew the attack was coming, a fact acknowledged by his Presidential Library, which states, “Almost as soon as the attacks occurred, conspiracy theorists began claiming that President Roosevelt had prior knowledge of the assault on Pearl Harbor. Others have claimed he tricked the Japanese into starting a war with the United States [see sidebar on the McCollum Memo] as a “back door” way to go to war with Japan’s ally, Nazi Germany.

“However, after nearly [75] years, no document or credible witness has been discovered that prove either claim. Most scholars view Pearl Harbor as the consequence of missed clues, intelligence errors, and overconfidence.”


The horror of the 75-minute attack on American Army, Navy, and Air Corps facilities in Hawaii that left in its wake more than 2,400 U.S. personnel killed, almost 20 U.S. Navy ships (including eight battleships) damaged or destroyed, and almost 200 planes destroyed still triggers shockwaves. Since December 1941 Americans have wanted someone held accountable for the day of infamy.

The blame for being unprepared for the attack was quickly laid on the shoulders of Rear Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Lt. Gen. Walter C. Short, the U.S. military commander responsible for the defense of installations in Hawaii. Both were found guilty of “dereliction of duty” by the Roberts Commission in 1942.

The Dorn Report in 1995 later concluded, “The responsibility … should not fall solely on the shoulders of Admiral Kimmel and [General] Short; it should be broadly shared.” While all eyes were on the commanders of the fleet after the attack, a “project” was put into motion that flew completely under the radar.

Intelligence failures. Although these diplomats are long gone, there is no expiration date on the truth; the time is now to tell the truth about Bally’s Project.

It started nine days after the Pearl Harbor attack with a document dated December 16, 1941, on Department of State letterhead and initialed S.K.H. (for Stanley K. Hornbeck, political adviser to Secretary of State Cordell Hull). It read: “Mr. Secretary: We have arranged with Mr. Spaulding for him to take charge of and set three or four men to work upon compilation of documents in United States-Japanese relations for the period September 18, 1931 to December 7, 1941. Mr. [Maxwell] Hamilton, Mr. [Joseph W.] Ballantine, Mr. [Alger] Hiss and I will keep in close touch with this work as it proceeds. Mr. Ballantine will have special charge of the data relating to the exploratory conversations of this year.” [A note on the document indicates that Alger Hiss initialed the document for Hornbeck.]

In Frank Schuler’s personal account, he named his superiors (three of whom were involved in the “compilation of documents”) and their errors of judgment. “Before World War II, the military depended upon the Department of State for their political intelligence. Ambassador Joseph C. Grew in Tokyo; Stanley K. Hornbeck, Political Advisor to the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull; and Maxwell Hamilton, Chief of the Division of Far Eastern Affairs, and Joseph W. Ballantine, Advisor on Far Eastern Affairs, totally misread the Japanese threat.

“These men were duped by the Japanese into thinking that they could secure a secret, negotiated détente with the Japanese. On the other hand, the Japanese were trying to bluff the United States into thinking they were prepared to limit their demands in Asia.…”

The following excerpt from a personal 1971 letter from William (Bill) Turner to Schuler provides specifics about a colleague who was required to participate in falsifying the records to remove evidence of his superior’s “gross miscalculations” prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor.

 “Some time during the years 1943-44, when I was ‘on loan’ to the Navy Department, my old friend and fellow Japan-hand Max W. Bishop came to my house for dinner. He was then on duty as a subordinate officer in the Division of Far Eastern Affairs (FE) of the Department of State. During the evening he told me in some detail and with unconcealed wrath that after the Pearl Harbor debacle he, and as I remember, other subordinates in FE had been required by Dr. Stanley K. Hornbeck, the then-Chief of FE, to comb through the office files and to extract copies of all Dr. Hornbeck’s memoranda to the Secretary of State dealing with Japan.

“At this point of time my memory is not clear as to Hornbeck’s intended disposition of these papers, but my impression is that, according to Max, he meant to expunge from the files the record of his [Hornbeck’s] gross miscalculations as to Japan’s intentions and capabilities in the pre-Pearl Harbor days.

“I would suggest that if you want to pursue this matter further, you might get in touch with Max, who I feel sure, would be glad to give you a first-hand account of his unwilling part in an episode which aroused in him so much chagrin and ire.…”

The discovery of the documents in the Schuler Papers held at the Roosevelt Presidential Library revealed bombshell after bombshell about Bally’s Project. One of the many critical revelations came from Helen Shaffer, a former secretary who worked in the Far Eastern Division of the Department of State from 1940-1941.

In 1963, Shaffer, who was an old acquaintance of Schuler and his wife Olive from their State Department days in 1941, “revealed she was the secretary assigned to Ballantine on the project. She had been told that it was a ‘secret’ project; admonished she was not to tell anyone what she was doing; that she had worked in a locked room in which no one other than the few involved were permitted to enter; also that the room was filled with filing cabinets which had been transported there from the central files.”

In one of her several affidavits, Olive Schuler recounted a discussion she had with Shaffer about her unwitting role in altering documents. “She stated she clearly recalled shortly after the Pearl Harbor attack being required to retype memoranda and communications ‘as though from hindsight,’ isolated in a room made inaccessible to others with the explanation that her assignment was highly confidential.”

Although these accounts from Helen Shaffer are documented in several affidavits, Shaffer herself would not go on record. In this same affidavit, Olive Schuler recalled that when she asked Shaffer about this, “She advised me that under no circumstances did she want to become involved. The reason, she stated, was that she was presently employed by the State Department and she did not ‘want what happened to Frank [Schuler] to happen to me.’”

After Helen Shaffer adamantly refused to get involved, the following conversation (contained in an affidavit dated December 12, 1994, by Helen Thomas and Olive Schuler in the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library) between Helen Shaffer and Helen Thomas (a United Press International reporter for almost 60 years and family friend of the Schulers) ensued:

Helen Thomas: “Why would they have been out to get [Frank]?”

Helen Shaffer: “Because he opposed the policy. They thought he was interfering.”

Thomas:  “But he turned out to be right!”

Shaffer: “That was the problem! And they felt they had to do something about that.”

Thomas: “Olive told me you had said that they rewrote documents from hindsight, that, in fact, you did the retyping.”

Shaffer: “Yes, I did. I got so tired of retyping those damned, long documents on those clumsy typewriters. Not only that, but they revised parts of the Foreign Relations Series. I finally asked for a transfer out of the Division.”